Many famous philosophers had thought and discussed about actuality and potentiality (they might have used different definitions) in one way or other. Did any one of them defined the limitations for potentiality?

For example:

A seed (actuality) can become a tree(potentiality) and it applies for every seed out there. Some seeds might fail to become a tree (it depends on the environment where it is planted). But the limitation for the seed is getting transformed into a tree, and it cannot go any further.

In the same anology, what is the limitation for humans? For example:

In the actuality every human being is same, but coming to potentiality the intellect of humans again depends on the environment (just like in the above example), but now there is no limitation that I can see like in the earlier case.

So, did anyone tried to address this issue in the history? What is the limitation for the human intellect? Thanks in advance.

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    First off, welcome to Phil.SE! Secondly, it's worth citing or sourcing texts; it helps in getting good quality answers from our community. – Mozibur Ullah Sep 16 '15 at 16:03
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    Both categories were coined by Aristotle to provide an account of the possibility of change in nature without dismissing it as illusion, as Plato and Parmenides did, or making it into an unintelligible flux, as Heraclitus did. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potentiality_and_actuality The phrasing "In the actuality every human being is same" is odd, Aristotle would rather say that all humans have the same essence, not that they are the same. – Conifold Sep 16 '15 at 19:32

In your example about the seeds i don't think it's potentiality has only one way to expand. A seed has the potentiality to become a tree but a tree has the potentiality to become wood, or get burned etc. A seed has a numerous intermediate stages to expand. (different stages of plant growth) but also has the potentiality to become food itself. With procedures like plant grafting, natural selection, or mutations and genetic changes the "potentiality" changes drastically, as evolution proves.

I suppose the same applies for the human intellect. The human intellect is not any absolute measure, it changes according to history, society growth and organization, human evolution as a species, with the development of the means of education and culture, and by a numerous other ways.

So I think the potentiality is a metaphysical concept and the limitations are only applied by reason, evidence, nature etc.


The limitations for potentiality are those of possibility. That is to say, there is potentiality for anything that is possible.

For example. Somewhat disappointingly, in all probability a TARDIS is not a possible thing (except in science fiction) and there is no potentiality for it. On the other hand, a seed, in concept, is possible.

There is potential for all possible things, known and unknown, although some previously possible things are made impossible by the subsequent actuality of other things.

  • I am also keen to know if any of the ancient philosophers addressed this issue before or at least thought in the direction of limitations or boundaries of human intellect. – Brainy Oct 3 '15 at 7:35

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