In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Metaphysical Grounding

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Precursors and Contemporary Classics

Philosophy Metaphysical Grounding
Michael J. Raven
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0389


Metaphysical ground is supposed to be a distinctive metaphysical kind of determination. It is or underwrites constitutive explanations. These explanations answer questions asking in virtue of what something is so. For example, suppose that an act is pious just in case it is loved by the gods. Following Socrates, one might still ask whether an act is pious because the gods love it or whether it is loved by the gods because it is pious. This may be interpreted as a question of ground. Then, one answer is that what the gods love grounds what is pious. And an alternative answer is that what is pious grounds what the gods love. Either way, Socrates’s question concerns what something’s being pious consists in, or what it holds in virtue of, or what grounds it. Once one has the notion of ground, one will likely find it involved in many of philosophy’s big questions. In ethics, the question might be whether an action’s maximizing goodness grounds its rightness. In epistemology, the question might be whether a process producing a belief grounds its justification. In language, the question might whether what a speaker means in uttering a sentence grounds its meaning. In law, the question might be whether social and institutional facts ground the legal facts. In metaphysics, the question might be whether physical facts ground all the rest. In mind, the question might be whether a representation’s content grounds its phenomenal character. The list could go on. The extraordinary range and ambition of these questions of ground explains continued interest in them. But only recently have some philosophers viewed these questions as concerning ground as such. This growing self-consciousness is moving more philosophers to view ground as a topic worthy of study. Much of the recent literature on ground has focused on exploring its structure (Structure) and its connections to other notions (Connections). These explorations spring from the hope that clarifying ground will help clarify the big questions it helps express. Some of the literature on ground explores these applications to the big questions (Applications). But there are also skeptics who challenge ground’s grand pretensions. Some of these skeptics doubt ground’s usefulness for clarifying the big questions. Other skeptics doubt that ground is even intelligible. This has led to a vigorous debate over whether ground deserves the attention it receives (Skepticism and Anti-Skepticism).

General Overviews

Clark and Liggins 2012 and Raven 2015 are briefer and more selective surveys. Bliss and Trogdon 2014, Correia and Schnieder 2012, and Trogdon 2013 are longer, more thorough surveys of many of the central topics on ground.

  • Bliss, Ricki Leigh, and Kelly Trogdon. “Metaphysical Grounding.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by E. N. Zalta. 2014.

    A long and thorough encyclopedia entry on ground. Covers many of the topics mentioned in this bibliography.

  • Clark, Michael J., and David Liggins. “Recent Work on Grounding.” Analysis 72.4 (2012): 812–823.

    DOI: 10.1093/analys/ans086

    A brief survey of selected recent work on ground. Useful for a quick overview.

  • 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/CBO9781139149136.001

    The introduction to the anthology Correia and Schnieder 2012 (cited under Anthologies). Provides a comprehensive overview of ground, as well as the articles in the anthology.

  • Raven, Michael J. “Ground.” Philosophy Compass 10.5 (2015): 322–333.

    DOI: 10.1111/phc3.12220

    An accessible survey of ground and some of the central debates concerning it and its applications.

  • Trogdon, Kelly. “An Introduction to Grounding.” In Varieties of Dependence: Ontological Dependence, Grounding, Supervenience, Response-Dependence. Edited by Miguel Hoeltje, Benjamin Schnieder and Alex Steinberg, 97–122. Munich: Philosophia Verlag, 2013.

    Another accessible survey of ground and some of the central debates concerning it and its applications.

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