Aristotelian powers

when it is actually heating water; an object is perceptible only when it is actually being 1 perceived-- and so on. But, it is part of the notion of a causal power that it exists whether or not it is active. In order to respond to this challenge Aristotle draws a distinction between two ways of being a power; when it is active the power exists actually; when it is inactive it exists potentially. Contemporary writers have noted that we need a way of understanding powers that includes their present but inactive existence (Harre 1970,p. 84), although Aristotle’s ontological response to this difficulty might seem wrong-headed or unnecessary. One objectionable aspect to his solution is the inherently teleological relationship between being x potentially and being x actually. Second, Aristotle does not draw an ontological distinction between those powers that operate with reason (e.g. crafts like housebuilding or arts like medicine), and those that do not. He does provide different conditions of realization for the two kinds of powers, but those conditions are variants within the same ontology of causal powers. In this regard, Aristotle offers one possible realist framework of causal powers that sees human action (and hence the social sciences) on a continuum with the physical sciences rather than as categorically (ontologically) different from them, and therefore requiring an entirely different explanatory framework. It is important to note, however, that Aristotle’s paradigmatic physical science is biology and his framework for understanding natural living beings (organisms) is teleological. Perhaps a better way to put this is that Aristotle’s understanding of the physical sciences (e.g. chemistry) is entirely different from ours, and it is a good question how relevant Aristotle’s unified framework of causal powers is given current conceptions of the physical sciences, and the centrality of physics and chemistry as models of the physical sciences. The common theme that unites both of these aspects of Aristotle’s ontology of causal powers is the central presence of teleology..
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