The Concept of Entelechy: Aristotle, Potentiality, and Philosophy

Charles Lincon
4 min readNov 30, 2020
“A marble block in Carrara. Could there be a particular sculpture already existing in it as a potentiality? Aristotle wrote approvingly of such ways of talking, and felt it reflected a type of causation in nature which is often ignored in scientific discussion.” Image and description from Wikipedia. I claim no copyright.

Biology, as the study of life, includes both chemistry and physics. Hans Driesch in the “The Science & Philosophy of the Organism” attempts to describe the beginnings of life by observing the early stages of development of beings, effectually trying to shed light on how life occurs, bringing in ideas from chemistry and physics. However, at the beginning he asks what the reason for life is, saying, “biology is also the most difficult of all natural sciences, not only from the complexity of the phenomena which it studies, but in particular for another reason which is seldom properly emphasized, and therefore will well repay us for a few words devoted to it”. What this “(an)other reason” is seems to be the most inquisitive of what he described within his attempts of observing life.

Attempting to find truth in a study is what Socrates describes in Plato’s Republic as life’s most important achievement: to realise the sun by getting out of the shadows of the cave. If what Driesch calls the other ‘reason’ can be found for the development of life rather than just material vantage points, I would say it would be like seeing the sun. Subjects such as biology without this basis of the reason of the development of life are only ways that can help us out of the cave but are not entirely ‘the sun’ because their fundamental bottoms from which they are established are unclear. Geometry, is also another more common example, with the unclear basis of the point, that with no part from which everything in geometry is created. But again if the fundamentals of life can be found then would we be able to see“the sun”? Could the notion of “ἐντελέξια“, be more than just a reason for life inside living beings, but a term for systems that are creating living systems that are composed of streams, plants, rocks and dirt combined together function as a living organism? Physicists can create motions instantly, but biologists must wait for the right moment to observe their subjects. The simplest ideas of how beings come into being are hard to examine since they must be waited for.

For comparison, the Aristotle scholar, Joe Sachs writes:

Aristotle invents the word by combining entelēs (ἐντελής, “complete, full-grown”) with echein (= hexis, to be a certain way by the continuing effort of holding on in that condition), while at the same time punning on endelecheia (ἐνδελέχεια, “persistence”) by inserting “telos” (τέλος, “completion”). This is a three-ring circus of a word, at the heart of everything in Aristotle’s thinking, including the definition of motion.

- Sachs, Joe (1995), Aristotle’s Physics: a Guided Study, Rutgers University Press

In relation to energia to entelechy, Sachs explains:

Just as energeia extends to entelecheia because it is the activity which makes a thing what it is, entelecheia extends to energeia because it is the end or perfection which has being only in, through, and during activity.

- Sachs, Joe (1995), Aristotle’s Physics: a Guided Study, Rutgers University Press

For comparison, the famed 11th Edition of Britannica in the entry on “FORMS” provides an excellent statement on entelechy:

The perfection of the form of a thing is its entelechy (ἐντελέχεια) in virtue of which it attains its fullest realization of function (De anima, ii. 2, ἡ μὲν ὔλη δύναμις τὸ δἐ εἶδος ἐντελέχεια). Thus the entelechy of the body is the soul. The origin of the differentiation process is to be sought in a “ prime mover “ (πρῶτον κινοῦν), i.e. pure form entirely separate (χωρίστόν) from all matter, eternal, unchangeable, operating not by its own activity but by the impulse which its own absolute existence excites in matter (ὠς ἐπώμενoν, οὐ κινούμενoν).

© Charles Edward Andrew Lincoln IV

Texas A&M University Graduation 2016 — Receiving an award for the most pro bono awards of any student that graduating class from Texas A&M Law in 2016. https://law.tamu.edu/media/news-media-resources/story/spring-2016-hooding-and-commencement-ceremony “The Equal Justice Award was presented to Charles Lincoln as the graduate who has performed pro bono legal services in an extraordinary way and contributed the greatest number of hours of public service pro bono work with 674.5 hours, exemplifying the Aggie core value of selfless service. Lincoln has worked with Catholic Charities, the Texas 13th Court of Appeals, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Texas Attorney General’s Office and U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffery Manske of the Western District of Texas.” [Charles Edward Andrew Lincoln IV]

© Charles Edward Andrew Lincoln IV

Newer photo of me :) © Charles Edward Andrew Lincoln IV

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Charles Lincon

Renaissance literature, Shakespeare, Hegelian dialectics, Attic Greek, masters University of Amsterdam.