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[1019b] [1] (b) That over which something else has a potency of this kind. (c) That which has the potency of changing things, either for the worse or for the better (for it seems that even that which perishes is "capable" of perishing; otherwise, if it had been incapable, it would not have perished. As it is, it has a kind of disposition or cause or principle which induces such an affection.Sometimes it seems to be such as it is because it has something, and sometimes because it is deprived of something; but if privation is in a sense a state or "habit," everything will be "potent" through having something; and so a thing is "potent" in virtue of having a certain "habit" or principle, and also in virtue of having the privation of that "habit," if it can have privation; and if privation is not in a sense "habit," the term "potent" is equivocal).(d) A thing is "potent" if neither any other thing nor itself qua other contains a potency or principle destructive of it. (e) All these things are "potent" either because they merely might chance to happen or not to happen, or because they might do so well . Even in inanimate things this kind of potency is found; e.g. in instruments; for they say that one lyre "can" be played, and another not at all, if it has not a good tone.

"Impotence" is a privation of potency—a kind of abolition of the principle which has been described—either in general or in something which would naturally possess that principle, or even at a time when it would naturally already possess it (for we should not use "impotence"—in respect of begetting—in the same sense of a boy, a man and a eunuch). [20] Again, there is an "impotence" corresponding to each kind of potency; both to the kinetic and to the successfully kinetic.

Some things are said to be "impotent" in accordance with this meaning of "impotence," but others in a different sense, namely "possible" and "impossible." "Impossible" means: (a) that whose contrary is necessarily true; e.g., it is impossible that the diagonal of a square should be commensurable with the sides, because such a thing is a lie, whose contrary is not only true but inevitable. Hence that it is commensurable is not only a lie but necessarily a lie.And the contrary of the impossible, i.e. the possible, is when the contrary is not necessarily a lie; e.g., it is possible that a man should be seated, for it is not necessarily a lie that he should not be seated. "Possible," then, means in one sense, as we have said, that which is not necessarily a lie; in another, that which is true; and in another, that which may be true.

(The "power" in geometry1 is so called by an extension of meaning.)

These are the senses of "potent" which do not correspond to "potency." Those which do correspond to it all refer to the first meaning,

1 A square was called a δύναμις. Plat. Rep 587d; Plat. Tim. 31c.

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  • Cross-references in notes to this page (1):
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    • Plato, Republic, 587d
    • Plato, Timaeus, 31c
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