The Unmoved Mover

For a second, imagine a seed that will one day become a giant sequoia. That seed has the potential to be that tree one day. But no one in their right mind would say that it actually is the sequoia yet.

Aristotle thought and understood the same when he claimed that all things have potentiality and actuality. All things have an embedded purpose or final manifestation of what they will be. He also states that nothing can have a final manifestation without the embedded purpose. In other words, nothing can have actuality if it didn't previously have potentiality.

So what would it be like for something to have pure potentiality or pure actuality?

Pure Potential vs Pure Actuality

Pure potentiality would be a thing that has the potential to be everything. A seed that can be an apple, orange and mango tree. Let's follow this line of thought though. If something has the potential to be anything, then it is nothing in actuality. If an apple seed has the potential to be an orange tree, it isn't an apple seed. In the same way, a seed that can give all fruits at the same time is not a seed at all. For it to be any seed it must have the embedded potentiality of a single kind of tree.

Aristotle rightly finds pure potentiality non-sensical. It is clear that all things that exist become actually something, not actually everything.

On the contrary, something with pure actuality is a thing that has no unrealized potential- immutable, unchanging and cannot grow. It does not move from what it is in actuality. This is logically possible. And so Aristotle dubs the name of the unmoved mover.

Necessity of the Mover

Before dispelling the concept of an unmoved mover we have to think for a second. Things that move or change have a cause for movement. For things to move from potentiality to actuality there is a mover who sets off that movement causally. And if one were to make that logical chain backwards we have one of two choices:

  1. Either we enter an infinite regress, which is where there is an eternal set of moving things.
  2. We arrive at a first mover and cause that is itself unmoved and uncaused.

Many problems arise from an infinite regress, some including the failure to explain. This means that an infinite regress does not have the explanatory power in regards to movement and cause. Another problem might be the metaphysical impossibility of infinites existing in regards to time, space, and cause. The logical arriving to a being with pure actuality is thrown out the window if we accept that first option.


God can be understood as the unmoved mover. Aristotle never ended up at this conclusion. He finished his work saying that the unmoved mover does what it does by logical necessity. The unmoved mover by definition must start the movement of all things.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1

When we look at God as the unmoved mover, we see that He was the starter of all movement. But more than just being the ultimate movement and cause because He must be by necessity, God created and started the movement of things by His will.

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” Revelations 4:11

The unmoved mover was far better than what the philosophers could have ever thought. God has no cause and there is no variation or shadow due to change. So hopefully the next time you think of who you are and who you are becoming, or see a seed blossoming into a plant, you'll remember who set it all in motion to its final culmination.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. Hebrews 1:3