Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Energeia and Being-in-Time

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Energeia and Being-in-Time

Article excerpt

ARISTOTLE DEFINES TIME AS "the number of movement (kinesis) with respect to before and after." (1) The relation between sublunar substances, which have within themselves a principle of movement and rest, and time, therefore, appears unproblematic.

Besides moving, however, sensible substances also exercise complete activities (teleiai energeiai) and, in the passages in which he most clearly outlines the nature of energeiai, (2) the philosopher leaves the issue of their temporality unresolved. As a result, scholars have speculated about different ways of understanding it. Some argue that energeiai are in time in the same way as movement is in time. (3) Others make the case that they are "out of time." (4) Others again propose a more nuanced view according to which complete activities constitute "a timeless aspect of any living being." (5)

This paper argues that Aristotle does in fact offer clear indications on this issue. In the Physics, he distinguishes between two modalities of being-in-time, namely, being-in-time in virtue of one's nature (kath' hauto) and being-in-time accidentally (kata sumbebekos). (6) The case is made that the notion of being-in-time accidentally captures the temporality of complete activities and differentiates it from that of movement, which belongs essentially to time. (7)

This understanding of the temporality of energeiai does not simply complete Aristotle's account of their nature. In addition, it preserves the integrity of the phenomena because it captures, and makes sense of, our experience of time when we are engaged in perfect activities. This, in turn, enriches Aristotle's account of the good life as intrinsically meaningful by identifying a form of experiential awareness of it, which is, moreover, available in principle to everyone.

The paper opens with an outline of the defining characteristics of movements and energeiai (section 1). Section 2 analyzes the passages of the Physics in which Aristotle discusses the meaning of the expression "being-in-time." (8) Section 3 elaborates on the phenomenological aptness of the distinction between being-in-time in virtue of a thing's nature and being-in-time accidentally, and on its relevance for the philosopher's view of the meaningfulness of human life.


The Distinction between Kinesis and Energeia. Kinesis and energeia are two kinds of processes defined by their relation to the ends (teloi) at which they aim. (9) Their teleological configuration can be best appreciated if we start from the characteristics that make the two alike. For embodied beings like us, (10) both movements and complete activities are the fulfillment (entelecheia) of a potentiality (dynamis) (11) and consist in activity. (12) Potentiality, however, is said in (at least) two senses; correspondingly, the processes that realize those capacities can be understood in two different ways. (13) The De anima illustrates these differences with the example of knowing. A human being can be said to be a potential knower of grammar (a) in the sense that he belongs to the class of beings that have the capacity (dynamis) to acquire this knowledge. Every healthy newborn of our species is a potential knower in this sense, whereas members of other species are not. Alternatively, a human being can be called a potential knower because, (b) if nothing prevents him, he can realize his capacity to speak grammatically at will. This ability is proper of someone who has already acquired the capacity to speak a given language--that is, who has actualized his potentiality as characterized in (a)--but is currently not speaking it. Actually speaking the language is a third stage (c) that fulfills the potentiality of the one who has mastered the language and makes him an actual knower in the fullest sense of the term.

Both the passages from (a) to (b) and from (b) to (c) fulfill a potentiality. The former, however, is a motion or alteration (alloiosis); the latter an energeia. …

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