|Quarters of the Philosophy Department at Utah: cool building!|
But interestingly, it also seemed to me that though Haber and I are notationally on other sides of the table on the metaphysics of species (he is a sympathizer of the "species-as-individuals" view, I am a critic), we aren't as far apart as I previously thought. This might be because he's a non-standard SAI-ist — I'm not sure. His suggestion, as I understand it, is that there is a biological notion of parthood that applies to species and which lacks many of the features of the standard-issue parthood relation (e.g., transitivity). I'm now working on a paper exploring different ways of putting this idea into practice.
|San Diego had it all! (not my photo, unfortunately!)|
As far as my professional responsibilities at the APA went, I was commenting on a really interesting paper by Kelly Trogdon on the "Non-Transitivity of Metaphysical Grounding", which argued from a purported failure of the transitivity of causal explanation that metaphysical grounding may fail to be transitive for similar reasons. My commentary focused Kelly's contention that causal explanation fails to be transitive. The old example that is supposed to reveal this comes from the proverb "For Want of a Nail":
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.We're supposed to have the intuition that though the want of a nail explains why the shoe was lost (and so on for each proximate explanatory connection), the want of a nail does not explain why the kingdom was lost. I won't trot out my full commentary here (mostly because it was from handwritten notes), but it occurs to me now why this sort of example might get one thinking that transitivity can fail. Take the individual explanatory links in the lines of the proverb: the lack of a nail sure does seem to explain why the horseshoe was lost; it is a clear "difference-maker" for the horseshoe loss. It's even a strong contender for being counted as the explanation of that shoe loss (rather than being merely explanatorily relevant in some weaker fashion). Why? Because the background conditions which facilitate the relevant difference-making are unexceptional. They don't themselves cry out for explanation. The salient difference-maker is the nail lack. If we wished to extend the explanation, these background conditions (things being eminently normal) will be a less tempting target than the lack of a nail: was a careless farrier to blame or are the nails faulty? That's the fact that (still) calls out for explanation.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
But as we widen our scope and assemble the explanatory links, the need for explanation shifts to the background conditions which ground the chain as a whole. So assembled, they are hardly unexceptional. They depict a kingdom on the brink — where one nail can make the difference between victory and defeat! This is a very delicate situation indeed: one might fairly wonder how it came to pass. But given that they constitute the background conditions for the chain (the sum, as it were, of the background conditions of each link), the transitivity of the explanatory difference-making between the lack of a nail and the loss of the kingdom seems untouched. Of course, it won't be very tempting to say that the lack of a nail is the explanation of the loss of the kingdom. The lack of a nail is now the more unexceptional fact! Here's an analogy: suppose Kelly's jacket is dirty. I ask my friend why. She explains that it's because he dived into the dirt after the assassin appeared from behind the bushes to take a shot at him. It would be quite strange for me to be satisfied with this explanation! I should want to know why some assassin is hunting him (and I should probably decline to comment in his APA session). But I can still recognize that his diving onto the ground is an explanatory difference-maker for his jacket being dirty. It seems to me that the same sort of thing is going on in the "For Want of a Nail" example. I need to think more about Kelly's diagnosis of the case and its relevance for metaphysical grounding.
Side note: I've now been tangentially involved with different philosophers suggesting that the grounding relation is not irreflexive (Carrie Jenkins' paper in my Monist issue — out just recently!) and not transitive. Simple induction would suggest that someone will attack the asymmetry of the relation directly and I will be asked to comment. Or maybe I should try it!