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Aristotle METAPHYSICA Book 9 Part 1

Potency and complete reality

1. We have treated of that which is primarily and to which all the other categories of being are referred - i.e. of substance. For it is in virtue of the concept of substance that the others also are said to be - quantity and quality and the like; for all will be found to involve the concept of substance, as we said in the first part of our work. And since 'being' is in one way divided into individual thing, quality, and quantity, and is in another way distinguished in respect of potency and complete reality, and of function, let us now add a discussion of potency and complete reality. And first let us explain potency in the strictest sense, which is, however, not the most useful for our present purpose. For potency and actuality extend beyond the cases that involve a reference to motion. But when we have spoken of this first kind, we shall in our discussions of 'actuality' explain the other kinds of potency as well.

2. We have pointed out elsewhere that 'potency' and the word 'can' have several senses. Of these we may neglect all the potencies that are so called by an equivocation. For some are called so by analogy, as in geometry we say one thing is or is not a 'power' of another by virtue of the presence or absence of some relation between them. But all potencies that conform to the same type are originative sources of some kind, and are called potencies in reference to one primary kind of potency, which is an originative source of change in another thing or in the thing itself qua other. For one kind is a potency of being acted on, i.e. the originative source, in the very thing acted on, of its being passively changed by another thing or by itself qua other; and another kind is a state of insusceptibility to change for the worse and to destruction by another thing or by the thing itself qua other by virtue of an originative source of change. In all these definitions is implied the formula if potency in the primary sense. - And again these so-called potencies are potencies either of merely acting or being acted on, or of acting or being acted on well, so that even in the formulae of the latter the formulae of the prior kinds of potency are somehow implied.

3. Obviously, then, in a sense the potency of acting and of being acted on is one (for a thing may be 'capable' either because it can itself be acted on or because something else can be acted on by it), but in a sense the potencies are different. For the one is in the thing acted on; it is because it contains a certain originative source, and because even the matter is an originative source, that the thing acted on is acted on, and one thing by one, another by another; for that which is oily can be burnt, and that which yields in a particular way can be crushed; and similarly in all other cases. But the other potency is in the agent, e.g. heat and the art of building are present, one in that which can produce heat and the other in the man who can build. And so, in so far as a thing is an organic unity, it cannot be acted on by itself; for it is one and not two different things. And 'impotence'and 'impotent' stand for the privation which is contrary to potency of this sort, so that every potency belongs to the same subject and refers to the same process as a corresponding impotence. Privation has several senses; for it means (1) that which has not a certain quality and (2) that which might naturally have it but has not it, either (a) in general or (b) when it might naturally have it, and either (a) in some particular way, e.g. when it has not it completely, or (b) when it has not it at all. And in certain cases if things which naturally have a quality lose it by violence, we say they have suffered privation.


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