The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter

Document Type


Publication Date



Stephen Menn, in his recent article on energeia and dynamis, has stirred the coals of recent controversy about understandings of Aristotle’s terms 'energeia' and ‘entelecheia', controversy about which he himself seemed totally oblivious. While he offered us careful explorations of Aristotle’s texts, he took no note of similar studies from over a quarter century ago by Chen Chuang-Hwan and by George Blair, nor of the more recent works by Blair, Daniel Graham and John Rist. So much the worse for his efforts, since these cover much of the same territory with conclusions rather divergent from his own. He has been gently chastised by Graham for his neglect, and both of them in turn have been challenged by Blair for being over-simple in their engagements with the issues. And so the fires of controversy have been stirred again.

Menn does present us with the traditional questions: Why did Aristotle invent two new words for apparently much the same purposes? What must be their respective roles in our interpretations of them variously as activity and actuality? He does not, however, pick up John Rist’s interesting added puzzlement about why, once they do have some conceptually coordinated role for Aristotle in the psychology, did he not continue to employ it when he came to the practical philosophy. Blair, along with his more protracted challenge of sixteen aporiae, has put these three questions together into a single problematic: “The problem that now confronts us is... why Aristotle would have coined a different term after the coinage of energeia, and why he would now apparently have taken his first term, merged it with the second — and then, presumedly, have dropped the second one....” (Blair, 1995, 50) While the questions are much the same, as Blair remarks to Graham and Menn, “Unfortunately, it's a bit more complex,” presenting his list of conundrums that more compound than refine a similar list in his book (Blair, 1992).

My hope here is not to fan the flames of controversy, but to refathom the depths of understandings that the issues call for. In short, I have my own story to tell about the coinings and employments of these technical terms. Like the stories of Menn, Blair, Rist and Graham, mine is a developmental one. In my telling of it, my aim is to show how Aristotle’s developments in the use of these terms played a part in his ontological distancing from Plato, and his own developing understanding of motion. At the outset, in my brief recounting of their stories, I will confine myself to the traditional questions, but I want to suggest in my telling something of Aristotle's own problematics that bear especially on those contexts where both terms come into play. In the end, I hope to come to terms with some of the more complex issues considered by Blair, Graham, and Rist.


Thomas Olshewsky presented “Energeia & Entelecheia: Their Conception, Development, and Relations” to the Society at its meeting with the American Philological Association in Chicago in 1997.

For information about the author see: