Potency and Act

A philosophical discussion of the relationship between potency and act.

This paper evaluates the theory of the philosopher St. Aquinas that since some things can be, even though they are not, and some things now are; those which can be and are not are believed to be potency, but those which already exist are believed to be in act i.e. for something to exist it must be perceived. It provides a brief summary of the theory in layman’s terms and examines how the theory can be negated with concrete arguments and reviews the counter arguments by other philosophers.
Accidental becoming is illustrated by a man’s becoming pale. The acquisition of this attribute does not make a man be a man, but a pale man. Man is the subject of the change, and prior to the acquisition must have been capable of possessing the quality, in potency to it, though at the time not in possession of it and thus deprived of it. A man moves from not being pale to being pale. Despite the limitations of his earlier definitions, St. Aquinas permits that the subject can be called matter. Therefore, there are three principles of nature, namely, matter, form, and privation, of which one, form, is that for the sake of which the generation takes place.”