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in philosophy, term used to denote the changeless substratum presumed in some philosophies to be present in all being. Aristotle defined substance as that which possesses attributes but is itself the attribute of nothing. Less precise usage identifies substance with being and essence. The quest of philosophers for the ultimate identity of reality led some to define substance as one (see monismmonism
[Gr.,=belief in one], in metaphysics, term introduced in the 18th cent. by Christian von Wolff for any theory that explains all phenomena by one unifying principle or as manifestations of a single substance.
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). Frequently the monist has identified substance with God, an absolute existing within itself and creating all other forms (Spinoza). According to dualismdualism,
any philosophical system that seeks to explain all phenomena in terms of two distinct and irreducible principles. It is opposed to monism and pluralism. In Plato's philosophy there is an ultimate dualism of being and becoming, of ideas and matter.
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 there are two kinds of substance. Descartes, for example, held that mind and matter constitute the two kinds of finite substance. Others have defined substance as material (Hobbes) or mental (Lotze), as static (Parmenides) or dynamic (Heraclitus), as knowable (Aristotle) or unknowable (Hume). Kant argued that our cognitive faculties require that we conceive of the world as containing substance, i.e., something that remains constant in the face of continuous change.


See D. Wiggens, Sameness and Substance (1980).



objective reality considered in terms of its internal unity. Substance is matter taken in the unity of all its forms of motion, the ultimate principle by which sensuous multiplicity and the variability of properties can be reduced to something constant and relatively stable that has an independent existence.

Monistic philosophies posit the existence of a single substance, dualistic philosophies the existence of two substances, and pluralistic philosophies the existence of a multiplicity of substances. In the history of philosophy, substance has been variously interpreted as a substratum, as the concrete individual, as an essential property, as something that can exist independently, as an object’s foundation and center of change, or as a logical subject.

The Greek and Roman philosophers distinguished various substances, regarding them as the material substratum and fundamental principle of change in things; such were the atoms of De-mocritus and the four elements of Empedocles. For Aristotle, substance was identical to prime essence, constituting a foundation inseparable from a thing itself and from its individual being. In addition to the ontological characteristics of substance, Aristotle identified its logical properties as well: for example, he viewed substance as the subject and not the predicate of judgment and as having the capacity to be manifested in the species and genera of objects. Aristotle’s interpretation of form as first cause, determining the attributes of objects, gave rise both to the distinction between spiritual and corporeal substance and to the dispute about “substantial forms” that permeates medieval philosophy as a whole—for example, in the opposition between nominalism and realism.

In modern philosophy, the analysis of substance developed along two lines. The first line of analysis, which began with F. Bacon’s empiricism, was linked to an ontological understanding of substance as the first principle of being; it was based on a qualitative description of substantial forms and an identification of substance with the form of actual things. In place of this qualitative interpretation, R. Descartes proposed the theory of dual substance: a material substance, which is extensional as well as quantitatively measurable, and a spiritual or mental substance. The difficulties inherent in a dualistic explanation of the relationship between the two substances were overcome in the pantheistic monism of B. Spinoza: in his view, the mental and the extensional are not two substances but rather two attributes of a single substance. G. von Leibniz in his monadology posited the existence of a multiplicity of simple and indivisible substances that are independent, active, and changeable.

The second line of analysis of substance is represented by an epistemological interpretation, which considered the concept of substance in view of its potentiality as indispensable for scientific knowledge. This approach was first adopted by J. Locke, both in his analysis of substance as one of the complex ideas and in his critique of empirical and inductive conceptualizations of substance. G. Berkeley rejected the concept of material substance altogether, although he admitted the existence of a spiritual substance. D. Hume denied the existence of either material or spiritual substance, regarding the notion of substance as merely a hypothesis—an attempt to group perceptions together into a whole, as it were—that is characteristic of commonsense knowledge but not of science.

I. Kant, who further developed the epistemological line of analysis, noted that the concept of substance is essential to the explanation of phenomena on the basis of scientific theory. The category of substance, according to Kant, is a necessary condition for any possible synthetic unity of perceptions, that is, of experience (Soch., vol. 3, Moscow, 1964, p. 254). In contrast to the nondialectical conception of substance as an unchanging material substratum, Kant viewed substance as subject to internal change (ibid, p. 257). This approach was carried still further by G. Hegel, who pointed out the internal contradictions of substance and its self-development. Hegel, however, failed to substantiate in any consistent fashion the dialectical view of substance as a subject that expands in content, inasmuch as he considered substance a stage in the evolution of the “idea” rather than of being.

Contemporary bourgeois philosophy tends to take a negative attitude toward the category of substance and its role in cognition, partly because of science’s increasing attention to the study of concentration systems, connections, and relationships. Nevertheless, attempts are still being made in the natural sciences today to identify a single substance, or prime matter. In the various neopositivist schools of thought, the notion of substance is seen as an element of commonsense knowledge that passed over into scientific usage, representing a dualistic concept of the world and a naturalistic treatment of perception that are methodologically unjustified.

The critics of the concept of substance are aligned on the one hand with critics of materialism and on the other hand with those who reject causality and causal explanation; they try to replace these concepts with description, as P. Duhem does, or with the functional relations of E. Cassirer. In some schools of contemporary bourgeois philosophy, such as existentialism and the philosophy of ordinary language, substance is taken as the starting principle, or point of departure, of a naturalistic metaphysics; the emergence of the concept of substance is explained in terms of the specific structure of European languages, which characteristically contrast the subject to the predicate of judgment. Other schools of thought, such as neo-Thomism and neorealism, have retained the traditional interpretation of substance. Some idealist schools of 20th-century bourgeois philosophy have attempted to identify the substance of culture and of human existence, as exemplified by values in neo-Kantianism or by vital activity in life philosophy.

K. Marx developed a dialectical-materialist doctrine of substance in his analysis of capitalist production and forms of value. In Das Kapital, abstract labor represents the substance of exchange and other forms of value. For dialectical materialism, the category of substance is one of the universal logical characteristics of matter—matter being the effective cause of its own changes—and embodies a causal explanation of the objective world. In contrast to the phenomenalist rejection of the category of substance, Marxism emphasizes its indispensability for a scientific theory of reality, as called for by V. I. Lenin: “On the one hand, knowledge of matter must be deepened to knowledge (to the concept) of Substance in order to find the causes of phenomena. On the other hand, the actual cognition of the cause is the deepening of knowledge from the externality of phenomena to the Substance” (Poln. sobr. soch, 5th ed., vol. 29, pp. 142–43).


Istoriia marksistskoi dialektiki. Moscow, 1971. Chapter 10.
Il’enkov, E. V. Dialekticheskaia logika. Moscow, 1974.
Orynbekov, M. S. Problema substantsii v filosofii i nauke. Alma-Ata, 1975.
Heidmann, K. Der Substanzbegriff von Abalará bis Spinoza. Berlin, 1890.
Hessen, J. Das Substanzproblem in der Philosophie der Neuzeit. Berlin-Bonn, 1932.



Tangible material, occurring in macroscopic amounts.


1. material density
2. Philosophy
a. the supposed immaterial substratum that can receive modifications and in which attributes and accidents inhere
b. a thing considered as a continuing whole that survives the changeability of its properties
3. Christian Science that which is eternal
References in classic literature ?
Dimmesdale, conscious that the poison of one morbid spot was infecting his heart's entire substance, attributed all his presentiments to no other cause.
O ADAM, one Almightie is, from whom All things proceed, and up to him return, If not deprav'd from good, created all Such to perfection, one first matter all, Indu'd with various forms, various degrees Of substance, and in things that live, of life; But more refin'd, more spiritous, and pure, As neerer to him plac't or neerer tending Each in thir several active Sphears assignd, Till body up to spirit work, in bounds Proportiond to each kind.
The whole substance of human authority was centred in the simple doctrine of royal prerogative, the origin of which was always traced in theory to divine institution.
Least of all, while avoiding her sight, ought Giovanni to have remained so near this extraordinary being that the proximity and possibility even of intercourse should give a kind of substance and reality to the wild vagaries which his imagination ran riot continually in producing.
But injustice breeds injustice; the fighting with shadows and being defeated by them necessitates the setting up of substances to combat; from the impalpable suit which no man alive can understand, the time for that being long gone by, it has become a gloomy relief to turn to the palpable figure of the friend who would have saved him from this ruin and make HIM his enemy.
She was a solvent powerful to reconcile all heterogeneous persons into one society: like air or water, an element of such a great range of affinities that it combines readily with a thousand substances.
Also they were very rich, had rocking-chairs, and put their feet at unusual altitudes, and they chewed tobacco, gum, and other substances, with untiring industry.
Their usefulness did not depend on making the patient swallow substances for the most part harmful (the harm was scarcely perceptible, as they were given in small doses), but they were useful, necessary, and indispensable because they satisfied a mental need of the invalid and of those who loved her- and that is why there are, and always will be, pseudo-healers, wise women, homeopaths, and allopaths.
Doubtless a vigorous error vigorously pursued has kept the embryos of truth a-breathing: the quest of gold being at the same time a questioning of substances, the body of chemistry is prepared for its soul, and Lavoisier is born.
One estimates it thirty miles, because the internal heat, increasing at the rate of about one degree to each sixty to seventy feet depth, would be sufficient to fuse the most refractory substances at that distance beneath the surface.
Being always in a state of gaping admiration at everything, and absorbed, besides, in the perpetual contemplation of her mistress's perfections and the baby's, Miss Slowboy, in her little errors of judgment, may be said to have done equal honour to her head and to her heart; and though these did less honour to the baby's head, which they were the occasional means of bringing into contact with deal doors, dressers, stair-rails, bed-posts, and other foreign substances, still they were the honest results of Tilly Slowboy's constant astonishment at finding herself so kindly treated, and installed in such a comfortable home.
I raised my head, and gathered the bills and letters together, and stood up a man again, wondering at the variableness of my own temper, at the curious elasticity of that toughest of all the vital substances within us, which we call Hope.