Nordic Network in metaphysics

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Abstract: Maurin

Metaphysical Explanation

Abstract: Theories of grounding face what Thompson (forthcoming) has dubbed the ‘Grounding-Explanation problem’. On the one hand, grounding – the relation – is (by most) understood as a worldly mind-independent relation, whose obtaining or not does not depend on us, our thoughts and our beliefs. On the other hand, what sets grounding apart from other worldly dependence relations is presumably its being explanatory. But what makes something explanatory? Most likely ‘being explanatory’ has something to do with ‘being illuminating’ or ‘affecting (by raising) our understanding’. These are agent-relative features that involve the epistemic state of some individual(s). But then grounding, Thompson points out, would appear to be both an objective and mind-independent worldly relation and something characterized as having agent-relative, and hence mind-dependent, features, and this, she maintains, is unacceptable. The grounding theorist therefore faces a dilemma: she must accept that, either explanation is not essentially agent-relative or grounding – the relation – does not belong to the furniture of objective, mind-independent reality. Thompson thinks we should opt for the latter horn of the dilemma, but in this talk I argue that, although Thompson correctly identifies what I take to be the major challenge for the grounding theorist – that of accounting for the sense in which grounding is explanatory – the conclusion she draws from this is, if not necessarily false, then at least premature. For, by understanding metaphysical explanation, not as a feature of the grounding relation itself but as something distinct from yet essentially involving it, something mind-independent can be explanatory, and yet explanation can be something essentially mind-involving. The problem for the grounding theorist is hence not that she accepts the existence of something with contradictory features. This does not mean that she is out of the woods, though. For, as I will argue, once we see how the sense in which grounding is explanatory ought to be spelled out, we also see that we have little reason to think that this sense of being explanatory sets grounding apart from other worldly dependence relations (what Wilson (2014) calls the ‘small-g’ relations). But that grounding is explanatory is often cited as the main-motivation behind positing it over and above these ‘small-g’ relations (cf. e.g., Schaffer (forthcoming) for explicit statements to this effect). Therefore, properly understanding the sense in which grounding is explanatory means having less reason for positing its separate existence.


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