Jon Erling Litland injected some humour to the wider discussion about grounding with this paper. People are still trying to establish what grounding is—if anything special at all. Still, Litland argues, grounding is a valid relation between facts.
I promise that ‘grounding’ is a serious topic of philosophy despite the tongue-in-cheek title of this paper by Jon Erling Litland (pictured). In fact, grounding sits at the heart of contemporary metaphysics. For how are facts connected to each other? Can we go increasingly fundamental, right to the base of reality, as we confirm deeper and deeper facts? These are profound questions.
Some metaphysicians claim that facts metaphysically depend on others via grounding, warranting expressions such as ‘because’, ‘consists in’, and ‘in virtue of’ (e.g. ‘The fact of my headache consists in the fact of my partying too hard’). In grounding-speak, one fact, A, is grounded in another, B, if A’s explanation is obtained in virtue of B’s.
We may claim, for example, that mental facts (e.g. about stress) are grounded in physical facts (e.g. about body temperature); facts about body temperature, we could go on, are grounded in facts about mean kinetic energy. And so the grounding chain continues, more fundamental with each step, perhaps all the way down to laws of nature, essence of matter, mathematics, or God.
Grounding, then, is a means to take explanations more fundamental, more-closely identifying them with facts about reality.
Litland, though, expresses a worry that grounding facts (B < A) themselves require grounding! (Reread the title until you get it.) But, he argues, we can defeat this worry with the union of metaphysics and logic. Simply put, if B grounds A, B also at least partly grounds B’s grounding A (proof here). The result is important, determining that it’s valid to form fundamental facts with grounded explanations without going around in circles! Any fact that is left ungrounded, he expands, is fundamental. Any fact that is left ungrounded, he expands, is fundamental. ‘Electrons have unit negative charge’, for instance, could be ungrounded—and that’s fine if unit negative charge is a fundamental property which electrons instantiate.
That is to say, superficially, all but fundamental facts are combinations of other facts. As Ludwig Wittgenstein writes in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:
Grounding is a route to take us closer to the base of reality; everything else is observed over and above it.
Fascinating or pointless? You decide. But don’t forget that philosophers can have fun, too.