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Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Substance, substratum, substantive

A lot of the metaphysical development since Descartes can be expressed in terms of the Aristotelian notion of substance. Descartes showed that substances could be conceived without ousia prote, without substratum - nothing is beyond the predication associated to it. So, the thinking substance is nothing beyond thought. Leibniz drawn on that to postulate infinite substratum-free substances and proposing what became known as the law of Leibniz. Each simple substance is just its predicates, nothing beyond it, no underlying substratum that would hold together all the predications. If we take (some) developments in process philosophy to be neo-monadological in the sense that Leibniz is a key influence, we can see how, for example, Whitehead's actual entities (which are not substances) are also substratum-free: they are individuated and identified by their relations, perceptions and concrescence - roughly by their predications. (In contrast, we can posit substance-less substrata that would be like pure haecceities )

In De l'existence à l'existant, Levinas speaks few times about a substance that is related to the solitude of the agent (and of the existent). Whitehead considers cartesian substances also in terms of a solitude - nothing can interfere with res cogitans or res extensa (they cannot interfere in one another) apart from God. Levinas' solitude is quite different, it is about the impossibility of interaction but about the attachment to what one is (and how one acts). One's predication is owned. As Levinas says towards the end of the book, the true substantiality is substantivity: an existent is a substantive, predication is allotted to a substantive. Yet, this is not (necessarily) an appeal to substrata because the existent is not defined by this solitude - Leibniz's law could still be valid and an existent is dependent on all the other existents to be what it is. Still, it is solitary in its allotment of predication. Levinas understands substantivity as the personal in being ("dans l'être il y a des étants.", is how he closes the book). Substantivity is what makes (individualized) entities among what there is. Substantivity is somehow missing in a monadological approach for monads are individuals and therefore are attached to their predication by a relation of substantivity that is not first substantiality (substantives are not substrata).

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