Philosophers distinguish between 2 kinds of " powers": moral powers ( authority, right to order something) which corresponds to potestas in Latin and " physical power" ( ability to do something, or to operate a constraint on somebody else) correspondind in Latin to potentia.

Force - according to Wolff in Ontologia - is distinct from " power" : force ( vis in latin) is the reason explaining the actualization of an active power. " We call vis ( force) what contains in itself the sufficient reason of the action's actuality" ( §722) . Force consists in a " continuous effort to act ( conatus agendi) (§ 724).

Is there any philosophical distinction that can be made between " strength" and "force"?

As a French speaker, the distinction is not clear to me: it seems that French language only has " force" and nothing corresponding to " strength".

What about these distinctions in English and German?

The distinctions that can be made according to me are :


a) potestas, authority

b) potentia : (i) active ( facultas) and passive(receptivitas) (i) pure power ( pure potentiality) and power possessed as habit ( real ability) though not necessarily exerted --> "first entelechy" in Aristotle



  • 3
    This seems like an English SE question. There is nothing specific to the use of these words by philosophers as opposed to the colloquial use, except in some special systems that have to be considered individually.
    – Conifold
    Dec 1, 2019 at 23:59
  • yes conifold seems to be right -- again
    – user38026
    Dec 2, 2019 at 14:24
  • 1
    There are technical meanings to these words within subjects such as "Strength of materials" and "Physics" from which may be deduced to following general meaning: 'strength' is the ability to resist force.
    – christo183
    Dec 3, 2019 at 4:55

2 Answers 2


In English and in line with the ordinary language philosophers who appeal to definitions not based on abstruse metaphysical speculation but rather ordinary language description, strength has several meanings with respect to force:

Strength used colloquially can be seen as that which has the potential to exert force as in a strong man or powerful motor. A strong man is one who can wield force to whatever ends, like lifting weight or delivering a blow. A powerful motor is understood to generate a lot of force (where power is defined by work which is force applied over a distance).

By extension metaphorically, strength has meaning in regards to postive personality traits where it is understood roughly as virtue in the classical sense.

It can also be used as a measure of the strength of a structure to resist force such as the rigidity of a bridge. Strong bridges hold trains. Weak bridges collapse under the weight of horses.

It's also a measurement of the degree of force. In physics, a vector like force has a direction and magnitude. Hence, forces in physics may be strong or weak. A force of 1N for instance is weaker than one of 100N. In fact, two of the fundamental forces are actually named the weak and strong nuclear force.

Force in these senses is either interpreted narrowly as the ability to accelerate a mass complements of Newton, or figuratively as in the ability to create change. A great leader or an army, in fact, may be persuasive, coercive, or literally forceful.


strength is the capacity to resist a force without failure or compromise. something or someone who is strong will not break when a force is applied.

power is the speed with which work can be performed. something or someone who is powerful can perform a lot of work in a short time.

work occurs when a force applied to something causes it to move. useful work occurs when the direction in which the force is applied matches the direction in which it is desired to move that thing. no work is performed when the object does not move.

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