Substance (Part 2)
Korner (Stephan)
Source: Supplement to the Proceedings of The Aristotelian Society 1964, 38: 79-90
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. The term 'substance1', with its cognates, has been used in two distinct, though related, senses, in the European metaphysical and scientific tradition. In one sense a substance is, by definition, permanent and subject to some more or less precisely formulated principle or law of conservation, such as Kant's first analogy of experience or the law of the conservation of mass-energy. Whether this sense of the term occurs in common sense usage is a more difficult point. It would, I think, be a mistake to exclude all notions of a permanent substance from common-sense; yet it must be admitted that the common-sense to which they belong has to a considerable extent been enlightened or, as some would have it, obscured by science and metaphysics. Miss Anscombe's paper does not deal with this notion of substance, for the good reason that in most of its versions, if not all, such questions as interest her, e.g., whether a substance is a bundle of sensible qualities or the totality of its appearances, are not even prima facie appropriate to it.
  2. Miss Anscombe seems to be mainly interested in 'substance' in another sense, that, namely, in which a substance is necessarily impermanent or, at least, is not necessarily permanent. Her remarks seem to be meant to apply mainly to material objects which either, like a piece of gold or wax, are divisible into parts of the same kind (into pieces of gold or wax), or, like a man or a horse are not divisible into parts of the same kind (men or horses). The notion which she examines belongs, I think, to a certain variety of post-Aristotelian common-sense which, though bearing the imprint of Aristotle's philosophy, is on the whole free from other scientific or metaphysical influences. She supports her remarks mainly by reference to the way in which proper names of material objects, and the terms 'material object' and 'substance', are used in ordinary language. There is bound to be a certain arbitrariness about the decision whether a use of these terms is of the relevant kind, since there does not, and cannot, exist a codification of a language or terminology designed to formulate the questions and answers of ordinary men engaged in ordinary transactions rather than the questions and answers of, say, a Democritus, a Spinoza or a Newton. I have thought it best – with only one or two exceptions – not to query her descriptions of common usage, but to confine myself rather to her inferences from them.
  3. My own contribution is divided into four sections of which the first two are critical. The third is intended to support what she says about appearances and things. The fourth contains a very brief sketch of the reasons for introducing notions of permanent substance in explaining change.
    1. The doctrine of nominal essences. I do not fully understand Miss Anscombe's thesis that individuals have something that is essential to them. What I seem to myself to understand in it, is based on two of her supporting arguments. She first of all rejects as "phantasmic" the notion of a bare particular, i.e., a particular without attributes. In this she seems to me to be perfectly right. The term 'particular' is used traditionally in such a sense that
      1. every particular is self-identical, and thus has at least the attribute of self-identity; and that
      2. any two particulars differ from each other in that each of them possesses, at least, one attribute not possessed by the other – the term 'attribute' covering both qualities and relations, the latter including spatial and temporal relations.
      Thus the thesis that some or all particulars are bare, is either false or involves a use of 'particular' and 'attribute' which - phantasmic or not – is irrelevant in the present context. The second, and the more important, of Miss Anscombe's arguments in support of the thesis that individuals have something that is " essential " to them, derives from an examination of the function of proper names and is concisely stated elsewhere.
    2. The attributes of material substances and their principle of individuation. Aristotle's definition of an individual substance as that which is neither predicated of, nor exists in, anything else covers both material and mental substances. I shall, however, following on the whole Miss Anscombe's lead, consider only material substances. The meaning of this notion depends chiefly on one's interpretation of the clause "nor exists in anything else" and corresponds fairly well to the meaning of the notion of a material object, as understood for example by the Roman lawyers.
    3. Appearances and things. Since I agree with Miss Anscombe that the distinction between the appearance of a thing and a thing is justified, my remarks on the relation between the two notions are intended to support and supplement hers.
    4. The notion of substance and the explanation of change. In her contribution Miss Anscombe ignores a common distinction between a material object and a material substance, a distinction made, as has been pointed out, in Roman law.


Response to "Anscombe (G.E.M.) - Substance (Part 1)" (filed therewith)

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