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Metaphysics as an Explanatory Discipline: Grounding, Essence, and Identity

Applicant Skiles Alexander
Number 167721
Funding scheme Advanced Postdoc.Mobility
Research institution Department of Linguistics and Philosophy Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Institution of higher education Institution abroad - IACH
Main discipline Philosophy
Start/End 01.01.2017 - 31.12.2019
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Keywords (6)

Grounding; Explanation; Dependence; Metaphysics; Essence; Identity

Lay Summary (French)

Lead
La métaphysique comme discipline explicative : grounding, essence et identité
Lay summary

Traditionnellement, la métaphysique est une discipline explicative au moins autant que la physique, la biologie ou chaque autre branche de la science. Ce qui la distingue de ces disciplines est ce qu’elle cherche à expliquer et la manière dont elle tente de l’expliquer. Contrairement aux explications que l’on peut trouver dans les sciences (dont le but est généralement de nous permettre d’identifier et comprendre les processus causaux qui sous-tendent les phénomènes en vertu de certaines lois contingentes de la nature) les explications que l’on peut trouver en métaphysique sont conçues comme visant à identifier et comprendre des liens de dépendance non-causale qui unifient des phénomènes, à l’intérieur, et entre, différents niveaux scientifiques. Mais que sont ces « liens de dépendance non-causale » sur lesquelles les métaphysiciens se focalisent, et qu’est-ce que le caractère explicatif d’une discipline qui se focalise sur leur description ?

Le présent projet de recherche étudiera trois variétés de dépendance non-causale qui jouent un rôle essentiel dans l’explication métaphysique : le « grounding » (qui met en relation un phénomène moins fondamental avec le phénomène plus fondamental d’où le premier dérive ou en vertu duquel le deuxième a lieu), l’essence (qui limite ce qu’un phénomène pourrait être ‘de sa propre nature’) et l’identité (lorsqu’un phénomène est, en effet, ‘tout simplement le même’ qu’un autre).

Je développerai une théorie unifiée et exhaustive des types d’explication que l’on trouve en métaphysique. D'abord, la théorie analyse les notions de grounding et essence en jeu dans ces explications au moyen de la notion, mieux comprise et sans doute indispensable, d’identité. Prochain, la théorie clarifie la manière dont les explications en métaphysique peuvent être évaluées rationnellement et peuvent rendre plus intelligible la réalité, en montrant comment les explications basées sur l’identité peuvent atteindre le même résultat.



 

 


 

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 29.11.2016

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Publications

Publication
Necessity
SkilesAlexander (2020), Necessity, in Raven Michael (ed.), Routledge, New York, NY, 148-163.
There is No Haecceitic Euthyphro Problem
Skiles Alexander (2019), There is No Haecceitic Euthyphro Problem, in Analysis, 79(3), 477-484.
Grounding, Essence, and Identity
Correia Fabrice, Skiles Alexander (2017), Grounding, Essence, and Identity, in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 98(3), 642-670.
Grounding and Metametaphysics
SkilesAlexander, TrogdonKelly, Grounding and Metametaphysics, in Bliss Ricki, Miller J. T. M. (ed.), Routledge, New York, NY, 1-22.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
University of Gothenburg Metaphysical Explanation Group Sweden (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Research Infrastructure

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Workshop on Metaphysical Explanation III Talk given at a conference On Arbitrary Metaphysical Explanations 08.01.2020 Lund University, Sweden Skiles Alexander;
Annual Meeting of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association Individual talk On Anti-Humean Grounding 20.12.2019 New York, NY, United States of America Skiles Alexander;
Swedish Congress of Philosophy Talk given at a conference Metaphysical Grounding and the Mind-Dependence of Explanation” 14.06.2019 Umeå University, Sweden Skiles Alexander;
Early Career Metaphysics Workshop Individual talk On the Epistemology of Grounding 25.04.2019 Lehigh University, United States of America Skiles Alexander;
Departmental colloquium Individual talk Essence, Modality, and Identity 22.02.2019 Bilkent University, Turkey Skiles Alexander;
10th Anniversary of Eidos Conference Talk given at a conference On the Grounding-Explanation Link 23.11.2017 University of Geneva, Switzerland Skiles Alexander;
The Society for the Metaphysics of Science Annual Conference Talk given at a conference Comments on Metaphysical Explanation by Constraint 05.10.2017 Fordham University, United States of America Skiles Alexander;
Logic and Metaphysics Group Talk given at a conference Existence, Intrinsicality, and Fundamentality 18.09.2017 Graduate Center of the City University of New York, United States of America Skiles Alexander;
Workshop on Metaphysical Explanation II Talk given at a conference Is there a Haecceitistic Euthyphro Problem? 12.09.2017 University of Gothenburg, Sweden Skiles Alexander;
Workshop on Metaphysical Explanation Talk given at a conference On the Grounding-Explanation Link 09.05.2017 University of Gothenburg, Sweden Skiles Alexander;
The Whole Truth Talk given at a conference Existence, Intrinsicality, and Fundamentality 30.03.2017 University of Glasgow, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Skiles Alexander;
Departmental colloquium Talk given at a conference Existence, Intrinsicality, and Fundamentality 28.03.2017 University of Edinburgh, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Skiles Alexander;


Abstract

A traditional conception of metaphysics views it is an explanatory discipline no less than physics, biology, or any other branch of science, distinguished from these by what metaphysicians attempt to explain and how they attempt to explain it. In contrast to explanations found in the sciences-which typically seek out the causal processes that give rise to phenomena due to the contingent laws of nature-explanations found in metaphysics are instead said to seek out certain non-causal dependencies that unify phenomena within and between scientific levels. But what are these 'non-causal dependencies' that metaphysicians are so focused on, and what is explanatory about a discipline focused on describing them? To help address these two questions, this research project will investigate three varieties of non-causal dependence often said to play an especially prominent role in metaphysical explanation: grounding (which connects a less fundamental phenomenon to the more fundamental phenomena it ‘derives from’ or holds ‘in virtue of’), essence (which constrains what a phenomenon could be like ‘by its very nature’), and identity (which holds when one phenomenon is in fact ‘really just the same’ as another). The main goal of this research project is to develop and defend a comprehensive and unified account of the kinds of explanation typically found in metaphysics, one that (i) analyzes the notions of grounding and essence typically cited in such explanations in terms of the more well-behaved, better understood, and arguably indispensable notion of identity; and (ii) clarifies how explanations in metaphysics can be rationally evaluated, and increase our understanding of reality, by showing how identity-based explanations more generally can accomplish the same feat. This identity-based theory of explanation in metaphysics will be developed in three separate subprojects over 36 months at two top research institutions in philosophy: the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1.1.2017 to 30.6.2018) and the Department of Philosophy at New York University (1.7.2018 to 31.12.2019). Professor Agustín Rayo will serve as the main postdoctoral advisor at MIT, while Professor Cian Dorr will serve this role at NYU.
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