Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Theoretische Philosophie / Philosophiegeschichte

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Institut für Philosophie | Theoretische Philosophie / Philosophiegeschichte | Veranstaltungen - Archiv | Ideas of Substance and the Identity of a Substance in Early Modern Philosophy

Ideas of Substance and the Identity of a Substance in Early Modern Philosophy

Six Lecture-Discussions with Martha Brandt Bolton (Rutgers University)
  • Wann 12.06.2013 09:30 bis 15.06.2013 12:30
  • Wo HU main building, Unter den Linden 6 (room 3119) and Topoi Building, Hannoversche Straße 6 (room 1.03)
  • iCal
ORGANISERS: Christian Barth and Vili Lähteenmäki
FUNDING: Leibniz Prize Project “Transformations of the Mind. Philosophical Psychology 1500-1750” (Prof. Dominik Perler)




Along with the proliferation of theories about the elements that constitute a substance in post-scholastic early modern philosophy, there is an increasing interest in explaining the persistence of a substance.  Different theories of the internal structure of a substance go hand in hand with different accounts of the substance-accident dependence relation and both influence accounts of how it is that a substance endures when its accidents change.  Complicating these issues is a tendency among early moderns to hold that there are both simple substances, which include no other substances, and compound ‘substances’, where animals and other living things are compounds.  Discussion will center on accounts of these issues urged by Descartes, Arnauld, Locke and Leibniz with attention to connections among them.




If you like to attend, please by register by e-mail to


Attendance requires pre-reading of texts provided by Martha Brandt Bolton. The texts will be disseminated by e-mail.    






Wednesday, June 12th (HU main building, Unter den Linden 6, room 3119)


Morning session: 9.30-12.30

1.  Descartes on thought as principal attribute of an individual substance

Discussion will be organized around interpretations of the Cartesian notion of thought as principle attribute offered by Arnauld (in letters exchanged with Descartes in 1648), Malebranche, and several recent scholars. 



Afternoon session: 14.30-17.30

2.  Descartes and Locke on substance and the substance-mode relation

Discussion will center on the multiplicity of material substances according to both philosophers, and its implications regarding the dependence relation between a substance and its modes, qualities or powers.  Do the modern philosophers reject the Aristotelian notion of the entities which depend for their existence on substances and, if so, what are the implications for the constitution of persisting things?



Thursday, June 13th (Topoi building, Hannoversche Straße 6, room 1.03)


Morning session: 9.30-12.30

3.  Defense of Locke’s general account of identity against familiar objections 

The main focus is on several difficulties alleged against Locke’s account of identity because it is committed to the claim that two material substances can exist in the same place at the same time.  Other alleged difficulties, which come from Locke’s voluntarist theory of ideas of kinds, may be brought in as well. 


Afternoon session: 14.30-17.30

4.  Locke on persons, personal identity and agency

Issues to be considered are the constitution of a person, the basis of personal identity, and especially whether a person can properly be regarded as an agent, or actor.


Friday, June 14th (Topoi building, Hannoversche Straße 6, room 1.03)


Morning session: 9.30-12.30

5.  Leibniz on change in the monad 

In a monad, there is nothing but perception and appetition, according to Leibniz’s later philosophy.  There are good reasons to hold that perception is, in general, a cognitive activity and appetition is, in general, an analogue of volition or desire.  However, some scholars argue that there are good reasons to deny that all appetitions are desire-like.  Discussion of these two interpretations will focus on the connection between cognition, desire-like tendencies, action and substantial unity.



Saturday, June 15th (Topoi building, Hannoversche Straße 6, room 1.03)


Morning session: 9.30-12.30

6.  Leibniz’s two accounts of the identity of a substance (1698-1704) 

Some texts in this period account for the trans-temporal identity of a substance on the basis of connections among perceptual states of a substance at different times, an account based on a sort of psychological continuity.  According to other texts, there is a ‘law of the series’ unique to every substance and the identity of a substance consists in following this law.  What do these accounts imply about the constituents of a substance, what remains the same at different times, and the substance-modification relation?