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Metaphysical grounding

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N138-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2020
Retrieved July 16, 2020, from

Article Summary

Reality would appear to contain many different kinds of things: peonies, storms, facts, numbers, heartaches, and then some. And the contents of this reality would seem to stand in any manner of relations to other of its contents. Peonies might cause Maxine to sneeze, numbers could be considered constituents of the facts about them, and heartaches may well supervene on complex configurations of emotional states. In addition to relations such as identity, parthood, causation, supervenience, instantiation, membership, and so on, many philosophers think we ought also to include relations of grounding.

So, what exactly is grounding? We might say, for example, that facts about wholes are grounded in facts about their parts, that what’s good is grounded in what’s right, that sets are grounded in their members, and that the mental is grounded in the physical. These are but a few examples. In each case, we do not wish to claim that the one causes the other: members don’t cause the sets of which they are members to exist. But in each case, we do want to say that there is some particularly important and tight metaphysical connection between the two; a connection even tighter than mere modal correlation. Indeed, we might think that even though the moon and the singleton set of which it is the sole member come hand in glove – every world at which the moon exists its singleton exists and vice versa – the singleton seems to depend upon the moon in a way in which the moon does not depend upon the singleton.

When telling the story of the world, thinks the metaphysician of a certain stripe, we need the notion of grounding. Perhaps nowhere, though, is the notion more central than in providing us with the metaphysical means to vindicate a particular picture of the overarching structure of reality. Consider the universe. The universe depends upon its constituents: galaxies, solar systems, planets, stars, and so on. Indeed, the universe appears to depend not only on its really big parts, but also on its really small ones as well: quarks, protons, and so on. Amongst the constituents of the universe, we can also discern a dependence ordering: the big things – galaxies, etc. – depend upon the small things – electrons, etc. Reality, it would seem, is hierarchically structured.

This view, although very old, receives its contemporary expression in the language of metaphysical grounding. According to a very common view, reality is hierarchically structured by relations of ground that are asymmetric, transitive, and irreflexive. According also to this view, chains of entities ordered by those relations terminate in something fundamental. The Great Chain of Being involves reality and its parts arranged by relations of grounding.

This entry is about metaphysical grounding, and the picture of reality that it is intimately associated with.

Citing this article:
Bliss, Ricki. Metaphysical grounding, 2020, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N138-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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