Talk:Potentiality and actuality

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Dave comments[edit]

For you, do as you like.Dave (talk) 02:43, 25 August 2010 (UTC)

  • The hatnotes are obscure and far too many. What makes them obscure is that you are not tying the Greek or Latin words to the concepts. How were these obscure words derived? What did they originally stand for, and what now?
  • The traditional words are act and potency. These refer to metaphysical components of the object. Actuality is too vague and so is potentiality. They could mean a number of things; i.e., they are equivocal.
  • "Roughly speaking, a potentiality is most generally any possibility that a thing can be said to have." We don't speak roughly in philosphy. The goal is to speak finely. But, this idea is your original thought. You've presented Aristotle as a special case of something else. There is no something else.
  • "those specific possibilities which things will tend to have of their own accord whenever the conditions are right and nothing stops them" No, you don't understand. First, receive "real" and "unreal". These can't be defined; they are primitives (epistemology). The potency is not some abstract and amorphous prediction of the future it is a real metaphysical component of the object, which determines the future acts that it will have. Act and potency are components of the object. Of course if there are no objects then they cannot have metaphysical components, but that is quite another story. I once covered this under Heraclitus but I got NO idea what that article has been made into.
  • "Actuality on the other hand is the motion, change or activity which represents an exercise or fulfillment of a possibility, when a possibility becomes real in the fullest sense" No (glottal stop). The word you want is change and motion used by the ancients in philosophy means change. Change is the loss or gain of acts in the potency. The ancients never solved the problem of what change is, which is why we call it the change problem. Change is real no doubt and is not identical to either act, potency or both together. I' don't think we've solved it either. We recognize the "flow of time", but what exactly is that? Arthur Eddington said that physicists put all these concepts on a laundry list for future explication and then gets on with the physics.
  • "This dichotomy, in modified forms, remained very important into the middle ages, influencing the development of medieval theology in several ways. Going further into modern times, while the understanding of nature (and deity) implied by the dichotomy lost importance, the terminology has found new uses, developing indirectly from the old. This is most obvious in words like "energy" and "dynamic", but also in the biological concept of an "entelechy". This does not say anything with which I can connect.

There is not really any point in going further. I think you must see what I mean in my messages. The case is not that we have got up a certain point and cannot get any further. The case is that we have not even begun. How's your Greek? Latin? I would say they were essential qualifications for writing an article of this nature. We need the right terms and we need to cull them from the Greek and Latin texts. Can you do that? If not, can you read any Boston College metaphysics books? Or Notre Dame? Or some of the Canadian colleges? I refuse to work on this unless I can rewrite. All the critics of this philosophy have to lay off while the article is being developed. I really do not see that happening. The people are not going to LET you write this article. I once offered to work on a blocked article on language, but, I said, I was not going to to fight the administrators. They left me lttle love notes about how I could just be courteous. I didn't think I was discourteous. If the administrators are at that level what are the rest of you going to be like? No thanks. WP is no good on philosophy. Even though I'm a reviewer of sorts I don't think there is much chance of the great democracy fixing it. Philosphy is not democratic. Was Socrates democratic? Far from it. Read the Republic. The democracy executed him! Aristotle was the principle teacher of Alexander the great. Pythagoras founded a school the citizens felt they had to massacre. And so on. I will look at this from time to time but it has got off on the wrong foot right from the start. The concepts we want are act and potency, components of the perceived object. Sorry. I'm not a WP savior only an experienced editor. Ciao.Dave (talk) 03:30, 25 August 2010 (UTC)

Thanks Dave!
  • Hatnotes. Yes. Work continues on that.
  • Actuality is the more traditional word in the English of the last century or so I think, and less vague, compared to act. By this I mean both can mean other things, but act can mean even more other things in modern English than actuality. Anyway, both are words used, but I think there simply is no easy solution about how to translate energeia? So I am not sure if your point requires any changes, but if you have suggestions...
  • Roughly speaking means approximately, and not in a lot of detail. It is not intended to be the opposite as such of kalos, just a style for a lede. :) On the other hand Aristotle quite explicitly sometimes chooses to do this himself. Concerning your comment about originality I presume this refers to your next comment? If not, please explain.
  • I do not see your point about potency being a component. The wording you are questioning can be (and I think is) sourced to both Aristotle and commentators but I am not really sure if it disagrees with you anyway. A good way to explain further if you have time might be a concrete wording suggestion.
  • The problem of change and kinesis. Yes I suppose so, but we can't turn this specific article into an essay on big issues in the history of philosophy? Is there any concrete proposal you could draw out of what you are saying, for this specific article?
Final point. I have a policy of not getting into personal discussion about qualifications. If you see something wrong which shows a lack of understanding, please explain it clearly, and let's see if we can discuss it. I guess such dialogue is the only way that two people can get a feel for each other's real understanding on the internet.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 06:25, 25 August 2010 (UTC)
Dave, a second crack at this after reading you again. I did not directly address your point made twice about the terms being primitive. (My quick indirect way of addressing it was to ask what you would suggest in concrete.) Maybe it is better to address it more directly though because I have a few more minutes at this computer. The lede being a lede, I consider the words being equated or semi-equated to potentiality and actuality as other primitives with similar meanings. These are not attempts to define one thing in terms of another, but approximate translations. You have not read past the lede I take it? For the lede, it seems to me and I think all other editors who have worked on this that such a listing of possible translations is necessary at the start because clearly potentiality and actuality are not everyday words but they do refer to everyday things. The lede needs to be comprehensible to everyone including people who have come to the wrong article and just want to check whether this is the one they wanted or not. To actually explain further has been difficult in the lede because, well because it is the subject itself and quite a tricky one which even the big names do not all agree on concerning all points.
Of course you've also raised a reasonable question by asking why the main article uses actuality and potentiality specifically in the first place. No neat answer possible on that. My slight preference would have been for the original Greek words energeia and dunamis, as was discussed. But in the end a practical decision simply has to be made. (As editors we are practical actors not theoretical, although as you say being able to edit well requires understanding also; but then so does the political art, which is also practical.) Some context for you might help: One of the practical problems this subject has had on Wikipedia is that a hand-full of articles were existing independently and getting different redirects, different not because they addressed different subjects, but simply because they'd started from different key words. Specifically these were named energeia, dunamis (both started by me in 2005), actuality and potentiality, "actus et potentia", and (still separate today but in discussion) entelechy. Discussing how to merge them is the theme of recent efforts to also improve it. To have a happy home for all material the article needs to be at least as good as all the source articles. One question which was raised concerning merging though was that User:LoveMonkey felt (I hope explain this correctly) merging discourages work on expanding discussion about what happened to the concepts and vocabulary AFTER Aristotle. Trying to get discussion about expanding such discussion was background to me doing a sweep around related articles and asking if anyone was interested to come look.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 07:21, 25 August 2010 (UTC)

Copyedit - Grammar and style[edit]

Reading this article, I realise there is an ongoing content dispute - but there is also a growing problem with the grammar/style. A lot of sentences are ambiguous and difficult to understand - remember this is a Wiki for lay people to read. While we have to deal with complex content it should be approachable as well. I think that as this article has grown it has just gotten a bit confusing. This is probably the best thing to read to help with improving the text.

I've also noted quite a lot of original research and some synth in parts of the text - again I think it part to the way the article is grown. It is also possible that the way sentences are worded make the content come across as OR when it is supported by the citations. Again; just something to think on.

I recommend printing and reading a copy of the text out loud - it may become clearer what I mean then :) Hopefully I will get a chance over the next few days improving the article copy - I'm no expert on the subject though so if I make a factual error just say so. --Errant [tmorton166] (chat!) 10:35, 26 August 2010 (UTC)

Thanks for that remark. I agree. This article needs more copy editing and is difficult to read in many places, but I'd add that older versions were worse. As you say, there has been a merge, and then attempts to make parts which had different qualities fit together, and also a period of edit war which stopped copy editing for the most part for a while. So real copy editing is just starting again. I've asked around for editors who might know this field, such as Dave above. There are also on-going (hopefully) discussions at Talk:Entelechy and User talk:LoveMonkey. Finally, to state something obvious: some parts are rather hard to word correctly also, even if we'd had a more collegial atmosphere recently. I hope that at least having one article this subject will bring more focus to editing.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 11:14, 26 August 2010 (UTC)
I'd advise locating editors (and I am happy to help here) who are novices in the subject to help copyediting - it is the easiest way to make sure the content is clear :) By the way I had one question; and in some contexts this word is also found in English language discussion. confused me. What contexts? and what is meant by English language discussion? Just checking because it doesn't quite follow from the start of the sentence :) --Errant [tmorton166] (chat!) 11:25, 26 August 2010 (UTC)

My continuing thanks, and once again I think your idea is good. As Dave has pointed out, to get an article like this needs at least the support of people with someone knowledge, but for the most part this article could really do with non specialist editing. This is another thing which will hopefully be easy now that all the old fork articles are hopefully going to be merged and stay so.

Concerning the sentence you mention, in philosophical and theological books there are different ways of writing about this one subject. Some authors prefer to use the original Greek words, some (if they are writing about Catholic theology) even the Latin words. (This is presumably why this one subject ended up with so many alternative articles.) Does that make sense? Having worked too much on the article I might not see why this is not clear, so your advice on such things is highly appreciated.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 11:40, 26 August 2010 (UTC)

Ah! I see that makes sense. So were you going for something like.. "
The Latin translation of the word is potentia, root of the English word potential, which is used by some scholars instead of the Greek or English variants.
My only concern is; does that statement have a source? That's the sort of thing that gets disputed :D --Errant [tmorton166] (chat!) 11:45, 26 August 2010 (UTC)
Yes. Seems fine. On your second issue, there have been no disputes about this particular point between editors involved so far and I think it would be easy to source if really necessary. I just fear the footnotes would start to get over-bearing if you need a separate source for every sentence. Most or all of the sources being used so far do mention translation debates and difference traditions which are central and known issues. These words have interesting historical links by the way: Just trying to understand those links leads to insights about ancient thinking, and it has been my guiding belief that this would be a "notable" point about them for at least some Wikipedia users. The medieval section is a bit of a missing link for now, because it is there that we can possibly build up a better explanation of how a word meaning "being at work" could come to mean energy in modern English. In modern Greek, the modern scientific term energy is still spelt exactly like Aristotle's word which we now translate as actuality or being-at-work. Since editing re-started I have expanded a lot in this sections.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 11:55, 26 August 2010 (UTC)
Heh, well not to be awkward but I think that such information should be sourced - by WP policy it does need to be sourced. As you say; there is no need to source every sentence but that statement is completely unsupported - I imagine that the whole paragraph could be sourced from one place fairly easily - one that discusses the etymology of the word and it's uses in scholarly work. In terms of the structure of those sections I wonder if a slight re-ordering might be appropriate. So that the first paragraph of the section explains the term and the etymology etc. (which is interesting, I agree) is a later party of the section. I'll post a suggested revision below on the talk in a second. --Errant [tmorton166] (chat!) 12:12, 26 August 2010 (UTC)
Yes I think no one disagrees with the principle, and sourcing has been added a lot in recent days. Just need to find ways to do these things. As you say, outside advice is maybe important in some cases here because you have a neutral concept of what is not obvious.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 12:16, 26 August 2010 (UTC)
Cool. By the way there is no issue with having hundreds of references (take a look at Jesus for example). The more the better; after all everything does have to be sourced from somewhere, so making it explicit stops an editor driving by and dropping in {{cn}} tags :D --Errant [tmorton166] (chat!) 12:26, 26 August 2010 (UTC)
Further thoughts. Although the words "potentiality" and "actuality" used here are one set of translations of the original Greek terms of Aristotle, other terms including Greek and Latin ones are also found in English discussion. This will be discussed in more detail below. - this is a useful note, I wonder if it is a good idea to use it as a footnote (I'm actually going to make the change so you can see what I mean). BTW when I mentioned opening paragraph in an edit summary I meant of the Potentiality section, sorry for the ambiguity :) --Errant [tmorton166] (chat!) 11:49, 26 August 2010 (UTC)
Making the change so we can see it sounds great. Your proposal sounds logical at first sight. I think with such issues you have to play with different ways of getting people's attention moving in the right direction.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 11:55, 26 August 2010 (UTC)

Your edits seem to me to both be improvements to the article and worth keeping unless someone comes up with something better.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 11:58, 26 August 2010 (UTC)

Proposed restructuring for clarity[edit]

As mentioned above I'm suggesting the Actuality section be restructured for added clarity. e.g.

Potentiality is one translation of the Ancient Greek word Dunamis or dynamis (δύναμις). The word was adopted by Aristotle who distinguished his understanding of the concept from its original use, saying that all the ways in which the word dunamis were used either mean that something "might chance to happen or not to happen", or else in a stronger sense "they might do so well". This distinction is necessary "because sometimes we say that those who can merely take a walk, or speak, without doing it as well as they intended, cannot speak or walk". The stronger sense, requiring that something can do something well, is mainly said of living things, although it can also be said of things like musical instruments.[1]
Throughout the works of Aristotle, characteristics of things which are stable or persistent, having their own tendency to be in a particular action rather than just a possibility of happening by chance are clearly held distinct and treated as more real. "Natures which persist" are said by him to be one of the causes of all things, while natures which are not persistent "might often be slandered as not being at all by one who fixes his thinking sternly upon it as upon a criminal".[2]
Dunamis has alternative translations of "potency", "potential", "capacity", "ability", "power", "capability", "strength", "possibility", "force" and is the root of modern English words "dynamic", "dynamite", and "dynamo". The original Greek is sometimes used untranslated in English texts because of its importance in philosophy. Its Latin translation is "potentia", root of the English word potential, and used by some scholars instead of the Greek or English variants.

Thoughts? --Errant [tmorton166] (chat!) 12:20, 26 August 2010 (UTC)

Sorry for a big paste, but I need to compare to the present version, and I guess others may also want to. I hope you don't mind me indenting the two versions also just to make it clear where they start and stop.

Potentiality is one translation of Dunamis or dynamis (δύναμις), an Ancient Greek word (alternatively translated as "potency", "potential", "capacity", "ability", "power", "capability", "strength", "possibility", "force") and root of the English words "dynamic", "dynamite", and "dynamo". The word existed before Aristotle made use of it. "Dunamis" is sometimes seen untranslated in English texts because of its importance in philosophy. The Latin translation of the "Dunamis" is potentia, root of the English word potential, which is used by some scholars instead of the Greek or English variants.
Distinguishing his own understanding of this concept from the general use of this Greek word, Aristotle says that all the ways in which the word dunamis were used either mean that something "might chance to happen or not to happen", or else in a stronger sense "they might do so well". This distinction is necessary "because sometimes we say that those who can merely take a walk, or speak, without doing it as well as they intended, cannot speak or walk". The stronger sense, requiring that something can do something well, is mainly said of living things, although it can also be said of things like musical instruments.[3]
Throughout the works of Aristotle, characteristics of things which are stable or persistent, having their own tendency to be in a particular action rather than just a possibility of happening by chance are clearly held distinct and treated as more real. "Natures which persist" are said by him to be one of the causes of all things, while natures which are not persistent "might often be slandered as not being at all by one who fixes his thinking sternly upon it as upon a criminal".[4]

OK, now I need to look at them. I don't promise an answer today. I hope others will also comment.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 16:01, 26 August 2010 (UTC)

Some rushed remarks:

  • Obviously it is not shorter, so presumably that was not the aim.
  • The moving around changes things a little wrongly. Dunamis was a fairly ordinary word and could mean lots of things. But in modern English language philosophical discussion the word would only be used in a more restricted sense, where it is being used a technical term for the opposite of an actuality. You've kind of made it look like all the old meanings of dunamis are still active in modern English language philosophical discussion.

Does that make sense?--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 16:09, 26 August 2010 (UTC)

Ah, sorry I slightly misunderstood the original wording.. I've revised it above - see what you think. My aim was to get Aristotle's definition/use higher up in the paragraph - it was a little confusing to have commentary about the words etymology before stuff driectly relevant to the article. :) --Errant [tmorton166] (chat!) 16:37, 26 August 2010 (UTC)
I have not got any definitive strong view, but OTOH I am not totally convinced this is an improvement. But I think I am starting to see the aim. I guess your intention is to move the core to the first line, as per normal good newspaper style. Sounds like a reasonable aim if you can pull it off, but I see a few practical problems in this case:
  • The last paragraph now looks like leftovers that were pushed out in the move. Not sure if that is a big problem. Main concern, now ameliorated in your second go, would be that the leftovers give an impression that is misleading.
  • In effect, to move the core to the top you are now needing to go directly into a quite complex concept and then only later saying that the word is based on a more simple meaning, more or less as an afterthought. Because Aristotle is so difficult, it is often helpful, even if awkward, to explain his concept by actually in a sense going through where it comes from and what it contrasts to. (That is also how he writes by the way.) I'll also try playing myself with your version:- --Andrew Lancaster (talk) 09:11, 27 August 2010 (UTC)
Potentiality and potency are translations of the Ancient Greek word Dunamis or dynamis (δύναμις) as it is used by Aristotle to contrast with actuality. This was originally an ordinary Greek word for possibility or capability.[5] Aristotle felt it was important to distinguish between what he considered to be very different meanings of the word dunamis. Sometimes it was used just to mean something "might chance to happen or not to happen", but more important for his understanding of nature is the stronger sense where something might be done well. For example, "sometimes we say that those who can merely take a walk, or speak, without doing it as well as they intended, cannot speak or walk". This stronger sense is mainly said of the potentials of living things, although it is also sometimes used for things like musical instruments.[6]
Throughout the works of Aristotle, characteristics of things which are stable or persistent, having their own tendency to be in a particular action rather than just a possibility of happening by chance are clearly held distinct and treated as more real. "Natures which persist" are said by him to be one of the causes of all things, while natures which are not persistent "might often be slandered as not being at all by one who fixes his thinking sternly upon it as upon a criminal".[7]
In discussions about the Aristotelian actuality-potentiality distinction, the original Greek word "dunamis" is sometimes also used untranslated in English texts. Its Latin translation is "potentia", root of the English word potential, and used by some scholars instead of the Greek or English variants.
Excellent :) I really like that. --Errant [tmorton166] (chat!) 09:29, 27 August 2010 (UTC)
  1. ^ Metaphysics 1019a - 1019b. The translations used are those of Tredennick on the Perseus project.
  2. ^ Translation from Sachs & 1995 (p.45) from Physics 192a18
  3. ^ Metaphysics 1019a - 1019b. The translations used are those of Tredennick on the Perseus project.
  4. ^ Translation from Sachs & 1995 (p.45) from Physics 192a18
  5. ^ Depending on context, dunamis has alternative translations of "potency", "potential", "capacity", "ability", "power", "capability", "strength", "possibility", "force" and is the root of modern English words "dynamic", "dynamite", and "dynamo".
  6. ^ Metaphysics 1019a - 1019b. The translations used are those of Tredennick on the Perseus project.
  7. ^ Translation from Sachs & 1995 (p.45) from Physics 192a18

OK, so that apparent improvement is inserted.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 10:01, 27 August 2010 (UTC)

Archived[edit]

I have archived the page contents up until very recently based on an AN/I thread discussion. I was indiscriminate - so if useful information was archived please feel free to selectively unarchive it again. I hope this is amenable to everyone --Errant [tmorton166] (chat!) 16:43, 26 August 2010 (UTC)