Substance (Part 1)
Anscombe (G.E.M.)
Source: Supplement to the Proceedings of The Aristotelian Society 1964, 38: 69-78
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction1

  1. The raising of certain difficulties about the notion of substance2 belongs especially to the British Empiricist – that is to say our – tradition. We can see a starting-point for them in Descartes' considerations about the wax in the Second Meditation. Descartes concluded there that it was by an act of purely intellectual perception that we judge the existence of such a thing as this wax – a doctrine the meaning of which is obscure.
  2. Let me sketch at least some of the troubles that have been felt on this subject.
    1. First, there is the idea of the individual object. What sort of idea is that, and how got? This individual object is the same – 'persists' as we say – through many changes in its sensible properties, or sensible appearances; what is the individual itself all this time?
    2. Second, supposing that question should be answered in the case in hand by "It is wax", is it not one objection to this answer that it gives a general term "wax" as an answer to the question "What is the individual?" Surely we wanted to know: what is the individual thing qua individual, in its individuality? And this cannot be answered by giving a predicate which not merely logically can be true of many individuals, but does actually fail to mark out this one from others.
    3. Next, even accepting this answer: "It is wax ", what can being wax be except: being white and solid at such and such temperatures, melting at such and such temperatures ... etc., etc? Are not the ideas of kinds of substances given by more or less arbitrary lists chosen from the properties found by experience to go together? In that case, the general idea 'wax' will be equivalent to the chosen list; and the particular, individual, parcel of wax is at any time the sum of its sensible appearances. Any other notion of substance surely commits us on the one hand to unknowable real essences, and on the other to an unintelligible 'bare particular' which underlies the appearances and is the subject of predication but just for that reason can't in itself be characterized by any predicates. […]


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