On the dispensability of grounding: Ground-breaking work on metaphysical explanation

Dissertation, The University of Sydney (2017)
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Abstract
Primitive, unanalysable grounding relations are considered by many to be indispensable constituents of the metaphysician’s toolkit. Yet, as a primitive ontological posit, grounding must earn its keep by explaining features of the world not explained by other tools already at our disposal. Those who defend grounding contend that grounding is required to play two interconnected roles: accounting for widespread intuitions regarding what is ontologically prior to what, and forming the backbone of a theory of metaphysical explanation, in much the same way that causal relations have been thought to underpin theories of scientific explanation. This thesis undermines the need to posit grounding relations to perform either of these jobs. With regard to the first, it is argued that a pair of human psychological mechanisms—for which there is substantial empirical support—can provide a more theoretically virtuous explanation of why we have the intuitions that we do. With regard to the second, I begin by considering what we want from a theory of explanation, and go on to develop three attractive (yet grounding-free) theories of metaphysical explanation. I offer: i) a psychologistic theory that calls upon the aforementioned psychological mechanisms, as well as the modal relations of necessitation and supervenience, ii) a metaphysical variant of the deductive-nomological theory of scientific explanation, and iii) a metaphysical variant of the unificationist theory of scientific explanation. Furthermore, these theories draw upon mechanisms and relations (both logical and ontological) to which we are already committed. Thus, to posit grounding relations in order to explain our priority intuitions, or in order to develop a theory of metaphysical explanation, is ontologically profligate. I conclude that we should not posit relations of ground.
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