Fifth workshop on Metaphysical Explanation

Our fifth workshop on metaphysical explanation takes place in Umeå, in connection with the 2019 Swedish Congress in Philosophy. For the website for that Congress, go here. We would like to thank the organizers of that workshop for allowing us to crash their party!

Time and Place: Friday, June 14 2019, 14.30-16.55 in room HD 109

Speakers:      Andrew Brenner (University of Gothenburg)

Anna-Sofia Maurin (University of Gothenburg)

Gabriel Rabin (NYU/Abu Dhabi)

Alexander Skiles (MIT)

Robin Stenwall (Lund University)



14.35-15.00        Anna-Sofia Maurin: Appropriate Explanatory Distance

Talk exploring and tentatively defending the idea that metaphysical explanation, in order to ‘obtain’, must meet a so far little acknowledge and poorly understood (necessary) condition: Appropriate Explanatory Distance (AED). This is a condition requiring of any metaphysical explanation (good or bad), that its explanandum and explanans (or, more precisely, what its explanandum and explanans pick out) resemble each other to an appropriate degree. Given the time constraints, the talk will be focusing on giving reasons in favor of accepting AED and, not least, of accepting AED understood as a purely metaphysical condition.

15.00-15.30 coffee break

15.30-15.50        Gabriel Rabin: Fundamentality Physicalism and the Problem of Abstracts

Recent literature has favored a move toward a grounding, dependence, and/or fundamentality centered formulation of physicalism. Such formulations have their advantages over more traditional identity or modal formulations. But they also have their disadvantages, including their ability to accommodate phenomena such as universals, mathematics, and morality. This talk examines the pros and cons of three different non-eliminativist methods for accommodating these problem cases within a fundamentality formulation of physicalism. The favored solution entails a somewhat radical view in the philosophy of mathematics. Thankfully, that view is true.

15.52-16.12        Alexander Skiles: Metaphysical Grounding and the Mind-Dependence of Explanation

Recent literature on the grounding-explanation link primarily focuses on how to reconcile three independently plausible, yet seemingly incompatible, claims. One is that for a fact to be grounded is just for it to have a distinctive type of metaphysical explanation, a popular view that Michael Raven (2015) has dubbed unionism. Another is that facts about what grounds what are fully objective and mind-independent. And the third is that facts about what explains what are less-than-fully objective and thus to some extent mind-dependent. Existing proposals about how to dissolve to this tension all take it for granted that these three claims are not, in fact, compatible, and consist in rejecting one or more of them. In this paper, I argue that they are compatible. Instead, I dissolve the tension by arguing that the reasoning underlying it is fallacious—in particular, it requires illicitly substituting co-referential expressions within a non-extensional context.

16.15-16.35        Andrew Brenner: Explaining Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing

It is sometimes supposed that, in principle, we cannot offer an explanation for why there is something rather than nothing. I argue that this supposition is a mistake, and stems from a needlessly myopic conception of the form explanations can legitimately take. After making this more general point, I proceed to offer a speculative suggestion regarding one sort of explanation which can in principle serve as an answer to the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” The suggestion is that there may be something rather than nothing in virtue of the truth of certain sorts of subjunctive conditionals.

16.35-16.55        Robin Stenwall: Armstrong’s truthmaker argument for the existence of states of affairs revisited

In David Armstrong’s famous argument for why contingent predications require the existence of states of affairs in order to be true it is assumed that the necessity that states confer on truth is essentially related to their truthmaking abilities (1997: 113-16). In this article, I argue against this assumption by showing that the alleged necessity has no explanatory role to play in arguing that states of affairs must be included in the ontological catalogue.