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Sunday, October 06, 2013


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Dear Bill,

your notion of completeness has no bearing on the question what really is part of a substance and what is not. I can concede all what you say and still maintain that accidents are not part of a substance. For example, I can maintain that Socrates satisfies the law of excluded middle and so is “complete”, but still deny that his actual accidents are part of him. All you can prove by your argument is that necessarily, any primary substance is at any time actually endowed with such accidents as to verify the law of excluded middle. But from that it does not follow at all that these accidents are part of that substance.

I suspect you are missing an equivocation in the term “substance minus its accidents”. It can either be construed as (a) “substance not endowed with its accidents” or as (b) “substance of which accidetns are not a part”. Your argument works only with the sense (a), but you would need sense (b) to infer that a substance ontologically contains its accidents.

And why do I say that the accidents are not part of a primary substance? Because it seems to me evident that for any x, y, if the whole of x is there even if y is not there then y is not part of x.


I have a question about premise 1. It seems to me that there are two things we might mean by saying a primary substance is ontologically basic. One of those things is exactly what you say in premise 1. But the other is what Aristotle says in the Categories: everything else depends on primary substances.

At any rate, I wonder what you make of the following argument. Let 'Socrates' denote what you are calling the complete entity: Socrates plus his accidents. Let 'Socrates*' denote what you are calling the incomplete entity: Socrates minus his accidents.

1. Primary substances do not ontologically depend on anything else for their existence.
2. Socrates is ontologically dependent on Socrates*.
3. Socrates is not a primary substance.

The controversial premise is premise 2. But it is plausible: Socrates could not exist without Socrates*, and so must be ontologically dependent on Socrates*. If Socrates is not a primary substance

I think the best reply here is to draw a distinction Kit Fine draws in his discussion of grounding. Although Socrates exists if and only if his singleton {Socrates} exists, it is clear that Socrates is prior to {Socrates}. Likewise, Socrates exists if and only if Socrates* exists, but perhaps Socrates is prior to Socrates* (because, for example, Socrates* is an abstraction, as it were, from Socrates). But I am not sure.


I never said that accidents are parts of a substance. Remember our discussion in the car on the way back from that great hike you took us on? Michael Gorman suggested that accidents are parts, but I disagreed. A substance can be considered together with its attributes without construing the accidents as parts of the substance.

I agree with you that numerically one and the same substance can have different accidents at different times. That would not be possible if accidents are parts. My point is that nothing ontologically basic could be incomplete.


An interesting argument to which you have provided the correct response. If x cannot exist without y, and y cannot exist without x, that leaves open the 'grounding question,' which is the ontological ground of which? It seems obvious to me that the existence of Socrates is the ontological ground of the existence of his singleton, and not vice versa, even though there is no possible world in which the one exists without the other.

Similarly, Socrates* depends for its existence on Socrates, even though neither can exist without the other.

So I would reject premise (2) and say that it confuses the metaphysical relation of ontological dependence, which is asymmetrical, with the merely logical relation of necessary equivalence, which is symmetrical.

Would you agree with that?

This implies that one cannot do metaphysics without the notion of metaphysical grounding or metaphysical explanation.


I am probably still misunderstanding you. It seems to me that one thing is to say that any substance is complete, and quite another thing is to define substance as an "... entity ... together with accidents". Or put more sharply: it is different to define substance as "an entity ... having accidents", and as "an entity together with accidents". In the first case, you are just listing "having accidents" as a condition substance must fulfil in order to satisfy the definition, but you do not include accidents into what you define. In the second case you do.

An analogy: one thing is to say that any man has parents (true), or to define that man is "a human being ... having parents" (well, if someone insisted, why not), and quite another is to define man as "a human being ... together with his parents". For what you are defining now is not man, but aggregate of three men. It is the latter formulations I object against.

I originally reacted to this formulation of yours: "Thus, if one were to consider Socrates in abstraction from his accidents, one would not be considering him as a primary substance." This, meseems, entails that the accidents are in some sense part of what primary substance is, and not just a necessary condition of its being primary substance. For if accidents are not part of what primary substance is, then when we abstract from the accidents, we are still considering a primary substance (e.g. Socrates) fully as what it is qua a primary substance.

There are many more necessary conditions of something actually being a primary substance: for example, "being created by God (if not God himself)". Socrates would not be a primary substance if he was not created by God (because he would not exist at all). But we can easily consider Socrates while abstractig from his being created by God, and we are still considering him as a primary substance. So why should the necessity of having accidents be an exception?

Dear Bill,

An afterthought: It seems now to me that I should have conceded even less than I have. It seems to me clear that completeness of a substance in your sense does not even require having any accidents. The law of excluded middle is satisfied even by a substance completely devoid of accidents - for in order that a substance be non-F, it is not necessary for it to have any special accident, it suffices that it is not the case that it have the accident F.

Of course, this is not to imply that for some substance it is possible to acutally exist without at least some accidents - but this is not in virtue of the LEM. But I think that in fact there is at least one "bare" substance, viz. God.

Dear Bill,

regarding your response to John: I hold the exact opposite of your view, namely that Socrates is grounded in Socrates* and not vice versa. Clearly, Socrates considered as Socrates* plus the sum of his actual accidents at a moment is an accidental whole, since for many accidents it is only contingently and accidentally the case that Socrates has them. But all accidental wholes are ontologically dependent on their components, not vice versa, because they do not have their own essence.

And if you concede that the accidents are not part of the substance (which I still don't understand how it goes along with your other claims - perhaps here might be the root of our misunderstanding), then it seems even clearer that the ontologically basic items are Socrates* and the individual accidents, which only accidentally compose to form what you call Socrates.

Thanks for the discussion, Lukas.

>>For if accidents are not part of what primary substance is, then when we abstract from the accidents, we are still considering a primary substance (e.g. Socrates) fully as what it is qua a primary substance.<<

I don't think so.

WHAT a primary substance is, is a secondary substance. Thus, WHAT Socrates is, is a man. And we will surely agree that no (contingent) accident such as being pale or being musical enters into the definition of 'man.' Man qua man is neither musical nor unmusical. But Socrates is a primary substance, and he cannot exist without being either musical or unmusical.

And I hope we agree that a primary substance cannot be identified with its substantial form, which is a secondary substance.

Except for the case of God, every primary substance has some accidents or other, and this is necessarily the case. So I say that 'having some accidents or other' enters into the definition of the ontological category *primary substance* even though (contingent) accidents are no part of WHAT any primary substance is.

On August 13, I presented the following dilemma that shows, I think, just how murky the notion of substance is:

a. Either (i) Socrates together with his accidents is a primary substance or (ii) Socrates taken in abstraction from his accidents is a primary substance.

b. If (i), then Socrates is an accidental compound and thus a "cross-categorical hybrid" (F. A. Lewis) belonging neither to the category of substance nor to any non-substance category. Therefore, if (i), then Socrates is not a primary substance.

c. If (ii), then Socrates is not a concretum, but an abstractum, i.e., a product of abstraction inasmuch as one considers him in abstraction from his accidents. Therefore, if (ii), then Socrates is not a primary substance. For a primary substance must be both concrete and completely determinate. (These, I take it. are equivalent properties.) Primary substances enjoy full ontological status in Aristotle's metaphysics. They alone count as ontologically basic. They are his answer to the question, What is most fundamentally real? Clearly, Socrates taken in abstraction from his accidents is incompletely determinate and thus not fully real.


d. On either horn, Socrates is not primary substance.

Dear Bill,

my previous attempts to post my comments failed so I will try dividing them up in smaller bits - here is the first:

1) I am at loss interpreting your position on what exactly a primary substanbce amounts to. You say "A substance can be considered together with its attributes without construing the accidents as parts of the substance" - I agree, but then I would say that when you consider the "substance minus its accidents", you do not subtract anything from the entity of the primary substance qua substance, i.e. so you are considering the whole substance as a primary substance. And if you consider the substance together with the accidents, you are considering it together with something else, over and above the primary substance itself.

2) For simplicity, take a universe containing only Socrates (S), and possibly his wisdom (W). Which of the following entities is a primary substance accoridng to you?
(1) S (AKA S+(~W)) - not-wise Socrates
(2) S+W - wise Socrates
(3) S+(Wv~W) - Socrates either wise or not-wise

If (1), then Socrates qua one and the same primary substance cannot survive his becoming wise.

If (2), then analogically, Socrates qua one and the same primary substance cannot survive losing his wisdom.

If (3), then primary substance is not complete in your sense, because (3) is neither determinately wise, nor determinately not-wise

If something else, what?

3) I deny that secondary substance (i.e. species) exhausts what a substance is. It would imply that individuals of the same species either do not differ at all or differ only non-essentially. If they differ essentially, they differ by something belonging to their essence, but they do not differ by their species, ergo the whatness or essence of a primary substance comprises something over and above the species or secondary substance.

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