Real Selves: Persons as a Substantial Kind
Lowe (E.J.)
Source: Cockburn - Human Beings
Paper - Abstract

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Philosophers Index Abstract

  1. This paper discusses the ontological status of the self, examining three alternative views. One, following Aristotle, treats persons as biological substances (a kind of animal), while another, following Locke, treats them as psychological modes (suitably unified successions of mental states). These are rejected in favour of a (non-Cartesian) version of the view that persons are psychological substances, a version which permits the self to be a bearer of physical as well as mental states.
  2. Following a defence of a broadly Aristotelian conception of substance, three different views of the ontological status of persons are explored: persons as biological substances (Aristotle, David Wiggins), persons as psychological modes (Hume, Derek Parfit)1, and persons as psychological substances. Difficulties for the first and second views are presented and a non-Cartesian version of the third view is developed and defended which has some affinities to the position of P. F. Strawson.

Author’s Introduction2 (Full Text)
  1. Are persons substances or modes? (The terminology may seem archaic, but the issue is a live one.)
  2. Two currently dominant views may be characterized as giving the following rival answers to this question. According to the first view, persons are just biological substances. According to the second, persons are psychological modes of substances which as far as human beings are concerned, happen to be biological substances, but which could in principle be non-biological.
  3. There is, however, also a third possible answer, and this is that persons are psychological substances. Such a view is inevitably associated with the name of Descartes, and this helps to explain its current unpopularity, since substantial dualism of his sort is now widely rejected as 'unscientific’.
  4. But one may, as I hope to show, espouse the view that persons are psychological substances without endorsing Cartesianism. This is because one may reject certain features of Descartes's conception of substance. Consequently, one may also espouse a version of substantial dualism which is distinctly non-Cartesian.
  5. One may hold that a person, being a psychological substance, is an entity distinct from the biological substance that is (in the human case) his or her body, and yet still be prepared to ascribe corporeal characteristics to this psychological substance.
  6. By this account, a human person is to be thought of neither as a non-corporeal mental substance (a Cartesian mind), nor as the product of a mysterious 'union' between such a substance and a physical, biological substance (a Cartesian animal body). This is not to deny that the mind-body problem is a serious and difficult one, but it is to imply that there is a version of substantial dualism which does not involve regarding the 'mind' as a distinct substance in its own right.


Similar to "Lowe (E.J.) - Substance and Selfhood", Chapter 2 of "Lowe (E.J.) - Subjects of Experience".

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 2: The Introduction is identical to that to "Lowe (E.J.) - Substance and Selfhood", Chapter 2 of "Lowe (E.J.) - Subjects of Experience", but the following text, though containing much of the same material, is not identical.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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