Hume on Substance: A Critique of Locke

In Paul Lodge & Tom Stoneham (eds.), Locke and Leibniz on Substance. New York, NY, USA: pp. 45-62 (2015)
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The ancient theory of substance and accident is supposed to make sense of complex unities in a way that respects both their unity and their complexity. On Hume’s view such complex unities are only fictitiously unities. This result follows from his thoroughgoing critique of the theory of substance. I will characterize the theory Hume is critiquing as it is presented in Locke, presupposing what Bennett calls the “Leibnizian interpretation.” Locke uses the word ‘substance’ in two senses. Call substance in the first sense “individual substance” and in the second sense “pure substance.” I will discuss the seven main parts of Hume’s view: (I) that we have no idea of pure substance, (II) that there is no complex individual substance, except in a loose sense, (III) that the fiction of complex individual substance arises in a way parallel to that of the fiction of identity through time, and (IV) results in the fiction of pure substance, (V) that simple qualities and perceptions satisfy the definition of individual substance, (VI) that there is no such thing as inherence, and (VII) that there is no such thing as pure substance. Hume’s views on substance are often mentioned without being discussed in detail. Kemp Smith, Stroud, and Garrett, for example, mostly summarize various claims of Hume in the course of expounding on his theory of the idea of personal identity. In contrast, I will attempt to present a systematic treatment of Hume on substance as a refutation of Locke.

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Donald L. M. Baxter
University of Connecticut


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