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Potentiality, Indian theories of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F064-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 15, 2024, from

Article Summary

Indian philosophers wrote a great deal about potential (śakti) and capacity (sāmarthya); both of these words may also be translated as ‘power’ or ‘force’. The Sanskrit word śakti, like the English word ‘potential’, derives from a modal verb meaning ‘to be able’, so one might also see the study of potential as being the study of ability. The principal issue about which Indians debated was that of where exactly potential or ability is located. If, for example, it can be said that a person has a potential to compose a poetic masterpiece, then it can be asked where exactly that potential is located. Is it located entirely within the potential poet, or is it distributed somehow between the poet and the circumstances in which the person functions? If one says it is located entirely within the person, then it can be asked why they produce the masterpiece only at one specific time in their life instead of earlier or later. In other words, it seems that if circumstances were required to enable the person to realize their potential, then the potentiality would belong as much to external circumstances as to the person. This may not seem an interesting question in the abstract, but it became of interest to philosophers in particular contexts. It was generally agreed, for example, that nothing happens without a prior potential that becomes actualized. If this is so, then the question naturally arises, to what did the potential belong out of the actualization of which the universe ‘happened’? Other questions that Indian philosophers debated were: To whom does the potential to become wise belong? How is the potential of a supposedly eternal language actualized to convey meaning? Attempting to answer such questions was a preoccupation of philosophers of every Indian school.

Citing this article:
Hayes, Richard P.. Potentiality, Indian theories of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F064-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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