Chapter 2: Introduction to Thomistic Philosophy
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11. Act and Potency

Reading 1

From St. Thomas Aquinas, On the Principles of Nature, trans. R. A. Kocourek, cc. 1, 2, 5.
1. Since some things can be, although they are not, and some things now are; those which can be and are not are said to be potency, but those which already exist are said to be in act. . . .
2. Moreover, for each existence there is something in potency. Something is in potency to be man, as sperm or the ovum, and something is in potency to be white, as man.. . .
5. But, just as everything which is in potency can be called matter, so also everything from which something has existence whether that existence be substantial or accidental, can be called form; for example man, since he is white in potency, becomes actually white through whiteness, and sperm, since it is man in potency, becomes actually man through the soul. Also, because form causes existence in act, we say that the form is the act. However, that which causes substantial existence in act is called substantial form and that which causes accidental existence in act is called accidental form.
From St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Physics, bk. 3, lect. 2, n. 285.
285.Consider, therefore, that something is in act only, something is in potency only, something else is midway between potency and act. What is in potency only is not yet being moved; what is already in perfect act is not being moved but has already been moved. Consequently, that is being moved which is midway between pure potency and act, which is partly in potency and partly in act—as is evident in alteration. [Or when water is only potentially hot, it is not being moved; when it has now been heated, the motion of heating is finished; but when it possesses some heat, through imperfectly, then it is being moved—for whatever is being heated gradually acquires heat step by step. Therefore this imperfect act of heat existing in a heatable object is motion—not, indeed, by reason of what the heatable object has already become, but inasmuch as, being already in act, it has an order to a further act. For should this order to a further act be taken away, the act already present, however, imperfect, would be the term of motion and not motion itself—as happens when something becomes half-heated. This order to a further act belongs to the thing that is in potency to it.
Similarly, if the imperfect act were considered solely as ordered to a further act, under its aspect of potency, it would not have the nature of motion but of a principle of motion—for heating can begin from either a cold or a lukewarm object.
The imperfect act, therefore, has the character of motion both insofar as is compared, as potency, to a further act, and insofar as it is compared, as act, to something more imperfect.
Hence, motion is neither the potency of a thing existing in potency, nor the act of a thing in act, but it is the act of a thing in potency; where the word “act” designates its relation to a prior potency, and the words “of a thing in potency” designates its relation to a further act.
Whence the Philosopher most aptly defines motion as the entelechy, i.e., the act, of a thing existing in potency insofar as it is in potency.
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