The Metaphysic of Aristotle: Part IV, Potential and Actual Reality


Watson, John. “The Metaphysic of Aristotle.” The Philosophical Review 7, no. 4 (1898): 337. https://doi.org/10.2307/2177129


SO far Aristotle has considered the real mainly from a static point of view, though he has been incidentally led to point out that all definite reality involves a dynamical process. It is this last aspect of things to which he now draws special attention, and indeed what is most distinctive of his doctrine is his conception of the world as a process. Reality, as he has contended, is neither a mere series of changes, nor is it fixed and unchanging. The former view makes reality the perpetual rise and disappearance of the particular, the latter transforms the living reality of things into the dead unchanging 'being' of the Eleatics, or the equally dead 'ideas' of the Platonists. There is change and there is permanence, but change takes place in fixed and unalterable ways, so that each thing contains within itself and is constituted by the universal nature which it realizes under particular conditions. This universal nature, however, as he now goes on to maintain, is in finite things not something which they possess, but something which they are in process of realizing, and therefore we are compelled to distinguish between what they are 'actually' and what they are 'potentially.’ The clear comprehension of the relation of the 'potential' to the 'actual’ is therefore indispensable to a true knowledge of the real.

Now, the distinction between the 'potential' and the 'actual’ between what a thing is capable of being, and what it actually is, was in Aristotle's day, as in ours, ignored or denied. The Megarians held that nothing can be said to be which is not inactivity. A man is a builder when he is actually building, but it is absurd to speak of a man as having a faculty which is not in actual exercise. To this view Aristotle answers that it ignores the process by which the art of building is acquired, confusing an original endowment with the result of a process by which the individual attains a power which he did not at first possess. If we generalize the doctrine of the Megarians, we shall be forced to conclude that reality consists in an evanescent series of particulars, since nothing is real except in the actual moment of its existence. Accordingly, a sensible object must be supposed to exist only at the time when it is apprehended, and this apprehension itself must be held to be a momentary sensation. Thus, the doctrine of the Megarians is at bottom identical with that of Protagoras, the imperfection of which has already been shown. All such doctrines destroy the possibility of real change, substituting for it a discontinuous series of particulars, and thus making both reality and knowledge impossible. We cannot, then, deny the distinction of 'potential' and 'actual’ reality without making the facts of experience inexplicable.


What, then, is the relation of the 'potential' to the 'actual?’ The answer is to be found in the distinction between the 'possible' and the 'impossible’ The ‘potential' must not be confused with mere 'possibility,' i.e., with the 'possibility' of anything whatever. The only 'possibility' that we can admit is the ‘possibility' of the 'actual.' We cannot say, to take Aristotle’s own instance, that it is ‘possible' that the diagonal of the square should be measured, and yet never will be measured, or, to take a modern instance, with which Mill has made us familiar, that it is possible that 2 + 3 may be = 6. What cannot be actually realized is ‘impossible,' and therefore 'possibility' is determined by 'actuality.' Nothing is ‘possible' which, by the nature of things, cannot become 'actual' so that the 'possible' or 'potential' is not abstract or unlimited 'possibility’ but determinate ‘possibility’ i.e., the possibility of realization in a certain definite way. The 'impossible’ is therefore that which is incompatible with the 'actual;' the 'possible' that which is compatible with the actual. The 'possible' may or may not become 'actual’ but nothing is 'possible' which under appropriate conditions will not become 'actual.' What Aristotle, then, is contending for, is that the transition from 'possibility' to 'actuality' must take place in certain fixed and unchanging ways, in which the true nature of the real is manifested. Thus, we get, as the meaning of the ‘potential’ the persistent tendency towards the 'actual.' The world is not a chaos but a cosmos, and there can be no cosmos, if reality is conceived as the infinite possibility of any actuality whatever. The acorn is the possibility of the oak, but not of the fir; the child is the possibility of the man, but not of the horse or dog; and so, in all cases. We can thus undersee, in the case 'natural things,' moving principle ‘form’ and 'end' become identical. The principle which determines the transition from 'potentiality' to 'actuality' is the 'end' or determinate mode of 'actuality' which a thing is capable of becoming, i.e., its ‘form;' and the 'end’ is therefore involved in the ‘potentiality.' The distinction and the correlation of ‘potentiality' and 'actuality’ is therefore a fundamental principle in the Aristotelian philosophy.


In every 'potentiality’ then, there is a tendency to pass into ‘actuality.' This tendency, however, is not always realized, because it can be realized only when the external conditions permit of its realization; in other words, when the 'matter ‘is capable of being acted upon. Thus, the seed tends to develop into plant, but it cannot do so without favorable soil, moisture, air, and sunlight, which are its 'material' conditions. But, provided the 'matter' permits of it, the 'potentiality' will pass over into ‘actuality.' We have therefore to observe that the 'potential' is that which is in a condition to become 'actual.' Nothing can in the proper sense be called 'potential' which will not become 'actual' under appropriate conditions, and that without first undergoing an internal change. It follows that there are various stages or degrees of the 'potential' and 'actual.' Earth is the 'potentiality' of which wood is the actuality; but wood again, is the ‘potentiality' of which a box is the 'actuality.' And it will be observed that, however far we carry back the process, whenever we reach an unformed 'matter’ but only that which is ‘matter' relatively to the 'form' which is expressed as 'actuality.' In the process of the world we therefore find that from mere 'matter’ but always from something determinate, which is the 'matter’ relatively to that which is more determinate. We may suppose a primary substance, as the matter or substrate underlying the whole complex organism of the world, but we cannot conceive of a primitive or unformed matter as the nucleus of all determinate reality. This will become obvious if we ask whether the ‘potential’ is prior or the ‘actual,’ or he ‘actual’ to the ‘potential. ‘Now, that which is 'prior' must be so either (1) in knowledge, or (2) in time, or (3) in 'substance;' and it may be shown that in all these senses the 'actual’ is prior to the 'potential’ For (1) we cannot know in any case what is 'potential' without knowledge of the 'actual.' The 'potential’ as we have seen, is not a bare 'possibility’ but the 'possibility' of something determinate, and there is nothing determinate except that which is in ‘actuality.' We could not tell that an object is capable of being seen if no one had ever seen it; that an animal has the faculty of seeing, did we not find that animals actually do see; nor that Aman is capable of building, who does not 'actually’ possess the art of building. Thus, our knowledge of the 'potential’ always pre-supposes a knowledge of the 'actual.' (2) It may seem as if the ‘potential' were 'prior ‘in time to the 'actual’ because in the case of any given individual it is so. Bricks must be in existence before they can be made into a house; the 'seed-corn’ must precede in existence the corn; a man must have the faculty of sight before he sees. And no doubt this is true, but we forget that the individual in question presupposes the ‘actual' existence of that which in each case is 'potential.' The house must exist as an 'actual' conception in the mind of the builder before it is built; the seed-corn has come from actual corn, and the man from another man. It must, further, observed that in all the 'rational’ faculties, the ‘actual’ is always prior to the 'potential.’ Every 'art' is a faculty, which is acquired only by actual exercise, and in fact the Sophistical argument that nothing can be learned is based upon this very fact, that 'learning' consists in the 'actual' doing of a thing, as the condition of the 'capacity' to do it well. (3) It may also be shown that the 'actual’ is prior in 'substance' to the 'potential. ‘The 'substance,' 'essential nature’ or 'form' of anything is that which it is as actualized, and the 'potential’ is merely that phase of the 'actual' in which as yet the thing cannot be said to have existence. For, as the 'potential ‘is that which, under appropriate conditions, must become 'actual,' each thing has a certain 'end,' without the realization of which it cannot be said to exist. As it is this 'end' which determines the ‘actual' existence of the thing, the end is also the 'beginning' or ‘principle.’ Since, therefore, nothing can be called 'potential’ except that which is capable of realizing its 'end,' it is itself obvious that the 'end' must be the active principle determining the character of the 'faculty.'


We have now reached the point where Aristotle enters upon the final stage of his enquiry, seeking to determine the ultimate nature of the universe from the vantage ground reached by these preliminary investigations. In what follows an attempt will be made to give as full an account as seems necessary of the contents of the of the twelfth book of the Metaphysic, as viewed in the light thrown upon it by what he says elsewhere.


IV. The Divine Reason

In seeking to determine the ultimate reality which is the Prius of all other reality, Aristotle follows, as usual, the regressive method of starting with what is 'best known to us,' and asking what is 'best known in itself,' i.e., what must be presupposed as essential to its existence. Now, we are all familiar with sensible reality, in the form of particular things which arise and perish, such as plants and animals; and, therefore, we shall start with this sensible and perishable reality.


Every sensible thing is an instance of a specific class, and by its very nature is subject to change. As belonging to a class, it necessarily conforms to the law of its class; and, therefore, whatever be the mode in which it manifests its changeable or perishable nature, it cannot transcend the limits of its class. Herein we see the finite character of all sensible things. Change necessarily involves transition, but in sensible things the transition is from one contrary into another, i.e., it takes place, not between all opposites, but only between opposites of the same genus. Moreover, it is characteristic of changeable things, that the contraries are mutually exclusive, so that when the one exists the other ceases, or the change from one to the other consists in the substitution of the one for the other. If, therefore, reality consisted in nothing but change, we should have no individual substance whatever, but merely a succession of particulars. Change, therefore, implies that there is some underlying basis, which persists in the change, or which is capable of existing in contrary states, though not at the same time. This underlying basis or ‘matter' is, therefore, the 'permanent possibility' of contrary states. We can thus see that sensible things are necessarily finite or transitory, just because the mode in which they exist at any given time does not express all that is implied in them. The plant passes through a succession of states, but in no one of Them is its whole nature realized; in each phase, only part of its reality is 'actual,' and, therefore, its 'matter' and its 'form,' what it is ‘potentially' and what it is 'actually,' do not coincide.


This separation between what a thing is ‘potentially' and what it is 'actually' may be shown to obtain in all the ways in which a sensible thing may change. There may be change (1) of the ‘what,’ (2) in quality, (3) in quantity,(4) in place: in other words, this particular sensible thing may either 'originate' or 'perish’ it may undergo 'alteration' or change in its accidental properties; it may 'increase' or decrease; or it may 'move.’ In none of these modes of change is there any absolute origination out of nothing, nor is there any absolute destruction, (a) When a particular thing comes into being or goes out of being, there is a transition from 'potentiality' to 'actuality,' or from 'actuality’ to ‘potentiality,' but there is no creation out of nothing. The energy is a generic process existing prior and subsequent to the particular thing, (b) After coming into being the particular thing may alter in quality, passing from one contrary to another, but it can only exist in the particular state which its nature permits it to assume. It may increase or decrease; but only because it is capable of quantitative change, (d) It may change in place, but only because it is in its nature capable of motion. It is thus evident that sensible changes are in all cases the realization of what is 'potential,' i.e., that there is a certain determinate nature which confines the changes of each thing within impassable limits. The reality of each thing is determined by the generic energy which is immanent in it. And not only is there no absolute origination, but the changes which finite reality undergoes are always of a fixed character. This truth was very imperfectly apprehended by the earlier thinkers, who rather imagined that ‘matter' is the abstract possibility of any and every change. Were this the case, it would be impossible to explain how there should be such infinite variety in sensible things, or how certain things are capable of change only in place, while others also arise and perish, and undergo changes of quality and quantity. From this distinction, in fact, arises the fundamental difference between the celestial bodies, which never arise or perish, but change only in the way of motion, and terrestrial things which are perishable, and change in quality and quantity as well as in place. Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Anaximander, and Democritus saw that we must presuppose ‘matter' in order to account for change, but they did not see that 'matter’ is not the universal possibility of change, but the possibility of certain fixed and definite changes which occur in accordance with the special nature of that which changes, and that each kind of change has its own law.


In the case of finite sensible things, then, we find a perpetual process of coming to be and ceasing to be, and a process of change according to a fixed law or principle. It may therefore seem that there is no eternal and immutable 'substance.' If the changes of the world are possible only under presupposition of the existence of particular substances, while these only endure for a limited time and then die, why should not all finite substances perish, and with them the whole universe? It is obvious that if there is no reality except that which is sensible and perishable, there is nothing to hinder us from supposing that all reality may disappear in absolute non-entity. We cannot, therefore, admit that sensible reality is self-sustaining or complete in itself, unless we are prepared to maintain that there is no distinction between being and non-being. Let us, therefore, enquire whether the process of sensible reality does not presuppose a reality which is supersensible.


If finite things are the only reality, there must be an absolute beginning and cessation of reality, for each finite thing as such begins to be and ceases to be. Now, we have seen that no finite thing is self-originating, but, on the contrary, is a manifestation of the activity which is immanent in all members of the class to which it belongs. It follows that nothing finite can come into being except under the presupposition of something else which contains it potentially, and that this potentiality can be realized only through the generative activity of the species. Now, if no finite thing originates or destroys itself, the process of the world must be eternal. Process implies time, and we cannot conceive of times beginning, because, in order to explain its beginning, we should have to suppose something from which it proceeded, and which was therefore 'prior' to it; in other words, time would be ‘prior' to itself. But this is simply another way of saying that time never began to be but is eternal. As there can be no process without time, and no time without process, the process of the world is eternal. It is also continuous, since any break in the process would mean that there was an absolute beginning or end. We have, therefore, to ask what the necessary condition of an eternal process is. The answer to this question leads to the highest point reached by Aristotle. It will be well to quote his own words: “To suppose that there is something which is capable of producing change or is originative, but that it does not actually produce or originate change, does not account for change; for that which has the power to originate change may not actually originate it. Hence it is no explanation of change whatsoever, to say that there are eternal substances, as is done by the advocates of 'ideas’ so long as these are not conceived to contain a principle capable of originating change. And even if we did hold that 'ideas' contain such a principle, or, that there is beside them another substance capable of originating change, we should not account for change inasmuch as neither is conceived to be actually productive of change. But, further, even if there were a principle which was actually productive of change, we should not account for the change being eternal, if we held that there was any potentiality in its inner nature, for that which is potential may not be. There must, therefore, be a principle which is by its very nature actuality. And such substances must be free from ‘matter;' for if there is anything at all eternal, these must before eternal, and, therefore, in 'actuality.' In this pregnant passage Aristotle argues that the process of the world is inexplicable unless we suppose an originative or self-active principle. All process implies that something comes to be which before was not, and nothing can account for such origination except that which not only has the capacity of origination, but actually is originative; while again nothing can actually originate something else, which is not in its very nature originative or self-active. If, therefore, the process of the world is eternal, there must be an eternally originative reality, i.e., a reality which is free from all ‘matter' or limitation.


The conclusion to which we have been led is that there is an eternally complete or self-active energy, which is manifested in the eternal process of the world. But this gives rise to a difficult problem. It is usually assumed that, while nothing can be ‘actual' which is not 'possible,' all that is 'possible ‘is not 'actual.' Must we not, therefore, say that the 'possible ‘is prior to the 'actual?' Must we not, in other words, hold that the universe as a whole develops from the 'possible' to the 'actual’? From what has already been said as to the priority of the 'actual' as compared with the 'potential,' we can readily anticipate Aristotle’s answer. It is true that in finite things the 'potential’ is prior to the 'actual,' and indeed this constitutes their finitude; but in reality, as a whole there can be no separation of 'potentiality' and ‘actuality.' For, if all 'actual' reality were referred back to 'potential’ reality, there would be no possibility of transition the 'potential' to the ' actual.' That which is not cannot originate that which is, and therefore the 'actual' would remain forever 'potential.' This assumption of the priority of the 'potential' to the 'actual’ is the fundamental mistake of the early poets and philosophers, who suppose the cosmos to have developed out of a primitive chaos or unformed 'matter.' But, if reality as a whole is thus reduced to inactive 'matter,’ whence is the active principle to come which is to develop this 'matter' into 'actuality'? We do not find bricks forming themselves into a house without the self-active principle of intelligence, or earth becoming a plant apart from the self-activity present in the seed; and similarly, the eternal process of the world demands an eternal and self-active principle to account for it. Leucippus and Plato, rightly holding that the process of the world is eternal, ought to have seen that an eternal process implies an eternal originative energy. A glimpse of this truth was obtained by Anaxagoras, when he made reason the principle of the world, for reason is a pure energy or self-activity. It is of fundamental importance for the understanding of Aristotle that his argument for the existence of an eternal originative energy should be properly understood; and it may therefore be well to restate it in a freer way. There are three main points which he seeks to establish. In the first place, his aim is to show that, while within the sphere of the sensible or transitory there is a continual process, the process is not self-explaining. Looking at the perpetual alternation of finite things, it seems as if we must say that reality is continually originating and ceasing, or, what is the same thing, that things come into being without any cause. But such a view owes its plausibility to the assumption that something can originate out of nothing. The earlier thinkers were unaware of the difficulty because they simply accepted change as a fact which did not require any principle to explain it, and hence they saw nothing absurd in the doctrine of an absolute origination of reality. But change necessarily demands some cause, and this cause cannot be itself originated, because, if it were, we should ultimately be forced upon an infinite series of causes, i.e., we should never reach a true cause at all. It’s is thus evident that, so long as we confine ourselves to the alternation of finite things, we have not reached a real explanation of the process of the world. A true ‘cause' or ultimate principle is therefore, in Aristotle, necessarily unproduced; it cannot have an origin because then reality would arise from non-entity; in short, it is self-determining. We may speak of one finite thing as the ‘cause' of another; but what we here call ‘cause’ is merely a particular phase in the process of the world, the true ‘cause' of which is separate from or independent of every particular phase. Aristotle, then, maintains that the true ‘cause' of anything is uncaused or self-caused. But, in the second place, a true ‘cause’ cannot be merely that which exists as self-dependent, but it must express itself, or must be actually originative. A ‘cause' must be, as we may say, self-separative; it cannot be a dead, inactive being, doing nothing and enjoying mere odium cum dignitate. A self-dependent reality does not pass over into 'actuality,' or utter itself, it is 'as good as nothing.' The process of the world is not in the least explained by the supposition of a self-existent reality which in no way affects, or expresses itself in, that process; and hence the Platonists, while they see that the changes in finite things must be referred to that which does not change, do not see that true reality cannot be dead and inert, but must be actually causative or originative. Hence the self-dependent reality must be a self-active or self-manifesting reality; it must be a real ‘cause’ not a mere inactive being. But, thirdly, while it is self-dependent and self-active, the true cause must not lose its identity with itself in exercising its causal activity; it must express itself and yet remain equal to itself in its expression; in other words,) it must be eternally self-manifesting and yet self-identical. Thus, reach the necessary conclusion that there must be an eternal or uncreated reality, which must eternally express itself originatively, and yet eternally preserve its self-identity. From the point of view now reached we can understand how Aristotle is led to maintain that the process of the world must be eternal. If there were a cessation of that process, we should have to suppose that an eternal self-active principle ceased to be self-active; which is the same as saying that it would cease to exist, since an inactive principle is a mere 'potentiality,' and indeed the ‘potentiality' of nothing. This is the fundamental idea which underlies Aristotle's contention that a self-active principle must manifest itself in the eternal circular movement of the heavens. The imperfect astronomical knowledge of his clay was no doubt partly responsible for the doctrine that the spheres of the stars revolve in an absolutely uniform way, but it should be observed that he regards the argument for the eternal process of the world as independent of actual observation, though, as he thinks, confirmed by it. Admitting the astronomical error, the contention that the process of the world cannot be a creation or exhaustion of the eternal energy of the whole remains intact. The essential point is that a self-active cause must express itself in the production of change, and must yet return into itself, or retain itself-identity, in this expression.


Granting that there is an eternal energy, absolutely inexhaustible in its origination of change, there remains the supremely important question as to its ultimate nature. Aristotle has, in various passages, intimated that the ultimate principle of the universe must be Reason, and he now seeks to show that an eternal self-active reality, as already proved to exist, must be referred to an absolute, self-originative Reason. To understand this culmination of his whole metaphysic, it will be well to prepare the way by a reference to the discussion of the nature of reason, as set forth in the third book of the De Anima.

Reason, as we find it in ourselves, is essentially self-active, “Reason," says Aristotle, “cannot be passive, but must be receptive of 'form,' and 'potentially,' though not 'actually, ‘identical with 'form.' The relation of reason to its object will thus be similar to that of the faculty of sense to the sensible. “Reason, in other words, cannot exist at all except in so far as it is capable of grasping the 'form,’ ‘essence’ or permanent 'nature' of reality, and this it cannot do, if it is merely passive, or acted upon in a purely external or mechanical way. Just as sensible perceptions not the transference of the sensible thing into the sensible being, but the active apprehension by that being of the sensible ‘form,' so reason is capable of grasping the intelligible 'form,' in virtue of its own self-activity. In man reason at first exists only 'potentially,' and it cannot be said to exist until it is exercised; but it is, nevertheless, implicit in the lower phase of sensible perception. Thus, the transition from sensible perception reason is a development from 'potentiality' to 'actuality,' so that the former is related to the latter as 'matter' to 'form.' Sensible perception, viewed in itself, is not mere 'matter' or 'potentiality,’ but has its own 'form' or 'actuality;' relatively to the more developed stage of reason, however, it has to be viewed as the 'matter' to which reason gives ‘form.' "Since reason thinks all things," proceeds Aristotle, "it must be unmixed, as Anaxagoras says, in order that it may master things, i.e. know them; for it checks and excludes whatever is foreign to its own nature. Hence reason has no ‘nature’ but this, that it is capable. Here Aristotle explicitly rejects the idea of an absolute limit to intelligence. To suppose that intelligence has a peculiar nature which prevents it from grasping the real nature of things, is to deny the possibility of knowledge. What is distinctive of reason is that its capacity is not limited to the apprehension of some particular mode of reality, but it is the capacity of grasping the essential nature of all reality. It is 'potentially,' i.e., before it is actually exercised, by its very nature identical with reality, and when it becomes what in essence it is, what it thinks and what is are absolutely identical. This identity of thought and reality, it will be observed, is not incompatible with their distinction; but the distinctions that of potentiality and actuality, and when the transitions made from the former to the latter the distinction disappears. Reason, therefore, is free from 'matter,' i.e., there is nothing which it cannot make an object, and thereby bring within itself. When, therefore, we speak of it as 'potential,' this does not mean that it is infected with a limit which it cannot transcend, but merely that, in the individual man, it is not yet realized, or has not by its inherent self-activity developed into actuality. “That reason is different from perception is manifest. Sense cannot perceive when the sensible is too strong, e.g., we cannot hear after a very loud noise, nor see or smell after too vivid colors or too pungent odors. Reason, on the other hand, when it thinks that which is in the highest degree intelligible, is not thereby incapacitated for thinking that which is less intelligible, but it thinks the latter better. For sense is not independent of the body, whereas reason is separable from it. "In sensible perception, Aristotle argues, the mind is self-active, but its self-activity is limited by the condition of the bodily organ, whereas reason is pure self-activity, and therefore it is self-developing. While, therefore, reason is not in union with its object except when it is actually developed, its potentiality is the potentiality of pure or independent self-activity. Hence, we are told that reason is 'potentially’ all that is thought, though 'actually’ it is nothing before it thinks." In other words, reason cannot be said to have any existence except as self-active; it is incapable of being acted upon from without, and its 'actuality' is therefore identical with the thinking of its own activity. Reason is therefore 'potential ‘only in the sense that its capacity for thinking the real may not be developed into the explicit comprehension of the real. It is in this sense that it is compared to tabular rasa, not in the sense of Locke, for whom the mind was the mere recipient of ideas produced in it by external things. There is for Aristotle no content of reason apart from its self-activity, and when reason comes to an explicit knowledge of itself or is ‘active,' what it knows are the 'forms' of itself, or the modes of its own self-activity. Thus man, when he reaches the stage of active reason grasps the self-active principle which is operative in himself and which is the source of the eternal process of the world.


We are now in a better position to understand the final discussion in the Metaphysic, in which Aristotle seeks to determine the nature of the Supreme Reality upon which the whole universe depends.


Turning to the world of finite things, Aristotle points out that there is in each being an effort or desire or striving towards an end, and that this end is not changeable but is involved in the very nature of the being in which the desire is operative. In rational beings, there is also an end, and the whole of the rational life is directed towards it. Now, here we have a fixed or unchangeable principle, which is yet the moving principle in the whole life of the beings in which it is operative. It is not possible to account for the persistent tendency towards a certain end by saying that an object seems 'good' because it is desired, for this would mean that desire has no definite end; the only possible explanation is that it is desired because it seems 'good,' i.e., because reason grasps the principle which satisfies its tendency towards the rational that which will afford a complete satisfaction to desire. Every being is therefore striving after complete self-realization, and the whole process of its life is a means to this end. Now, whatever is in process is of necessity incomplete, and, therefore, the original source of all the process of finite things must bathe unchangeable or self-complete Reality, which admits of no process of development from the less to the more complete. The Absolute Reality is eternally complete, and in its free and independent life realizes eternally that which man only realizes in his best moments. Being thus always completely self-active, it must always enjoy absolute felicity, for felicity is proportionate to the realization of self-activity, and the Supreme Reality is the complete realization of self-activity, and, therefore, absolute felicity Now, the essential nature of thought is to grasp that which is real, and the supreme thought is the thought of that which is absolutely real. Intelligence, in thinking the intelligible, therefore thinks that which is the very essence of intelligence. When intelligence thus grasps its own nature, it actually is intelligence, whereas before it was only the potentiality of intelligence. The Highest reach of intelligence is, therefore, to grasp itself as a whalelike., to become conscious of the forms of its own self-activity. Then for a few brief moments man reaches this stage, he enjoys the greatest felicity of which he is capable. But God is always what we are only at times; nay, He eternally enjoys a felicity, still more complete. He is thus the self-active, living, eternal, best. Nor has He any sensible nature, because he would thus be extended and divisible; He is, therefore, a purely supersensible or incorporeal Being.


Certain questions may be raised in connection with this conception of God. (1) What is the object of the Divine Reason? It will be admitted that Reason is the highest faculty manifested by a finite being. The Supreme Reason must therefore think that which is in the highest sense real, that which is most divine. And this highest reality it must eternally think, for any change in thought would be for the worse and would imply incompleteness. (2) Is there any 'potentiality' in the Divine Reason? Manifestly not, for this would imply that it did not think uninterruptedly, since that which is not continually thinking shows that it is fatigued by the continuous activity of thinking. Moreover, (3) if in the Divine Reason there were any ‘potentiality’ that which is thought would be higher in nature than the Divine Reason itself. For, since it would be dependent upon whatever was presented, it would exist no matter what was thought. If therefore the Divine Reason must think the highest reality, it must think itself, and thus it consists in the thinking of thought. The mode of its activity is not perception of opinion and external reflection, in which the object of thought appears as distinct from thought, but the total or concrete activity, in which thought is at once subject and object or thinks itself. Further, (4) if the Divine Reason and its object were different, how could it be the highest form of reality? This difficulty can only be resolved when it is seen that even in human thinking the essence of things is thought without the 'matter.' This holds good both in the productive and the theoretical sciences, where thought and its object are identical. In the Supreme Reason, however, the object which is thought must be identical with Reason itself. (5) Nor can the Divine Reason be composite. That which is composite can be thought only by a transition from part to part. Now human reason only grasps the meaning of the universe when it conceives it as an indivisible whole. Hence the Divine Reason, which is its own object, must be an absolute whole or individual, and this whole it must eternally contemplate. God, therefore, to sum up the result of the whole enquiry, is eternal, unchangeable, self-dependent, self-originative, self-knowing, and immaterial, the first and final cause of the whole process of the universe.


The Divine Reason is thus self-originative and self-knowing. It must, however, be added that, while it is the primary source of all energy, there is communicated to the universe an energy of its own. The highest form of this energy is exhibited in the eternal substances of the stars; a less degree of energy is found in those beings which arise and perish, and which are therefore subject to change and accident; but all things work harmoniously, and thus the universe is a cosmos. The principle which in its perfection constitutes the Divine Reason is immanent in each part, and manifests itself as an effort after completeness; so that there is a regular gradation of existence, beginning with lifeless things and ascending through the intermediate stages of vegetative and sensitive life, to the rational life of man, the highest form of which is; speculative insight into the first principles of all reality. Thus, Aristotle seeks to provide for the self-activity of each part, while he maintains the independence of the Divine Reason and its separation from the world. The Divine Reason, while it is the original source of all the process of the world, does not act upon it mechanically, but each being, through the self-activity communicated to and immanent in it, strives after that completeness of nature which constitutes the moving principle of all its activity. There is thus a complete circle of reality, the Divine Reason being at once the beginning and the end of all existence. Hence Aristotle compares the universe as a whole to a well-ordered army with a general at the head, and to an organized State, in which each member discharges his own function, though the function is not in all the same. The inexhaustible and rational Divine Energy communicates itself to the eternal substances of the stars, which communicate their energy to finite and changeable things, and these ever strive towards their original source in virtue of the energy immanent in them

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