Philosophers have argued that we are not or can not know that we are a substance

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Philosophers have argued that we are not or can not know that we are a substance which remains continuous throught out time. Hume, was especially famous for making that point. What about the fear we experience in the face of certain fates? Any reasonable person would want to avoid being tortured and it would be no consolation to "know" that the person who will be tortured is not the same person as the person who dreads it. This is essentially why I can't agree with Hume. I know it doesn't sound like an argument but it still seems like a persuasive position. Have other philosophers offered that rebuttal to Hume? What could you say to refute or bolster this "argument"?

Thank you for your question. Without a doubt, if you told David Hume that 'I am going to be tortured' he would respond 'For goodness sake, run!' The question is, then: is this response incompatible with his philosophical analysis of the concept of substance?

I think we need to distinguish two ways of thinking about 'substance'. The first is substance as metaphysical, as something that exists permanently, without even the possibility of change, as the 'bearer' of properties (Hume has Descartes and Leibniz particularly in mind). The second is a pragmatic sense of substance, as our sense of the identity of things (including ourselves) across time. By pragmatic, I mean that for certain purposes we think of things as basically unchanging, while for other purposes we think of things as not unchanging. For example, if I buy a new car, I consider it unchanging for the purposes of driving every day, staying the same size, staying the same shape and colour. If, however, after a year I tried to return it to the dealership, they would say 'sorry, but this is not the same car, it is now a 'used' car'. Hume has a number of examples of this type in Treatise, Book 1, Part IV, section vi, including the example of a church being the 'same church' even though it has been rebuilt in a different material. The church is both the same church, and a completely different church, depending upon to what pragmatic use you are putting the word 'same'.

Clearly, Hume can deny the validity of an idea of substance in the first sense, while still maintaining the importance of a pragmatic sense. So, yes, it is no consolation to think that the person to be tortured is not the same person as me, because this lack of sameness is of the metaphysical kind. Pragmatically speaking, it is you, so run.

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