notes to self: possible theories of substance

This is just a list.  I’m not endorsing any of them.

  1. Substantial conventionalism:  The world is divided into property holders (“subjects”, “substances”) and properties, but how one divides the world into subjects (how one coarse grains the world) is a matter of choice.  The cat is black, not black has felininity, but “the cat”, “the left side of the cat”, and “the two cats walking adjacent to each other” are all substances, because they all have properties and are not properties themselves.  At most, one choice of substances may be more useful.
  2. Substantial rarity:  In addition to mere substances-as-subjects, there are also some beings who possess a higher order of intelligible unity, a unity of a sort that their parts or aggregates of them do not possess.  Perhaps living and/or conscious beings.  So, most of the universe is mere “stuff” whose enumeration is arbitrary, but additionally there are organisms whose enumeration is not arbitrary.
  3. Scientific Platonism:  In addition to the above, the non-substantial stuff can organize itself into patterns that approximate to greater or lesser degree certain mathematical structures.  The stuff is considered to be ontologically prior to the patterns it instantiates.  For example, air motion may instantiate longitudinal (sound) waves or vortex tubes.  Boundaries of instantiation of patterns are fuzzy, since in this Platonic view, the stuff and the patterns have independent existence.
  4. Metaphysical atomism:  On the contrary, substances with distinct species and substantial form (clear-cut species boundaries, existence flows through substantial form, all four causes somehow applicable) are all that exist, i.e. these substances, their parts (which are considered ontologically posterior to their wholes), and aggregates of substances.  What others identify as “stuff” clearly has a great deal of intelligibility, which must come from it being substantial, part of a substance, or an aggregate of substances.  This comes in several flavors.
    1. Pluralist holism:  Substances are what ultimately exist, and they are wholes, not parts.  Parts exist only virtually.  Substances are thus identified as the largest (in the sense of composition) intelligible unities.  Our minds can generally recognize substantial forms (although it may not be easy).  This is the first kind of metaphysical atomism the mind embraces, but it soon starts to seem suspicious that substantial unity is usually attributed to objects of human scale rather than much larger or smaller.  This looks like a selection effect.  In response, we can populate substantial unity at all scales or let it cascade to either the smallest or largest.
    2. Monadology:  Substances are made of substances, going up and down to infinity.  The substantial unity of some components will often not be visible to us.
    3. Physical atomism:  The real substances, the ontologically prior beings, are the smallest material constituents out of which everything else is made.  Immaterial souls may also be included as “atoms” in this sense.  So also may fields pervading all space.  This can be combined with scientific Platonism to account for the obvious presence of larger-scale intelligibility.
    4. Panentheism:  There is only one true substance, the universe and everything in it.  The substantial unity of the universe is not obvious, but may be identified with God, or perhaps a wavefunction representing the state of everything.  This may sound crazy, but it’s a natural way for pluralist holism to drift (i.e. to monist holism).

 

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