I said I was going to explain some of the underlying arguments in my argument for the existence of God. One of these is Aristotelian philosophy. One of the primary and ultimate things behind Aristotle’s philosophy is a belief in substances and attributes. A substance is a thing, and an attribute is a way that thing is. Everything in the world is either a substance or an attribute.
A substance is a thing. Anything that you can think of is probably a substance of some kind or other. Some substances are things made by people such as computers, tables, buildings and rockets. Other substances are natural substances such as rocks, planets, bugs and people. Some natural substances are not alive and others are alive. Substances – both natural and artificial – can be quite large or quite small. What makes something a substances is simply that I can point it out. If I can say “that thing” of it, then it is a substance.
An attribute is not a substance. An attribute is the way some substance is. An attribute could be mathematical – such as the dimensions or weight of the substance. It could be qualitative and describe something about the substance – such as its color, feel or sound. An attribute could describe how the object reacts to other objects either by how they change it or how it changes other things. An attribute could even describe what category the substance belongs to.
Aristotle argues, and I agree, that all things are either substances or attributes of substances. Here is a very simple argument for this conclusion. First, if something exists, then it either exists as a thing or it exists as a way something is. For suppose that this were false. Then something could exist that is not a thing or a way something is. But that is to talk about ‘something’. For if we cannot talk about ‘the something’ that is not a thing or a way something is then we cannot speak of it existing. If we can talk about ‘the something’ then we must be referring to something in the world. If we are referring to something in the world as it is, then we are describing a substance. If we are referring to something in the world in some other way, then we are describing an attribute. But that contradicts our assumption. Therefore, either our assumption contradicts itself or it cannot be said. Therefore, all things are either substances or attributes of substances.
Although this argument shows that substances exist and there is nothing we can refer to that is not a substance or an attribute, some do not believe in substance theory. Hume is an excellent example of a person who rejected substance theory. Unfortunately for him, he misunderstood it and rejected something else. He also turned to bundle theories of the world. Those theories have problems that substance theory does not have. These problems are so bad that bundle theory cannot be rescued from them.