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C5. The Picture So Far

If we summarise the account given so far, we get the following picture of the different parts of an action and, analogously, the different parts an agent consists of:

For non-intentional causal interactions – normal events one might say – we can take over this picture, skipping the deliberation process. Normal events do not come from decisions. They are triggered by natural causal processes (witness their different treatment in Met. IX 7), but the rest remains basically the same, even if we may wish to change some of the labels, as Aristotle seemingly wished to do. He talks about praxis and poiesis only with respect to human actions. In normal events, we can conceptually draw a distinction along analogous lines. Aristotle, however, has no distinct names to apply here. Both are interchangeably called energeia or entelecheia.[1]The following diagram represents in outline a non-intentional interaction. The three columns in this scheme correspond to three different kinds of capacities that are involved in causal interaction: the agent's “active capacity” to bring about a change, the patient's “passive capacity” to undergo a change and the patient's capacity to be in the new state brought about by the change.[2] The two columns belonging to the patient represent the two kinds of results connected with a change: the “resulting change” and the “result of change”[3], i.e. the change itself and the new state brought about by it.

C6. Three Problems

There seem to be rather strange overlaps and redundancies in this picture. I will discuss here the following three difficult distinctions: (1) between decision and praxis, (2) between praxis and poiesis and (3) between poiesis of the agent and kinesis of the patient. Here is how I would try to account for these:

(1) Are the decision and the praxis really two different events? Even for Aristotle, to decide for a certain action and to perform this action are different types of things, but one and the same token. The conclusion of the practical syllogism is at the same time the end of practical deliberation and the begining of acting (An. III 10, 433a 16-17). One might compare this with a point dividing a certain length of a line (a comparision used by Aristotle himself, though for another purpose in An. III 2, 427a 10-14). Just like this point is the end of one length and the begining of the other, the conclusion is the end of deliberation and the begining of acting. Thus, one and the same individual playing two roles at the same time can be subsumed to two different types of events. Thus, the decider is the limit case between the deliberator and the performer.

(2) Praxis and poiesis are being enabled by the very same capacity. Insofar as the realisation happens within the agent or has the agent as its logical subject, it is a praxis. Insofar as the realisation happens within the patient, it is a poiesis. Many kinds of praxis can only co-occur with a poiesis, but a praxis without poiesis is possible, and, indeed, Aristotle thinks that the most valuable kind of praxis is of this kind, namely contemplation (theoria). This possibility allows us to distinguish conceptually between praxis and poiesis in the other cases, as well.

(3) The poiesis of the agent and the kinesis of the patient may be judged to be the same event. However, this event is being called poiesis, insofar as it is the realisation of a capacity of the agent and it is called kinesis, insofar as it is the realisation of a capacity of the patient. Of course, we know that the agent's capacity will only be realised if the patient's capacity will be realised and vice versa. Thus, poiesis and kinesis necessarily occur at the same time. This is analogous to Aristotle's theory of perception. A perception is at once the realisation of the active capacity of the perceptible thing and of the passive capacity of the perceiver. These two capacities can only be realised together and Aristotle tells us that they both happen within the same individual, namely the perceiver. Though, of course, the perceptible thing remains the logical subject of the realisation of its capacity (in the end, it is its capacity that is being realised), it would be odd to say that something happens within the perceptible thing when being perceived. Perception does not really change something within the perceptible thing, but only about the perceiver.

  • [1] Cf. Chen 1958a, Blair 1967, and section 3.1.2 above
  • [2] Berti 1990
  • [3] Von Wright 1963, 39-41
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