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Grounding the Unreal

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The scientific successes of the last 400 years strongly suggest a picture on which our scientific theories exhibit a layered structure of dependence and determination. Economics is dependent on and determined by psychology; psychology in its turn is, plausibly, dependent on and determined by biology; and so it goes. It is tempting to explain this layered structure of dependence and determination among our theories by appeal to a corresponding layered structure of dependence and determination among the entities putatively treated by those theories. In this paper, I argue that we can resist this temptation: we can explain the sense in which, e.g., the biological truths are dependent on and determined by chemical truths without appealing to properly biological or chemical entities. This opens the door to a view on which, though there are more truths than just the purely physical truths, there are no entities, states, or properties other than the purely physical entities, states, and properties. I argue that some familiar strategies to explicate the idea of a layered structure of theories by appeal to reduction, ground, and truthmaking encounter difficulties. I then show how these difficulties point the way to a more satisfactory treatment which appeals to something very close to the notion of ground. Finally, I show how this treatment provides a theoretical setting in which we might fruitfully frame debates about which entities there really are.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2017

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