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Aristotle's Entelecheia and Potentiality

In Physics, Aristotle defines a form to be a principle with a higher potential compared to matter since each thing receives a name when it exists in actuality rather than when it exists potentially. In order for an object to have a higher potential other than being an ambiguous collection of matter, it is required that it encompasses a form. For example, we can recall an object being a “chair” not because of the matter from which it is made but because the form of a chair is known to us. If the form of a chair where to be absent, we would then fail to assign the word “chair” to matter regardless of whether it is a shape made out of wood or a shape made out of plastic.

Even matter, whether it is “plastic” or “wood”, requires a form for it to be defined instead of it existing as an ambiguous type of substance. Interestingly enough, this illustrates the endless chain of hierarchical necessity for something to have a form in order to define something that of which it constitutes. In this case, tree fiber constitutes wood, and wood constitutes a chair. Aristotle claims that a final cause of something cannot exist if its formula fails to work. If individual parts that constitute an Egyptian pyramid would fail to encompass a form, the structure would collapse momentarily. For the individual parts that constitute a pyramid may turn out to be marble balls that would scatter all over causing the pyramid to collapse unless the form “stone block” is assigned to the individual bricks which constitute the pyramid.

In De Anima, Aristotle transforms this notion of form into the soul of living beings. The form of living beings starts to have a slightly different context if compared to a _form of a physical object. Living beings have individual functioning parts that allow the body as a whole to be an actuality while remaining dependent on its individual parts from which it consists, such as organs. It is then a question that Aristotle tries to pursue in De Anima on whether it necessary to inquire about the individual parts of the soul or inquire just about the soul as a whole. Aristotle accepts that the wholeness of all the individual parts and organs that constitute a living being, encompass a form within the body that in return, constitutes the whole soul of a living being. This constitution is what actualizes the actuality of “living” in any living being otherwise without this constitution, a being would just be a “being” without the liveness.

Before going deeper into the definition of actuality, it is first necessary to define how this notion falls into the physical world. Potentially in general, signifies that something has the potential to be but is not yet actualized. The potential for actualization is something that inscribes an object to posses a ἐντελέχεια within it by a chance. Since potentiality by definition, signifies that something can be in a certain status by a chance, it is first necessary to define how a chance works in universal principles that Aristotle defines in the Physics.

Some things that come to be by a chance, come to be for the sake of something however others do not. Nevertheless, all chances are products of some choice. Some chances come to be because of their parent cause, that of which it being constituted of. The final cause of any chance belongs to thought or nature. For nature, perhaps is the brute fact of everything and the soul is what allows a body to be more connected to this brute fact and nature itself. So a body without a soul has a lower potential to become an actuality but a body with a soul becomes actualized and therefore becomes an actuality. In return, the body with a soul becomes closer to the more divine and natural of being. It is contemplated that chance and potentiality are products from something that is divine and most natural whether it is something godlike or a divine principle. So it is carried out that the actuality of a soul entitles an object to exist at a higher level when compared to an object that exists potentially or without a soul.

After defining actuality in physical terms, it is possible to define what actuality is in terms of ἐντελέχεια and being-at-work-staying-itself which is introduced in De Anima. The example of the wax tablet is a perfect explanation of how something with potential, whether by chance or a form, can become an actuality. A drawing of a chair on a wax tablet actualizes the form of a chair in certain terms that define a form of a chair. Although a drawing of a chair does not have the same properties of a real chair, it has certain aspects that make it more actualized than being just a potential.