Act and potency

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The terms act ( Latin actus , ancient Greek ἐνέργεια energeia ; largely synonymous is entelecheia ) and potency (Latin potentia, Greek δύναμις, dynamis ) are counter- terms in philosophical usage. Act (lat. Actus = being driven ) is the scholastic translation of the term energeia by Aristotle (around 384–322 BC). "Potency" describes the not yet realized possibility , but for which there is a capacity (ability) or a disposition . “Act” on the other hand denotes the realization or realization of this possibility.

Aristotle / ancient philosophy

This use of the term goes back to the natural philosophy and ontology of Aristotle. The later Greek and Latin philosophy largely followed this.

For Aristotle, reality has an ontological priority over possibility. One of the arguments for this position is that the realization of certain changes would not be explainable if a principle is not assumed in each case that causes these changes. Since an infinite series of updaters is also unthinkable, Aristotle's first principle of his cosmology is an immobile mover - not just an unformed matter with the potential to change. He also calls this first principle self-related thinking. At the same time it is connected with the most perfect kind of movement, the circular movement. God or his rational activity is "real activity".

Active and passive potency

A distinction can be made between active and passive potency. The passive potency means the possibility of receiving an act. For example, passive potency has a piece of clay that can be shaped into a vase. Active potency means the ability to produce an act yourself. An artist, for example, who can shape a vase or a jug from a piece of clay, has active potency. Active as well as passive potency concerns the ontologically relevant ascription of concrete faculties and is in this respect more than a logical possibility. A state of affairs is logically possible when its opposite is not logically necessary; But a thing only has a power if the actual world is so arranged that the thing has a capacity for a corresponding act.


The scholastic concept of the essence of God as a pure act ( actus purus ) has its origin in these initial situations .

Recent developments

In Neuthomism , the doctrine of act and potency was further developed.

Referring back to Aristotle, Wilhelm von Humboldt also understood language as energeia , i.e. as an active force instead of a static system.

The theory of actuality and the psychology of the act go back to the philosophical designation of the act . The older wealth psychology is also derived from the scholastic tradition.


About the term ἐνέργεια:

  • Georg Picht : The concept of Energeia in Aristotle. In: Georg Picht: Here and Now. Philosophizing after Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Stuttgart 1980, Volume 1, pp. 289-308.
  • Max Jammer: Energy. In: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy. Volume 2, pp. 494-499.
  • Max Jammer and Marc Lange: Energy and Energy (Addendum). In: Donald M. Borchert (Ed.): Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2nd Edition. Detroit 2006, Vol. 3, pp. 225-234 and 234-237.
  • Roberto Radice, Richard Davies, Giovanni Reale: Aristotle's Metaphysics: Annotated Bibliography of the Twentieth-Century Literature. Brill, Leiden 1997, ISBN 9004108955 (sections actuality , potency ).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Michael-Thomas Liske : entelecheia . In: Christoph Horn, Christof Rapp (ed.): Dictionary of ancient philosophy , Munich 2002, p. 135.
  2. Met. 12, 1071b12-1072a8
  3. Met. 12, 1072b24-29
  4. Hans Schwarz: ENERGEIA, language (Humboldt). In: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy . Volume 2, pp. 492-494.