Part 11
“The words ‘prior’ and ‘posterior’ are applied (1) to some things (on the assumption that there is a first, i.e. a beginning, in each class) because they are nearer some beginning determined either absolutely and by nature, or by reference to something or in some place or by certain people; e.g. things are prior in place because they are nearer either to some place determined by nature (e.g. the middle or the last place), or to some chance object; and that which is farther is posterior.-Other things are prior in time; some by being farther from the present, i.e. in the case of past events (for the Trojan war is prior to the Persian, because it is farther from the present), others by being nearer the present, i.e. in the case of future events (for the Nemean games are prior to the Pythian, if we treat the present as beginning and first point, because they are nearer the present).-Other things are prior in movement; for that which is nearer the first mover is prior (e.g. the boy is prior to the man); and the prime mover also is a beginning absolutely.-Others are prior in power; for that which exceeds in power, i.e. the more powerful, is prior; and such is that according to whose will the other-i.e. the posterior-must follow, so that if the prior does not set it in motion the other does not move, and if it sets it in motion it does move; and here will is a beginning.-Others are prior in arrangement; these are the things that are placed at intervals in reference to some one definite thing according to some rule, e.g. in the chorus the second man is prior to the third, and in the lyre the second lowest string is prior to the lowest; for in the one case the leader and in the other the middle string is the beginning.
“These, then, are called prior in this sense, but (2) in another sense that which is prior for knowledge is treated as also absolutely prior; of these, the things that are prior in definition do not coincide with those that are prior in relation to perception. For in definition universals are prior, in relation to perception individuals. And in definition also the accident is prior to the whole, e.g. ‘musical’ to ‘musical man’, for the definition cannot exist as a whole without the part; yet musicalness cannot exist unless there is some one who is musical.
“(3) The attributes of prior things are called prior, e.g. straightness is prior to smoothness; for one is an attribute of a line as such, and the other of a surface.
“Some things then are called prior and posterior in this sense, others (4) in respect of nature and substance, i.e. those which can be without other things, while the others cannot be without them,-a distinction which Plato used. (If we consider the various senses of ‘being’, firstly the subject is prior, so that substance is prior; secondly, according as potency or complete reality is taken into account, different things are prior, for some things are prior in respect of potency, others in respect of complete reality, e.g. in potency the half line is prior to the whole line, and the part to the whole, and the matter to the concrete substance, but in complete reality these are posterior; for it is only when the whole has been dissolved that they will exist in complete reality.) In a sense, therefore, all things that are called prior and posterior are so called with reference to this fourth sense; for some things can exist without others in respect of generation, e.g. the whole without the parts, and others in respect of dissolution, e.g. the part without the whole. And the same is true in all other cases.
Part 12
“‘Potency’ means (1) a source of movement or change, which is in another thing than the thing moved or in the same thing qua other; e.g. the art of building is a potency which is not in the thing built, while the art of healing, which is a potency, may be in the man healed, but not in him qua healed. ‘Potency’ then means the source, in general, of change or movement in another thing or in the same thing qua other, and also (2) the source of a thing’s being moved by another thing or by itself qua other. For in virtue of that principle, in virtue of which a patient suffers anything, we call it ‘capable’ of suffering; and this we do sometimes if it suffers anything at all, sometimes not in respect of everything it suffers, but only if it suffers a change for the better–(3) The capacity of performing this well or according to intention; for sometimes we say of those who merely can walk or speak but not well or not as they intend, that they cannot speak or walk. So too (4) in the case of passivity–(5) The states in virtue of which things are absolutely impassive or unchangeable, or not easily changed for the worse, are called potencies; for things are broken and crushed and bent and in general destroyed not by having a potency but by not having one and by lacking something, and things are impassive with respect to such processes if they are scarcely and slightly affected by them, because of a ‘potency’ and because they ‘can’ do something and are in some positive state.
“‘Potency’ having this variety of meanings, so too the ‘potent’ or ‘capable’ in one sense will mean that which can begin a movement (or a change in general, for even that which can bring things to rest is a ‘potent’ thing) in another thing or in itself qua other; and in one sense that over which something else has such a potency; and in one sense that which has a potency of changing into something, whether for the worse or for the better (for even that which perishes is thought to be ‘capable’ of perishing, for it would not have perished if it had not been capable of it; but, as a matter of fact, it has a certain disposition and cause and principle which fits it to suffer this; sometimes it is thought to be of this sort because it has something, sometimes because it is deprived of something; but if privation is in a sense ‘having’ or ‘habit’, everything will be capable by having something, so that things are capable both by having a positive habit and principle, and by having the privation of this, if it is possible to have a privation; and if privation is not in a sense ‘habit’, ‘capable’ is used in two distinct senses); and a thing is capable in another sense because neither any other thing, nor itself qua other, has a potency or principle which can destroy it. Again, all of these are capable either merely because the thing might chance to happen or not to happen, or because it might do so well. This sort of potency is found even in lifeless things, e.g. in instruments; for we say one lyre can speak, and another cannot speak at all, if it has not a good tone.
“Incapacity is privation of capacity-i.e. of such a principle as has been described either in general or in the case of something that would naturally have the capacity, or even at the time when it would naturally already have it; for the senses in which we should call a boy and a man and a eunuch ‘incapable of begetting’ are distinct.-Again, to either kind of capacity there is an opposite incapacity-both to that which only can produce movement and to that which can produce it well.
“Some things, then, are called adunata in virtue of this kind of incapacity, while others are so in another sense; i.e. both dunaton and adunaton are used as follows. The impossible is that of which the contrary is of necessity true, e.g. that the diagonal of a square is commensurate with the side is impossible, because such a statement is a falsity of which the contrary is not only true but also necessary; that it is commensurate, then, is not only false but also of necessity false. The contrary of this, the possible, is found when it is not necessary that the contrary is false, e.g. that a man should be seated is possible; for that he is not seated is not of necessity false. The possible, then, in one sense, as has been said, means that which is not of necessity false; in one, that which is true; in one, that which may be true.-A ‘potency’ or ‘power’ in geometry is so called by a change of meaning.-These senses of ‘capable’ or ‘possible’ involve no reference to potency. But the senses which involve a reference to potency all refer to the primary kind of potency; and this is a source of change in another thing or in the same thing qua other. For other things are called ‘capable’, some because something else has such a potency over them, some because it has not, some because it has it in a particular way. The same is true of the things that are incapable. Therefore the proper definition of the primary kind of potency will be ‘a source of change in another thing or in the same thing qua other’.
Metaphysics by Aristotle – Book V