Ditching determination and dependence: or, how to wear the crazy trousersa

Abstract

This paper defends Flatland—the view that there exist neither determination nor dependence relations, and that everything is therefore fundamental—from the objection from explanatory inefficacy. According to that objection, Flatland is unattractive because it is unable to explain either the appearance as of there being determination relations, or the appearance as of there being dependence relations. We show how the Flatlander can meet the first challenge by offering four strategies—reducing, eliminating, untangling and omnizing—which, jointly, explain the appearance as of determination relations where no such relations obtain. Since, plausibly, dependence relations just are asymmetric determination relations, we argue that once we come mistakenly to believe that there exist determination relations, the existence of other asymmetries (conceptual and temporal) explains why it appears that there are dependence relations.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The view owes its name to Bennett (2011). See also her (2017).

  2. 2.

    Or, alternatively (perhaps), that everything that exists is neither fundamental nor non-fundamental.

  3. 3.

    See Schaffer (2009), Cameron (2008), Audi (2012), Rodriguez-Pereyra (2015) and Raven (2012) for discussions of ground thought of as a dependence relation. Perhaps all synchronic dependence relations are relations of ground, or perhaps there are some such relations that are not relations of ground. Nothing we say hangs on this.

  4. 4.

    One could choose to use terminology differently: some think that some instances of modal relations—namely the non-symmetric instances—are dependence relations. Nothing hangs on our use of terminology here.

  5. 5.

    Also sometimes known as grounding claims.

  6. 6.

    Indeed, many so-called operationalists about grounding take the view that grounding claims are properly regimented in terms of a sentential operator. [See Fine (2012), Correia (2005), Dasgupta (2014) and Litland (2013)]. Operationalists see grounding as a non-truth-functional sentential connective, which takes arguments/sentences on either side. Operationalists often remain neutral about the truth conditions for such claims. Others have attempted to provide truth conditions that do not appeal to dependence relations.

  7. 7.

    Norton and Miller (2017) defend a view of roughly this kind.

  8. 8.

    See Fine (1994b) and Barnes (2018).

  9. 9.

    See Schnieder (2006).

  10. 10.

    See Liggins (2016).

  11. 11.

    Van Inwagen (1990) and Merricks (2001) apply this strategy, though only selectively. Both deny the existence of most ordinary composite objects (like tables and chairs).

  12. 12.

    Though note that identity is understood in non-standard ways on some of these views (e.g., Baxter 1988a, b) and therefore may or may not be able to do the work required by the Flatlander. See Carrara and Lando (2016) for discussion.

  13. 13.

    Though see Forrest (2002) and Maddy (1990) for views to the contrary.

  14. 14.

    Both responses are derived from existing eliminativist explanations for common belief in the existence of eliminated entities. An example of the first strategy is Van Inwagen (1990: pp. 108–114); an example of the second is Merricks (2001: p. 172).

  15. 15.

    Alternatively, one could maintain that claims in the non-austere language are strictly and literally true, but that they do not (despite appearances) carry any ontological commitment to entities outside of the minimal supervenience base [e.g., Horgan and Potrč (2000, 2006), Azzouni (2017)]. Thanks to an anonymous referee for suggesting this response.

  16. 16.

    Notice that nothing we say here requires that expressions in the non-austere language mean the same thing as the relevant expressions in the austere language. Our claim is merely that certain austere truths entail certain non-austere truths. At most, it follows that the non-austere expressions have the same truth-values, but it does not follow that they have the same meanings.

  17. 17.

    In the case of composition, it has been pointed out by Sider (2011: p. 79) and Cameron (2012) that even if composites are identical to their proper parts (jointly) this is not sufficient to explain why the properties of composite objects necessarily co-vary with certain properties of individual proper parts, and so reductionism fails to explain all of the modal covariation. For example, why is it that, necessarily, the location of my right arm is a proper subregion of the location of my whole body? It looks like D-relations are needed to explain this (cf. Cameron 2012: p. 97).

    This is not an objection we can address in detail here. Suffice to say, we do not find it to be anywhere near decisive. Under composition as identity the question of why my right arm (if it is still attached!) must be located at a proper subregion of the location of my body reduces to the question of why my right arm must be located at a proper subregion of where my body parts are collectively located (since my body = my body parts, taken together). And since composition as identity can be applied to locations too, this further reduces to the question of why, necessarily, the location of my right arm is one of the locations of my body parts (since the location of my body = the location of my body parts). But the answer to that question doesn’t seem to us to require D-relations. If my right arm is one of my body parts (by stipulation), and each body part has a location, then it follows analytically that the location of my arm must be one of the locations of my body parts. Insofar as my arm is one of my body parts, then, of necessity, it is located at one of the location of my body parts. Still, clearly more would need to be said here.

  18. 18.

    See Cameron (2007) for discussion along these lines.

  19. 19.

    Miller and Norton (2017), for instance, take this to be the principal explanatory task for those who reject Dependence.

  20. 20.

    Braddon-Mitchell (2017) discusses such a view, as does Price (2007).

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Acknowledgements

With thanks to Mike Raven, attendees of the 2016 Australian Metaphysics Conference (Kioloa Coastal Campus), members of the weekly supervision group at Sydney University, and to anonymous referees from this and other journals for helpful comments on earlier versions of the paper. Funding was provided by Australian Research Council (Grant No. FT170100262).

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Correspondence to Michael Duncan.

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aKaren Bennett calls the view we consider ‘crazypants’ (Bennett 2011); however, in British English the expression would be ‘crazy trousers’. So we are inclined to wear crazy trousers, not crazy pants (since the latter would require wearing crazy underwear). With special thanks to Jonathan Tallant for suggesting we write a paper defending the wearing of crazy trousers.

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Duncan, M., Miller, K. & Norton, J. Ditching determination and dependence: or, how to wear the crazy trousersa. Synthese 198, 395–418 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-018-02023-6

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Keywords

  • Flatland
  • Grounding
  • Dependence
  • Determination