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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N056-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2018
Retrieved May 19, 2024, from

Article Summary

To understand the notion of substance in a neo-Aristotelian way, one first needs to understand the notion of a kind since the core idea is that substances fall under kinds. You are a human being, so you fall under the kind ‘human being’. Your kind is what defines you as being the substance you are – in short, it is the answer to the question ‘What is this object?’. When a kind is instantiated, an object exists. In this way of understanding the nature of substances, they are not built from more fundamental components (for instance, they are not bundles of various properties), rather substances are understood as instantiations of kinds, which are fundamental. But not all substances are equally fundamental. Indeed, they form a hierarchical structure where each substance plays a role in the resulting hierarchical network of interrelated ontological categories. Thus the notion of a substance is to be understood as part of a sophisticated and rich system of ontological categories, such as Jonathan Lowe’s or Joshua Hoffman’s and Gary Rosenkrantz’s.

A different way to understand the notion of a substance is a one-category ontology such as monism. In this view, there exists only one entity – only one substance – the universe. Horgan and Potrč defend such a view. In this view, the universe (which is the one and only object that exists) has a complex structure and is locally varied, but it does not have parts. The monist can appeal to a paraphrase strategy to talk about ordinary objects: whenever a realist about ordinary objects says that there is a tree, the monist can say that the world is locally tree-ish. In general, when it comes to our ordinary experience of the world, the monist claims that our experiences are the same whether the world contains trees or whether it is locally tree-ish. A different type of monism, namely priority monism, defended by Jonathan Schaffer, also claims that there is exactly one object that exists (the universe), but the idea is that it is the one and only fundamental object. That is, there is only one fundamental object but, in this view, it has parts. These parts are not fundamentally existing, they exist only in a derivative sense. So, like the neo-Aristotelian theories of substance, priority monism is a hierarchical ontology where some entities (i.e. one entity) are fundamental, while other entities are derivative.

Citing this article:
Benovsky, Jiri. Substance, 2018, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N056-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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