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8 - Metaphysics Θ.7 and 8: Some issues concerning actuality and potentiality

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 December 2010

James G. Lennox
Affiliation:
University of Pittsburgh
Robert Bolton
Affiliation:
Rutgers University, New Jersey
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Summary

INTRODUCTION

In Metaphysics Η.6 Aristotle famously remarks:

What then is the cause of what is potentially F being actually F in the case of things that come to be over and above the efficient cause? For, nothing other is the cause of what is potentially a sphere being actually a sphere; rather this [i.e. the cause] is what it is to be for each of them singly.

(1045a30–3)

This passage and its immediate context can be interpreted in several ways. One interpretation, which I have defended elsewhere, runs as follows.

‘If we consider the issue of the unity of a composite in terms of

matter: form

potentiality: actuality

there is no longer a difficulty. What makes it the case that

potentiality: actuality

are paired in such a way as to form a composite unity is that they share a cause: what it is for each of them to be what they are (a formal cause).'

Consider an example: in the case of man the actuality, according to this view, is being alive in a given reason-involving way. This is what it is to be a man: the relevant formal cause. The matter in question is made what it is by this formal cause: it is what is capable of being alive in this way. When what is capable of being alive in this way is actually alive, there is a unified composite.

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Chapter
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Being, Nature, and Life in Aristotle
Essays in Honor of Allan Gotthelf
, pp. 168 - 197
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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