In Defense of Substance

Grazer Philosophische Studien 91 (1):59-80 (2015)
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In his “Farewell to Substance: A Differentiated Leave-Taking”, Peter Simons reaches the provocative conclusion that the concept of substance, as it is employed by metaphysicians, has become obsolete, since in the end there may be nothing at all which answers to it. No harm is done, Simons allows, if we continue to retain an everyday notion of substance, as long as we are aware of the limitations of this practice: there is no reason in general to expect that what is salient from our specifically human point of view will retain a special place in light of our most considered scientific and metaphysical theories of the world. In this paper, I argue that, contrary to Simons’ pessimistic outlook, the concept of substance continues to retain its importance for metaphysics. Among the primary explanatory roles played by the concept of substance in metaphysics is its use in designating certain kinds of entities as occupying a privileged position relative to a particular ontology. But disputes over substancehood can also target the criteria themselves relative to which an ontologically privileged position is awarded to certain taxonomic categories. In these uses, we see the concept of substance employed in an absolute, a relational and a comparative sense, to designate items as substances simpliciter, as the substances of something else, or as more or less deserving of substance status.
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