Varieties of Ontological Dependence
Koslicki (Kathrin)
Source: Metaphysical Grounding: Understanding the Structure of Reality, ed. by Fabrice Correia and Benjamin Schnieder, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2012, pp.186-213
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction1

  1. A significant reorientation is currently under way in analytic metaphysics. Following W. V. O. Quine's seminal article, "Quine (W.V.) - On What There Is", 1948, metaphysics and its central component, ontology (the study of being), insofar as they were thought of as meaningful enterprises at all, were for most of the second half of the twentieth century construed as concerned primarily with questions of existence, i.e., questions of the form, "What is there?" More recently, though, a number of writers (e.g. Kit Fine, Gideon Rosen, and Jonathan Schaffer) have urged that many of the most central questions in metaphysics and perhaps philosophy in general are more profitably understood not as asking about the existence of certain apparently problematic sorts of entities (e.g. abstract objects), but rather as asking whether one type of phenomenon (e.g. a smile) is in some important sense dependent on another type of phenomenon (e.g. the mouth that is smiling). Existential questions, It seems, can often be answered trivially ("Yes, of course, there are numbers; after all, 2 + 2 = 4"); but even after these questions have been answered, the status of the entities in question still remains to be clarified, e.g. whether they are derivative of another class of phenomena (e.g. concrete spatiotemporal particulars). The reorientation that is currently underway within contemporary metaphysics really constitutes a return to older traditions, such as those of Aristotle and Husserl, who recognized and emphasized the importance of questions of dependence in metaphysics and philosophy in general.
  2. In order for this approach to metaphysics to stand on firm ground, a good grasp of the notion of dependence is obviously needed. For several decades, it was widely believed that dependence, at least as it concerns systematic connections between entire realms of phenomena (e.g. the mental and the physical or the evaluative and the non-evaluative) could be analyzed by means of the notion of supervenience, i.e. the idea that any difference with respect to one type of phenomenon (e.g. the mental) entails a difference with respect to another (e.g. the physical). However, after a period of lively interest in supervenience, even its most committed champions were forced to conclude that this notion is not strong enough and lacks the right formal profile to yield a relation of genuine and asymmetric dependence (cf. "Kim (Jaegwon) - Supervenience and Mind: Selected Philosophical Essays" 1993). For one thing, supervenience is not in and of itself an asymmetric relation. Secondly, supervenience serves to mark merely a relation of necessary covariance between its relata. But, following considerations raised in "Fine (Kit) - Essence and Modality", 1994, we now have reason to believe that no relation that is defined in purely modal terms could yield a genuine relation of dependence. For example, while the singleton set containing Socrates arguably depends on Socrates, the reverse intuitively does not hold; however, since necessarily each exists just in case the other does, necessity coupled with existence alone cannot capture the asymmetric dependence at issue.
  3. Surprisingly, despite the central role dependence has played in philosophy since its very inception, this relation has only recently begun to receive the kind of attention it deserves from contemporary metaphysicians. In this chapter, I would like to contribute to the recent surge of interest in this subject by helping to develop a better grasp of the notion of ontological dependence. In doing so, I am not interested primarily in defending particular positions in first-order metaphysics, e.g., trope theory or Aristotelianism about universals. Rather, the focus of this current project is to become clearer about the kinds of dependence relations to which philosophers who assert or deny these positions in first-order metaphysics appeal. I take this project to be a crucial component of defending a realist position in metaphysics, according to which substantive disagreements in ontology are possible.
  4. Due to space limitations, I presuppose for the purposes of this chapter that construals of ontological dependence in terms of existence and modality do not capture all that is encompassed by this notion. Instead, I focus on the more tempting account of ontological dependence in terms of a non-modal and sufficiently constrained conception of essence developed in "Fine (Kit) - Ontological Dependence", 1995a. I argue below that even this essentialist account is, as it stands, not fine-grained enough to recognize different varieties of dependence which ought to be distinguished even within the realm of ontology.


See Koslicki - Varieties of Ontological Dependence.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:

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