The Ungrounded Argument
Mumford (Stephen)
Source: Synthese, Vol. 149, No. 3, Metaphysics in Science (Apr., 2006), pp. 471-489
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. There is an argument that has yet to be made wholly explicit though it might be one of the most important in contemporary metaphysics. This paper is an attempt to rectify that omission. The argument is of such high importance because it involves a host of central concepts, concerning actuality, modality, groundedness and powers. If Ellis's (2001) assessment is correct, the whole debate between Humean and anti-Humean metaphysics might rest on this viability of the argument.
  2. The argument, which I call the Ungrounded Argument (abbreviated to UA), has in various implicit forms been discussed or defended by Blackburn (1990), Molnar (1999, 2003, ch. 8) and Ellis (2001, 114 and 2002, 74-75). It concerns the alleged possibility of ungrounded dispositional properties or causal powers. It is an argument against a thesis that might be called universal or global groundedness; namely, that every dispositional property is grounded in some property other than itself.
  3. In Section 2 I formulate, for the first time, an explicit version of the Ungrounded Argument and present the evidence and reasons for its premises. Along the way, I will clarify some of the key concepts and issues.
  4. In Section 3 I consider the likely responses to UA and identify the main basis on which it might be challenged.
  5. In Section 4, I try to distil the issue down to its central core and show what must be overcome, and what must be acknowledged, if the argument is to be accepted. The main aim of this paper is the explicit articulation of the argument.
  6. Sections 3 and 4 are briefer, therefore, and give only an indication of the lines that may have to be developed for the argument's ultimate acceptance.

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