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Grounding and metaphysical explanation: it’s complicated

Journal article
Authors Anna-Sofia Maurin
Published in Philosophical Studies
Volume 176
Pages 1573-1594
ISSN 0031-8116
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Pages 1573-1594
Language en
Keywords Grounding, Justification, Metaphysical explanation, Understanding
Subject categories Theoretical philosophy


© 2018, The Author(s). Grounding theorists insist that grounding and explanation are intimately related. This claim could be understood as saying either that grounding ‘inherits’ its properties from (metaphysical) explanation (and that, therefore, contemplating the nature of explanation informs us about the nature of grounding) or it could be interpreted as saying that grounding plays an important—possibly an indispensable—role in metaphysical explanation (and that, therefore, that there are these explanations justifies positing grounding). Or both. I argue that saying that grounding ‘inherits’ its properties from explanation can only be justified if grounding is explanatory by nature (if so-called ‘unionism’ is true), but that this view is untenable. We ought therefore to be ‘separatists’ and view grounding and explanation as distinct. As it turns out, though, once grounding has been in this sense distinguished from the explanation it backs, the view that the role grounding plays in explanation justifies its introduction ends up in serious trouble. I conclude that the role grounding plays in explanation (if any) does not justify attributing to grounding whatever nature we think it has, and it most likely does not give us any special reason to think grounding exists.

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