Substance and Selfhood

Philosophy 66 (255):81-99 (1991)
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How could the self be a substance? There are various ways in which it could be, some familiar from the history of philosophy. I shall be rejecting these more familiar substantivalist approaches, but also the non-substantival theories traditionally opposed to them. I believe that the self is indeed a substance—in fact, that it is a simple or noncomposite substance—and, perhaps more remarkably still, that selves are, in a sense, self-creating substances. Of course, if one thinks of the notion of substance as an outmoded relic of prescientific metaphysics—as the notion of some kind of basic and perhaps ineffablestuff—then the suggestion that the self (or indeed anything) is a substance may appear derisory. Even what we ordinarilycall‘stuffs’—gold and water and butter and the like—are, it seems, more properly conceived of as aggregates of molecules or atoms, while the latter are not appropriately to be thought of as being ‘made’ of any kind of ‘stuff’ at all. But this only goes to show that we need to think in terms of a more sophisticated notion of substance—one which may ultimately be traced back to Aristotle's conception of a ‘primary substance’ in theCategories, and whose heir in modern times is W. E. Johnson's notion of the ‘continuant’. It is the notion, that is, of a concrete individual capable of persisting identically through qualitative change, a subject of alterable predicates that is not itself predicable of any further subject.



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Author's Profile

E. J. Lowe
PhD: Oxford University; Last affiliation: Durham University

Citations of this work

Why I have no hands.Eric T. Olson - 1995 - Theoria 61 (2):182-197.
Human atoms.Eric T. Olson - 1998 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 76 (3):396-406.
Self, Reference and Self-Reference.E. J. Lowe - 1993 - Philosophy 68 (263):15-33.

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Individualism and the mental.Tyler Burge - 1979 - Midwest Studies in Philosophy 4 (1):73-122.
A Treatise of Human Nature.David Hume & A. D. Lindsay - 1958 - Philosophical Quarterly 8 (33):379-380.
Can there be vague objects?Gareth Evans - 1978 - Analysis 38 (4):208.

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