In This Article Ontological Dependence

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Precursors to the Modern Debate
  • Existential Accounts of Ontological Dependence
  • Essentialist Accounts of Ontological Dependence
  • Metaphysical Explanation
  • Skepticism
  • Applications

Philosophy Ontological Dependence
Naomi Thompson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0203


The notion that ontological dependence is intended to capture is that of a distinctively metaphysical dependence relation. Common examples of ontological dependence proposed in the literature include the following: a nonempty set ontologically depends on its members; the holes in a piece of cheese ontologically depend on the cheese itself; normative facts ontologically depend on nonnormative facts; and mental phenomena ontologically depend on physical phenomena. Ontological dependence is usually thought to help provide for a distinctive kind of metaphysical explanation. It is often proposed that ontological dependence relations structure the world, and so the notion of dependence is closely related to ideas about fundamentality. A common (though disputed) assumption is that whatever is metaphysically fundamental does not ontologically depend on anything else. Foundationalist views of metaphysical structure hold further that everything that is not fundamental ultimately depends on this class of fundamental entities. Most of the recent literature discusses ontological dependence in terms of Grounding, and this entry reflects that. Note, however, that there is a lack of clear consensus about the details of the relationship between ontological dependence and grounding. Some take grounding statements to express facts about the ontological dependence relations between entities of various categories, while others think that grounding relations themselves relate entities of various ontological categories, and sometimes take the term “grounding” to be synonymous with “ontological dependence.” Similar discrepancies arise between different ways of understanding the relationship between ontological dependence and metaphysical explanation (as well as between grounding and metaphysical explanation).

General Overviews

There are few properly general overviews of ontological dependence, though most works on the topic begin with at least a brief explanation of the key idea. Correia 2008 is a broad and accessible survey dealing with a range of relations that are candidates for ontological dependence. Lowe 2010 gives a thorough but quite technical survey of different notions of ontological dependence. Koslicki 2013 is another detailed and systematic survey of approaches to ontological dependence, which discusses (alongside others) the approaches of both Correia and Lowe. Sider 2011 is a monograph arguing for a particular conception of fundamentality. In the course of developing and defending his thesis, Sider gives a thorough survey of the relevant issues in debates about ontological dependence. Correia and Schnieder 2012 provides an overview of the debate about grounding and connects it to the more general notion of ontological dependence.

  • Correia, Fabrice. “Ontological Dependence.” Philosophy Compass 3 (2008): 1013–1032.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2008.00170.xE-mail Citation »

    A good introduction to the notion and to different forms of ontological dependence, though already a little dated.

  • Correia, Fabrice, and Benjamin Schnieder. “Grounding: An Opinionated Introduction.” In Metaphysical Grounding: Understanding the Structure of Reality. Edited by Fabrice Correia and Benjamin Schnieder, 1–36. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139149136.001E-mail Citation »

    Up-to-date and comprehensive though accessible survey of debates about ontological dependence and in particular about grounding. See also Precursors to the Modern Debate and Grounding.

  • Koslicki, Kathrin. “Ontological Dependence: An Opinionated Survey.” In Varieties of Dependence: Ontological Dependence, Grounding, Supervenience, Response-Dependence. Edited by Miguel Hoeltje, Benjamin Schnieder, and Alex Steinberg, 31–64. Munich: Philosophia Verlag, 2013.

    E-mail Citation »

    Thorough and up-to-date survey of the key literature on ontological dependence, which though detailed, is not too technical.

  • Lowe, E. Jonathan. “Ontological Dependence.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta, 2010.

    E-mail Citation »

    Important overview of some debates about ontological dependence.

  • Sider, Theodore. Writing the Book of the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199697908.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    Defends a particular conception of metaphysics as concerned with the fundamental structure of reality. This structure is characterized by ontological dependence relations, though note that Sider’s conception is idiosyncratic. Of particular interest for an overview is chapter 7, “Rivals,” which connects Sider’s account with alternatives. See also Metaphysical Structure.

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