In terminology, entelechy (TR:19) is a technical term, coined by Aristotle, from the Greek ἐντελής (entelḗs), meaning “complete, finished, perfect”, from τέλος (telos), meaning “end, fruition, accomplishment”, + ἔχω (ékhō), meaning “to have”, referring to something that makes things actual; the quality of having become complete, of being perfected, or having attained its purpose, and is used in contrast to ‘dynamis’, i.e. potential existence, which is the idea of a thing, its possibility, its mere potentiality; the principle or factor which renders things actual. [1]

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In 1689, German polymath Gottfried Leibniz coined the term “dynamica” (see: dynamics), during his Italian journey, referring to his doctrine of forces; during which time he comprised an extensive then-unpublished work entitled Dynamica, some of which found publication outlet as “Specimen Dynamicum” in Acta eruditorum in 1695; in this latter publication, he outlined the following four notions: [2]

a) Active primitive force is purely a metaphysical entity expressing the activity of substances and is also called entelechy;
b) Active derivative force is somehow the phenomenal manifestation of an aggregate of metaphysical substances and is measured by living force, or vis viva;
c) Passive primitive force is purely metaphysical and expresses the imperfection of substances;
d) Passive derivative force, which is also called inertia, is its phenomena manifestation.


Newton, in a manuscript, had the following to say about Leibnitz's entelechy-based dynamics theory:

“Galileo began to consider the effect of gravity upon projectiles. Newton in his Principia improved that consideration into a large science. Leibniz christened the child by a new name as if it had been his own, calling it Dynamica … But his mark must be set upon all new inventions.”


See: Goethe on the soul
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In the 1890s, German zoologist Hans Driesch, a student of Ernst Haeckel, outlined some type of entelechy theory, the operation of which required the occasional suspension of the second law of thermodynamics. [5] American physiologist Lawrence Henderson had the following to say about Driesch’s entelechy theory: [6]

“Driesch’s theory is ingenious, but I believe untenable. In fact it involves a reduction to the sphere of molecules of the old fallacy of Descartes. For to suspend the operation of the second law of thermodynamics would be precisely equivalent to an alteration, without the expenditure of energy, of the direction of motion of the particles of a material body. Under these conditions an object which had fallen to the ground might, by cooling itself, rise again into the air. Nothing could be more radically inconsistent with the fundamental principles of physical science, as now generally admitted, than this assumption or the theory which it is designed to support.”


Into the early 20th century, entelechy theories began to be classified as types of neo-vitalism; English biologist James Johnstone (1921) states the following on this: [3]

“Into the last generation there has been a recrudescence of vitalism—‘neo-vitalism’ it is now called—being obviously something that seems to be different from the Cartesian speculations about the sensitive soul. At its best this is seen in the ‘psychoids’ and ‘entelechies’ of Driesch and others, concepts which are applicable to living things only, and not to chemical and physical phenomena. At its worst modern vitalism is exhibited in the crude and even grotesque ‘spiritualism’ which has attained such a vogue with the less resolute thinkers of our own generation. This, then, is the modern impasse to which biology has come. Purely physico-chemical explanations of life are not satisfactory, and the immaterial and non-energetic agencies that are being invoked in their place have no interest for science, since they cannot be the objects of investigations.”

American neurological anthropologist Terrence Deacon (2011), likewise, surmises Aristotle's concept of "entelechy", or active principle intrinsic to the material substance of an organism, was a precursor or forerunner so to say of vitalism. [4]

1. (a) Carus, Paul. (1907). “Goethe’s Soul-Conception”, The Open Court, 21:745-51.
(b) Entelechy – Wikitionary.
2. Applebaum, Wilbur. (2000). Encyclopedia of the Scientific Revolution: from Copernicus to Newton (pg. #). Routledge.
3. Johnstone, James. (1921). The Mechanism of Life in Relation to Modern Physical Theory (pg. 159, 193). Longmans, Green & Co.
4. Deacon, Terrence W. (2011). Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (pg. 55). W.W. Norton & Co.
5. (a) Mitchell, Robert. (2013). Experimental Life: Vitalism in Romantic Science and Literature. JHU Press.
(b) Monod, Jacques. (1970). Chance and Necessity: Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (Le Hasard et la Nécessité: Essai sur la philosophie naturelle de la biologie moderne) (English translator: Austryan Wainhouse) (pgs. 34-35). Vintage, 1971.
2. Henderson, Lawrence J. (1917). The Order of Nature (pg. 91). Harvard University Press.

External links
Potentiality and actuality (entelechy redirect) – Wikipedia.

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