Ghazali on Immaterial Substances

Boris Henning


One of the main targets of Al-Ghazālī’s Incoherence of the Philosophers is the Aristotelian doctrine that every change requires an underlying substratum, which seems to entail that the material universe and each human soul are either not substances or else eternal. Since a substance does not inhere in any further substratum, it seems that there can be no change by which a substance comes into existence. I will argue that despite his merely critical intent, Al-Ghazālī points out two distinctions that are still of crucial importance for contemporary metaphysics: the distinctions between potentialities vs. possibilities, and the distinction between receptacles vs. substrata. Whereas the potential for being A must inhere in a receptacle that may eventually become A, the possibility for being A need only inhere in a substratum that need not possibly become A. This will be shown to have important consequences for the notion of a substance.


20th century philosophy; metaphysics; philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; Al-Ghazali; Aristotle; Augustine; Descartes René; receptacle; soul; substance; substratum

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