A theory of grounding
Much has been made recently of the so-called ‘in virtue of’ relation. For example, aesthetic facts may be taken to exist ‘in virtue of’ non-aesthetic facts; the beauty of a painting may exist in virtue or things that aren’t themselves beautiful, for instance, the brushstrokes that make up the painting. This ‘in virtue of’ relation is taken by some to be the grounding relation.
There are significant links between the grounding relation and other so-called building relations. For instance: mereological composition, constitution, and emergence. They share formal properties in many instances, for example, in being transitive, asymmetric, and irreflexive. They also contain within them the murky notion of building, or constructing, novel things from simple constituents.
My aim is to provide an analysis of all building relations in terms of grounding, with the use of metaphysical laws. The initial way I plan to do this is by suggesting that metaphysical laws feature in the grounds in grounding relations, and in doing so, the grounding relation is distinguished from the aforementioned distinct building relations. This raises significant questions on the nature of metaphysical laws and a major part of my PhD thesis will be in confronting this question (though I have considered this in some depth within my MRes thesis).
The second and perhaps most intriguing part of my PhD thesis is an analysis of causation as reducible to grounding. If metaphysical laws can characterise the grounding relation, to the extent that previously thought of as distinct building relations are actually instances of the grounding relation, then perhaps the same can be done with the relation of causation. Physical laws, I propose, may play the same role as metaphysical laws in characterising grounding relations, and all instances of the causation relation may indeed be a subset of all instances of the grounding relation, distinguished by physical laws featuring in the grounds of the grounding relations.