Grounding; Explanation; Dependence; Metaphysics; Essence; Identity
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Correia Fabrice, Skiles Alexander (2017), Grounding, Essence, and Identity, in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research
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SkilesAlexander, TrogdonKelly, Grounding and Metametaphysics, in Bliss Ricki, Miller J. T. M. (ed.), Routledge, New York, NY, 1-22.
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.