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Grounding and explanation

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis defends the notion of grounding—an explanatory connection of non-causal determination. I present four challenges to developing a systematic theory of grounding, and show that they can be met satisfactorily.
The first challenge is that grounding is unintelligible or uninformative—or at any rate, that its work can be done by more familiar notions. If so, the notion of grounding is not even prima facie justified. I argue that grounding is at least as informative as—and, in some respects, more informative than—the more familiar notions it is supposed to supplant. It is necessary because we can express with it certain explanatory relation-ships which are just inexpressible with weaker notions of determination. My defence of grounding is preferable to extant defences since it is less concessive, requiring fewer assumptions about the nature of grounding.
A key motivation for grounding is that it is an explanatory connection. The second challenge is that the sense in which grounding is a (distinctly) explanatory relation is unclear, wherefore the case for grounding is severely weakened. I motivate a theory of explanation and argue that it comports nicely with the sense in which grounding is explanatory. Moreover, I characterise a new explanatory notion I call philosophical ex-planation with grounding at its core. This notion illustrates the importance of grounding for philosophical methodology generally.
The third challenge is to the internal coherence of grounding theory. A dilemma apparently show that grounding connections can be neither grounded nor ungrounded. Several treatments of this problem already exist, but none is satisfactory. Some imply implausible explanations. Others require new—dubious—posits. I present a new solu-tion, which o˙ers satisfying explanations but requires no dubious posits. It explains, moreover, why some grounding connections appear to admit of explanation but others do not.
The last challenge is to the usefulness of grounding. While it is an interesting meta-metaphysical posit, it o˙ers little to the metaphysician working on first-order problems. I show how grounding can be fruitfully applied to breaking the deadlock in the debate about laws of nature.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2018

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