Johanna Seibt (Aarhus University): The energeia-kinesis distinction and the modes of dynamicity of changes

In Metaphysics Q.6 Aristotle distinguishes energeia from kinesis by means of an inferential criterion which in the contemporary research debate is commonly referred to as the “tense test” or “completeness test.” According to one popular reading of the passage, Aristotle distinguishes here two types of occurrents, which G. Ryle (1949) characterized as “achievements” and “task performances”. Following Ryle’s idea, Z. Vendler and A. Kenny developed well-known classifications for occurrence types in terms of inferential and linguistic criteria, which influenced three different areas of debate – the linguistic discussion about “Aktionsarten” and verbal aspect (aspectology), analytical process ontology, and, in turn, the interpretation of Aristotle’s distinction between energeia and kinesis.

In my contribution, which is based on two chapters of a forthcoming book, I connect these three areas of debate and argue for the following claims: (1) While eminently important for heuristic purposes, extant Vendler-inspired linguistic classifications of occurrence types (Aktionsarten) should not be used in analytical ontology, since they do not have the required linguistic generality. (2) A linguistically general classification of occurrence types can be achieved in terms of the Kenny-inspired modal interpretation of occurrence types (Seibt 2004, 2015); here the ‘standard occurrence types’, activities, developments, achievements, and states, refer to modes of occurrence, which have precise definitions in terms of networks of aspectual inferences. (3) The inferential conditions of the modal interpretation adequately capture the ‘logical space’ for each of the ‘standard occurrence types’ and can meet resolve “phase problem” (J. Ackrill) of activities, a core objection against extant classifications of the ‘standard’ occurrence types. (4) Present-day distinctions between “processes” and “events” in terms of the progressive aspect do not align with the distinction between the notions of activities and developments (“accomplishments”) or results (“achievements”) in ‘standard’ (Vendler-inspired) classifications. (5) Similarly, given (3), Aristotle’s distinction in Metaphysics Q.6 cannot – as suggested by D. Graham (1980) and A. Kosman (1984) – be understood a distinction in ‘standard’ occurrence types, e.g., as a distinction between states or activities and developments (“accomplishments”). (6) If we combine the “completeness test” in Metaphysics Q.6 with other inferential criteria Aristotle offers elsewhere for energeia and kinesis, especially in connection with the contrast of energeia and dynamis, we receive an inferential characterization of energeia and kinesis as two modes of dynamicity (rather than two types of occurrences). (7) These two modes of dynamicity allow for embedding to generate more complex modes. In particular, in Metaphysics K characterizes kinesis as “the energeia of the potential as such” (1065b16). What we standardly call a development is an occurrence exhibiting this mode of dynamicity. (8) Working with the tools of the Aristotelian doctrine of dynameis we can define other modes of dynamicity to characterize other types of occurres, such as non-directed changes and directed non-changes (achievement).

Seibt, J. 2004. “Free Process Theory: Towards a Typology of Processes”, Axiomathes 14, 23-57.
Seibt, J. 2015. “Ontological Scope and Linguistic Diversity: Are There Universal Categories?”, The Monist 98, 318-343.


This lecture was given on Fri, 2 July 2021, 16:20 (UK time) as part of the workshop Change and Changemakers in Ancient Philosophy. The workshop is a collaborative initiative of the Change and Changemakers Network (Siegen) together with the Mereology of Potentiality Project (Oxford).