When thinking about the self, one is inclined to accept the idea of a personal identity that survives throughout time. This tendency is reflected in substance theory, the belief that the self is not just a collection of properties such as experiences and perceptions, but the vehicle for possessing these properties. The bundle theory makes the opposite argument. The theory claims that the inclinations for a personal identity are natural but flawed, as the self is simply a bundle of perceptions. Both theories have a large amount of support, but the bundle theory better explains the true nature of the individual. While the substance theory is lacking in real evidence for its viewpoint of the self, the bundle theory makes a clear argument through the account of perception.
II. Substance Theory and the Substratum
The idea of substance stems from the Latin word substansia, meaning “something that stands under or grounds things” (Robinson). Substance theorists believe in the necessity of a substance that is able to “stand under” the properties attributed to it. In Categories, Aristotle argued for the idea of a primary substance, which cannot be predicable to anything else (Robinson). Primary substances were “objects of predication” that could take on a number of contradictories; for example, they could shift from hot to cold. Without the substance, the properties would cease to exist (Robinson). Rene Descartes supported this idea, saying, “In general, no act or accident can exist without a substance for it to belong to.”
Locke also believed in this idea that properties must be held by something to exist. He argued for the existence of a substratum that could support these properties (Bennett). The substratum, also known as the thin particular, is the particular without the properties. It is the “bearer of properties”; it holds the self together (Benovsky 9). That is to say, in the views of substance theory, a person exists because the substratum binds together the properties that make up that person.
III. Bundle Theory and Perceptions
In opposition to substance theory, bundle theory maintains that the self is nothing more than a bundle of properties. David Hume argued for this viewpoint through explanations rooted in the idea of perception. In A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume wrote, “When I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other.” Examples of such perceptions include pain and pleasure, heat and cold (Hume). These perceptions are in constant flux; man’s perceptions vary with just the slight turn of an eye in its socket (Hume). Because man perceives only these perceptions, he is not able to conceive self or substance.
While the substance theory argues for a substratum, the bundle theory believes that when a particular is stripped of its universals and properties, there is nothing left (Sider). Hume illustrates this point with the example of death. Many believe death...