ABSTRACTS 4th workshop on Metaphysical Explanation

In order of appearance in the program…

Kelly Trogdon: Full Grounding and Nothing-Over-and-Aboveness

It’s standard to define partial grounding in terms of full grounding—for a collection of facts to partially ground fact A is for that collection, either on its own or together with other facts, to fully ground A. There are general methodological reasons, however, to proceed in the reverse direction, to define full grounding in terms of partial grounding. And the standard definition of partial grounding in terms of full grounding has counterexamples in any case, or so I argue. After considering and rejecting some natural attempts to define full grounding in terms of partial grounding, I settle on a proposal that appeals to the idea that some facts are nothing over and above other facts.

Darragh Byrne: Grounding Anti-Realism

In an early, pioneering paper on grounding, Kit Fine (2001) proposed that the apparatus of grounding may be invoked to precisify what’s at stake between realists and (non-revisionary) anti-realists, and that (in certain, in suitably regimented cases) we should say that grounded truths are less real than their grounds. In a recent paper, Alyssa Ney (2016) develops a grounding-theoretic analogue of role- (as opposed to realizer-) functionalism and presents it as an attractive version of Finean anti-realism about psychological discourse. I take issue with Ney’s characterization of her theory as anti-realist – both in the Finean sense and the more traditional one with which it can be contrasted. But I approve of her aspiration to articulate an anti-realist construal of psychological discourse, and in the second part of the paper, I propose a new way in which the grounding apparatus can be deployed to yield one. My key move is to propose – in a way that I argue can be usefully related to classic late-20-century anti-realist proposals – that relevant psychological truths are partially but not fully grounded.

Anna-Sofia Maurin: Maximal Explanatory Distance

My presentation explores a possible further necessary condition on (successful) metaphysical explanation (on top of the usual suspects Appropriate Relation and Epistemic Constraint): Appropriate Distance. More precisely, it explores ways to understand this condition at its maximal end (stating, roughly, that for there to be (successful) metaphysical explanation, explanandum and explanans – or, rather, what explanandum and explanans ‘pick out’ – must not be too distant from each other). It argues that distance is most likely best understood in terms of resemblance. For resemblance can be used to capture neighboring ideas about relevance and ‘topic-sameness’, which are often taken as essential to (successful) explanation. Saying that whatever the explanandum and the explanans in a (successful) metaphysical explanation pick out should not be either too similar nor too different from each other is admittedly not saying very much. The lesson to take away from a closer scrutiny of the distance condition is therefore that we need to start doing more and not least more fine-grained first-order metaphysics in order to be able to properly evaluate if a putative explanation lives up to this condition. Why that is, will hopefully become transparent in what follows.

Alexander Skiles: The Many Ways to Be

Ontological pluralism — the thesis that there is more than one way for a thing to exist — has recently enjoyed something of a renaissance in analytic metaontology. Yet it still has its detractors, and its proponents remain in the minority. One recurring worry takes the form of a dilemma, and stems from the fact that the thesis itself is phrased in terms of existential quantification: a thesis about how many ways of existing there are. This quantificational phrase might be taken to denote a generic way of existing shared by everything. Or, it might be taken to denote one of the many ways of existing shared among some of the things but not all. Different critics of ontological pluralism have raised a number of different difficulties depending on which horn one grasps (including Michele Paolini Paoletti, Trenton Merricks, and David Builes). In this paper, I argue that the ontological pluralist can grasp either horn without a problem, applying previous work of mine on the relationship between grounding, essence, and metaphysical explanation.

Robin Stenwall: A New Challenge for Objective Uncertainties – with a reply to Mellor’s “Propensities and Possibilities”

The talk starts with a presentation of a recently published paper called “A New Challenge for Objective Uncertainties and The Propensity Theorist” (Stenwall, Persson & Sahlin 2018) and ends with a reply to a soon-to-be-published paper by D. H. Mellor that criticises our view.

Andrew Brenner: Explanation and Simple vs Complex Accounts of Personal Identity Over Time

The “complex” vs “simple” debate regarding personal identity over time is a debate between those who think that personal identity over time “consists in” or “holds in virtue of” something else, and those who think that personal identity is “simple,” and does not hold in virtue of anything else. This debate is hard to make precise, but it seems to have something to do with explanation: does anything explain why some person at some time is numerically identical with a person at some other time? In this paper I argue that proponents of the complex view are correct, for fairly straightforward reasons, but that this tells us little if anything interesting about the nature of personal identity. So, the simple vs complex debate is either not an important debate after all, or (as some philosophers suggest) is not perspicuously characterized in terms alluding to or involving explanation.