AskDefine | Define entelechy

User Contributed Dictionary



en “within,” + tele “goal, or end,” + chy “to have” (alt. kheia)


  1. A particular type of motivation, need for self-determination, and inner strength directing life and growth to become all one is capable of being. It is the need to actualize one's beliefs. It is having a personal vision and being able to actualize that vision from within. [Aristotelian philosophy.]
  2. A conception completely actualized.
  3. Something complex that emerges when you put a large number of simple objects together.


Extensive Definition

Entelechy is a philosophical concept of Aristotle. The term traces to the Ancient Greek word entelecheia, from the combination of the Greek words enteles (complete), telos (end, purpose, completion) and echein (to have). Aristotle coined the word, which could possibly be translated in English as, "having the end within itself." To Aristotle, entelecheia referred to a certain state or sort of being, in which a thing was actively working to be itself. See Metaphysics, where it is contrasted with energeia.

Hellenic Philosophy

To use Latinate translations, the word denotes actuality or realization as opposed to potentiality. However, the terms actuality and realization should not be taken to imply that an entelecheia is inert or completed, but that the entelecheia is in some way perpetually "becoming itself" yet never reaching the goal of that "becoming" (and were it to do so, the entelechy would, by definition, cease to exist).


An individual's life can in many ways be regarded as beholden to various simultaneous and overlapping entelecheia, for example, by the life trajectories imposed by the biological limitations of our mortality, by the norms and expectations of family and/or society, and also by the individual's ego-ideal (for example, a recent survey of American high school students revealed that some 31% of respondents expect to be "famous" someday -- revealing an obvious gap between societal and individual ego-ideal entelecheia). Both the restrictions of externally imposed entelecheia (e.g., the natural law that "all that lives is born to die") and fantasized but unrealized entelchia (e.g. "I'm going to keep getting stronger, smarter, and more beautiful -- forever!") can be sources of considerable frustration, with psychological consequences. To give a "real life" illustration of an entelechy "derailed" with undesirable consequences, consider the cases of people who experience a melancholy "loss of purpose" upon reaching a goal toward which they have devoted a great deal of time and energy -- perhaps even a sizable portion of their lives -- to reaching.
Societies can also be said to embody entelechia in the software of their respective cultures -- often evident in religious views, collective senses of entitlement, "mission" or "mandate" as expressed in political/military activities (e.g., conquest, religious proselytization, mercantilism, isolationism, etc.), and even in the very language forms of the culture itself. Societies/cultures sensing that their entelechial trajectory is reaching its terminus (i.e., sensing they are in decline) or that this trajectory has been deflected from its "proper" path by illegitimate forces - either internal or external - may exhibit violently irrational or even self-destructive reactions to such a realization.
These and other aspects/applications of the concept of entelechy have been most extensively and incisively explored in the lifework of the American critic and philosopher Kenneth Burke (1897-1993). Burke's concept of the "terministic screen" is especially illustrative of his thought on the subject of entelechy.

Continental Philosophy

In some philosophical systems like continental philosophy, it may denote a force propelling one to self-fulfillment. This concept occupies a central position in the metaphysics of Leibniz, and is closely related to his monadology. Each sentient entity contains its own entire universe within it, in a sense. Each sentient entity is a monad, an absolutely independent thing that has no contact with any other sentient entity except through the mediating agency of God. Entelechy is also referenced by Hegel in his work The Phenomenology of Mind.


In the biological beliefs known as vitalism, living things are animated by an entelechy according to Hans Driesch. In Driesch's sense, entelechy is similar to Freud's "id," Bergson's "elan vital," the Chinese "chi," "prana" in India, or Wilhelm Reich's "orgone energy."Reich was the first to take the concept beyond theory by building devices which he claimed to be able to accumulate, direct, and make practical applications of this energy within human beings and in the atmosphere. Reich's adherents claim that such devices demonstrated that this is the "basic energy" of organisms and the cosmos, and that Reich showed that stagnation or blockage of this energy results in psychological or physiological disorders. Such claims are difficult, if not impossible, to falsify and by definition are unable to be rigorously tested via the Scientific Method. It should be noted that Driesch's interpretation of similar forces such as Chi, also known as Qi, are inconsistent with Aristotle's interpretation of Entelechy, and more consistent with Aristotle's energeia. Prana for example, while consistent with Qi, cannot be equated with the Atman which bears stronger resemblance to the unmoved mover, or First Cause as discussed frequently in Philosophy and Logic courses.


  • Energeia And Entelecheia: "Act" in Aristotle by George Alfred Blair University of Ottawa Press ISBN-13: 978-0776603643
  • Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon by Francis Peters NYU Press ISBN-13: 978-0814765524
entelechy in German: Entelechie
entelechy in Spanish: Entelequia
entelechy in Polish: Entelechia
entelechy in Romanian: Entelehie
entelechy in Russian: Энтелехия
entelechy in Slovak: Entelechia
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