Grounding and the Direction of Explanation

April 6 - 8, 2022


University of Bern / Zoom


This is a hybrid event.
Venue: Room 028, University of Bern, Main Building, Hochschulstrasse 4, 3012 Bern

The recent interest in metaphysical explanation led to nuanced debates about the structural features of grounding. Is grounding a strict partial order? Is every partial ground part of a full ground? Are facts about grounding themselves grounded? It is also discussed whether grounding obeys certain very general patterns concerning what grounds what. Does the less complex generally ground the more complex? Do facts concerning small things generally ground facts concerning big things?

At the same time, many first-order grounding-questions concern the direction of explanation. Starting from the infamous Euthyphro dilemma – are the pious things loved by the gods because they are pious, or are they pious because they are loved by the gods? - many co-occurring phenomena leave it open to philosophical debate which of them grounds the other. Are mental phenomena grounded in the physical, or does the mental ground the physical, as idealist positions suggest? Do regularities ground the laws of nature, or do the laws of nature explain the regularities? Do causal facts ground responsibility-facts or do responsibility-facts ground causal facts?

This workshop aims to bring together researchers who investigate the general features of grounding with specialists working on particular metaphysical topics where questions regarding the direction of explanation are pertinent.

The workshop is part of the DFG-funded research group 'Inductive Metaphysics' (

Preliminary Schedule

Wednesday, 06/04



14 – 15

Tobias Wilsch (Live): “Metaphysical Laws and Manners of Exertion”

15.15 – 16.15

Matthias Rolffs (Live): “Grounding Causal Facts in a Layered World”

16.15 – 16.45

Coffee Break

16.45 – 17.45

Yannic Kappes (Live): Bolzano's Tortoise and a Loophole for Achilles

18 – 19

Fatema Amijee (Online): "Relativism about Fundamentality"


Thursday, 07/04



10.00 – 11.00

Philip Goff (Online): “Is consciousness fundamental?”

11.15 – 12.15

Nathan Wildman (Live): “Necessary fundamentals?”

12.15 – 14


14 – 15

Stephan Krämer (Online): “Iterating Worldly Ground”

15.15 – 16.15

Lisa Vogt und Jonas Werner (Live): “Foundationalism and Partial Fundamentality” 

16.15 – 16.45

Coffee Break

16.45 – 17.45

Kian Salimkhani (Online): “Interpreting spacetime away”

18 – 19

Carolina Sartorio (Online): “Grounding Free Will”




Friday 08/04



10 – 11

Julio de Rizzo (Live): “Defining generic essence”

11.15 – 12.15

Martin Glazier (Live): “Perspectival Objects”

12.15 – 14.00


14 – 15

Naomi Thompson (Online): “How (and Why) to be an Antirealist about Metaphysical Explanation”

15.15 – 16.15

Alexander Skiles (Live): “What is zero-grounding?”





Tobias Wilsch: Metaphysical Laws and Manners of Exertion

Are there metaphysical laws over and above essences and laws of nature? "Explanatory phenomena" establish objective and generative explanations; they "reach into the world", as it were, to make-it-so that facts obtain. I have argued for a modal account of this "power to explain", on which explanatory phenomena are characterized by "modal axioms", which are particular modal principles that characterize the phenomenon as "exerting necessity on facts". Different modal axioms capture different "manners of exertion", which characterize the ways in which explanatory phenomena interact with the world. For instance, while laws exert necessity in a conditional manner that corresponds to an input-output mechanics, essences exert necessity directly onto essential truths. What I want to argue in this talk is that "laws of metaphysics" are a distinctive explanatory phenomenon, over and above essences and laws of nature. I will present two argumentative strategies for this claim. The first one concerns the manner of exertion of metaphysical laws. Certain metaphysical explanations require a "conditionally enforcing source", and neither essences nor laws of nature exert necessity in that way. The second one concerns the strength of the necessity of metaphysical laws, which seems to lie between the necessity of essence and the necessity of natural laws.


Matthias Rolffs: Grounding Causal Facts in a Layered World

The question how higher-level causal facts are grounded in other causal facts has seen some recent attention (see Kroedel and Schulz (2016), Clark and Wildman (2018), Stenwall (2021), Lee (2021)). Thomas Kroedel and Moritz Schulz maintain that higher-level causal facts are always grounded in lower-level causal facts. More specifically, they defend a principle according to which, whenever a higher-level event causes an effect, this causal fact is grounded in the fact that the lower-level ground of the higher-level event causes the same effect. Samuel Lee argues that lower-level causal facts are sometimes grounded in higher-level causal facts. This will be the case, for example, whenever a lower-level event causes an effect by grounding a higher-level event that causes the same effect.

I will argue, first, that Lee’s view has a problematic consequence: It implies that facts about upward causation are often metaphysically overdetermined, as they are usually grounded ‘from above’ by higher-level causal facts and ‘from below’ by lower-level causal facts. As I see it, this creates a tension that needs to be resolved. Second, Kroedel and Schulz’ view is committed to resolving this tension by denying that upward causation is ever grounded from above. However, as Lee rightly points out, this might not always be the most plausible resolution.


Yannic Kappes: Bolzano's Tortoise and a Loophole for Achilles

In this talk I discuss a novel response to two closely related regress arguments from Bolzano's Theory of Science and Carroll's What the Tortoise Said to Achilles. While Carroll's argument (and its contemporary relatives) aim at what a proper argument or inference is, Bolzano's argument aims to refute the thesis that full grounds must include propositions involving notions such as entailment, grounding or lawhood, which link the respective grounds to their groundee. I motivate this thesis, reconstruct Bolzano's argument, and develop a response based on self-referential linking propositions. Then, I apply the idea to a reading of Carroll's dialogue and propose a corresponding solution to the so-called infinite regress problem of inference. Finally, I offer some discussion of objections concerning self-reference and Curry's paradox.

Fatema Amijee: Relativism about Fundamentality
Metaphysically fundamental entities (where ‘entity’ is construed broadly so as to include facts, objects, properties, etc.) are those that are explanatorily basic in the hierarchical structure of reality. Most assume that there is some specific property which is such that something is fundamental simpliciter (or fundamental ‘full stop’) iff it has that property. Let us call this conception of the fundamental ‘favouritist’, for it privileges a single fundamentality property. I show that the favouritist conception is false, and that we should instead endorse a relativist conception of fundamentality. A relativist conception allows for multiple fundamentality properties, without privileging any one property as characterizing fundamentality simpliciter.


 Philip Goff: Is consciousness fundamental?

What are the fundamental properties of our world, and what is the best metaphysical account of them? Many assume we should look to physics to answer these questions. Physics seems to characterise physical properties in exclusively dispositional terms, which has led some to embrace dispositional esssentialism: the view that the fundamental properties of our world are dispositions. However, Jennifer Wang (2019) has recently raised a challenge for dispositional essentialism, rooted in an intuitive principle regarding the relationship between essence and ontological dependence. From this principle, I will argue, after multiple digressions, to the conclusion that at least some experiential properties are fundamental. I will then argue that this finding fits best with a panpsychist theory of reality.



Nathan Wildman : Necessary fundamentals?

This talk focuses on two distinct but related questions at the intersection of (metaphysical) modality and (metaphysical) fundamentality: (1) do all the entities that are fundamental necessarily exist, or at least some of them contingent? And, (2) Is the property of being fundamental a weakly necessary or merely contingent property? Here, I argue for contingentist answers to both questions. The first part of the talk raises a general argument against the fundamnetal entities being necessary existents, derived from a traditional objection to the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Along the way, I discuss some methodological issues concerning how ecumenical an attitude we should have towards first-order metaphysical claims when constructing our (meta)metaphysical theories, offering a brief plea for (some) sectarianism. In the second part of the talk, I present three cases desgined to show that being fundamnetal is, for some entities, a contingent property. After detailing the cases, I then discuss and dismiss a potential objection to fundamentality contingentism. Finally, I conclude by discussing the general plausibility of the thorough-going contingentism that the talk sketches.


Stephan Krämer: Iterating Worldly Ground

Suppose some facts ground another fact. What, if anything, grounds /that/ fact, i.e. the fact that the former facts ground the latter? In my talk, I approach this question from the perspective of a truthmaker semantics for ground. I take for granted that a certain truthmaker-semantical account is adequate relative to the notion of (non-iterated) worldly ground, and ask how this account might be extended to iterated applications of that notion. The account that emerges, I argue, compares favourably to extant accounts of iterated ground in a number of respects. In particular, it recognizes systematic and intuitively plausible grounding connections between different statements of ground. At the same time, it can accommodate several attractive features of earlier proposals. For example, it can be developed in such a way as to render true statements of ground zero-grounded as proposed by Litland, and it can respect the intuition that truths of ground should not, or at least not normally, be fundamental.


Lisa Vogt und Jonas Werner: Foundationalism and Partial Fundamentality 

A number of philosophers have recently defended (or at least sympathetically explored) the view that there are partially fundamental facts, i.e. facts that are partially grounded without being fully grounded. An up to now unrelated debate addresses the question how the thesis of foundationalism, also known as the thesis that grounding is well-founded, should be spelled out. The presently nearly universally endorsed answer to this question is that foundationalism should be defined as the thesis that every non-fundamental fact is fully grounded in some fundamental facts. We will show that, if there are partially fundamental facts, then no straightforward variant of this standard-answer can plausibly be maintained. We then put forward an amended definition of foundationalism and develop a truthmaker-semantics for the account. As we will argue, the proposed account is conservative with respect to the standard-answer when it comes to scenarios without partial fundamentality and classifies scenarios involving partial fundamentality in a motivated way.


Kian Salimkhani: Interpreting spacetime away

A popular explication of what it means for an entity to be fundamental employs the notion of an ‘unexplained explainer’: a fundamental entity is not explained by anything else—which refers to its ontological independence—and, a fundamental entity is in the set of entities which explains everything else—which refers to its being what other entities ontologically depend on. The grounding relation is one way of making this ontological priority relation more precise. In my talk I shall discuss a case study for such debates, namely whether metrical aspects of general-relativistic spacetime are unexplained and do explanatory work themselves. Against the standard view, I argue that both questions can be answered negatively by proposing a reductive account of metrical aspects of spacetime. Metrical aspects of spacetime are reducible to matter fields and their dynamical symmetry properties. However, since, according to the mathematical formalism, the crucial dependence relation is a manifestly symmetric dependence relation, ‘reading-off’ the metaphysics from the formalism does not suffice. Hence, I add a few remarks on how to deal with this problem.


Carolina Sartorio: Grounding Free Will

Let “causalism" be the view that the freedom exercised in acting freely is fully grounded in facts about the causal history of the action. This central thesis provides the skeleton of the causalist view. But the claim that such causal facts are full grounds is compatible with the existence of further grounds: the grounds of those causal facts. In this talk I discuss a possible enrichment of the causalist view that exploits the potential role played by powers in providing such further grounds.


Julio de Rizzo: Defining generic essence

Alongside truths that are essential to objects, there are truths that are essential to ways for objects to be. Call the former notion 'objectual' and the latter 'generic' essence. In this talk I discuss a strategy for defining generic essence that is analogous to a recently published definition of objectual essence in terms of the notions of metaphysical necessity and ground.


Martin Glazier: Perspectival Objects

Some objects are present only from certain vantage points. These objects I call perspectival. Examples include constellations, holograms, and horizons. I will argue that perspectival objects are ubiquitous in the sense that for every ordinary, nonperspectival material object, there are many perspectival objects which are co-located with it. These I call the object’s aspects. This argument raises the following question: of the nonperspectival object and its aspects, which is metaphysically prior? The aspectualist says ‘the aspects’; the anti-aspectualist says ‘the nonperspectival object’. Although the anti-aspectualist may initially appear to enjoy an explanatory advantage over the aspectualist, the two can be seen to be on a par. And the aspectualist is better able to respond to the perspectival analog of David Lewis’s problem of temporary intrinsics. I conclude there is reason to embrace aspectualism.


Naomi Thompson: How (and Why) to be an Antirealist about Metaphysical Explanation

It is generally assumed that we should be realists about metaphysical explanation. In this paper I explore a fairly poorly understood alternative: that we might be antirealists about metaphysical explanation. I make some general claims about what we ought to take to characterise antirealism when it comes to metaphysical explanation, and I argue that a number of reasons we might have to doubt that there is metaphysical explanation as the realist understands it push us towards instead adopting some version of antirealism.


Alexander Skiles: What is zero-grounding?

Kit Fine (2012) introduced a distinction between two ways in which a fact, [p], might lack a ground. On one hand, it might be that [p] is ungrounded. It is, in a familiar sense, 'brute' or 'fundamental'. On the other hand, [p] might instead be zero-grounded. In this case, [p] is grounded, yet it is somehow grounded in no facts at all. Nothing grounds an ungrounded fact; a zero-grounded fact is grounded in nothing. Claiming that it "may be more than an exotic possibility", in this article and elsewhere, Fine discusses several putative cases of zero-grounding, while a growing number of writers have more recently suggested further applications (e.g. De Rizzo 2020; Donaldson 2016, 2020; Fine 2016; Litland 2017; Muñoz 2020; Shumener 2020). Nonetheless, a number of basic questions about zero-grounding have largely remained unaddressed. First, is the distinction between being ungrounded vs. being zero-grounded a coherent one? Second, are there any zero-grounded facts? And third, is the notion of zero-grounding able to carry out the theoretical tasks it has been put to? In this talk, I give a critical appraisal of zero-grounding, and offer skeptical answers to all three questions. 


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