Debunking arguments and metaphysical laws

  • Jonathan BarkerEmail author


I argue that one’s views about which “metaphysical laws” obtain—including laws about what is identical with what, about what is reducible to what, and about what grounds what—can be used to deflect or neutralize the threat posed by a debunking explanation. I use a well-known debunking argument in the metaphysics of material objects as a case study. Then, after defending the proposed strategy from the charge of question-begging, I close by showing how the proposed strategy can be used by certain moral realists to resist the evolutionary debunking arguments.


Debunking arguments Defeaters Material objects Laws of metaphysics Identity Reduction Grounding 



I am grateful to Robert Audi, Jeff Brower, Ross Cameron, James Darcy, Dustin Crummett, Torrance Fung, Kirra Hyde, David Mark Kovaks, Derek Lam, Kris McDaniel, Andrew Moon, Sam Murray, Sam Newlands, Fr. Phillip Neri-Reese, Mike Rea, Nick Rimell, Aurora Raske, Noel Saenz, Jeff Snapper, Rebecca Stangl, Adam Tiller, two anonymous referees for this journal, and audiences at the 2016 Virginia Philosophical Association meeting, the APA Central 2017, and Notre Dame’s Center for Philosophy of Religion paper workshop for helpful discussion. I am especially grateful to Dan Korman, Trenton Merricks, and Peter Tan, all of whom multiple drafts of this paper and provided me with invaluable feedback, advice, and discussion. Dan gave excellent comments on an earlier draft of the paper at the APA and gave me lots of helpful advice before and after our session. The paper’s current framing, and most of the material in Section VI, are a direct result of his comments and advice.


  1. Audi, P. (2012a). Grounding: Toward a theory of the in-virtue-of relation. Journal of Philosophy, 109(12), 685–711.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Audi, P. (2012b). Audi, Paul. A clarification and defense of the notion of grounding. In C. Fabrice & S. Benjamin (Eds.), Metaphysical grounding: Understanding the structure of reality (pp. 101–121). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baxter, D. (1988). Many-one identity. Philosophical Papers, 17(3), 193–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bergmann, M. (2004). Epistemic circularity: Malignant and benign. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 69(3), 709–727.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berker, S. (2014). Does evolutionary psychology show that normativity is mind dependent. In J. D’Arms & D. Jacobson (Eds.), Moral psychology and human agency (pp. 215–252). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berker, S. (forthcoming). The explanatory ambitions of moral principles. Noûs.Google Scholar
  7. Cameron, R. (2012). Composition as identity doesn’t settle the special composition question. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 84(3), 531–554.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cameron, R. (2014). Parts generate the whole, but they are not identical to it. In D. Baxter & A. Cotnoir (Eds.), Composition as identity (pp. 90–107). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clarke-Doane, J. (2015). Justification and explanation in mathematics and morality. Oxford Studies in Metaethics, 10, 80–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dasgupta, S. (2014). The Possibility of physicalism. Journal of Philosophy, 111(9–10), 557–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dasgupta, S. (2016). Metaphysical rationalism. Noûs, 50(2), 379–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dorr, C. (2017). To be F is to be G. Philosophical Perspectives, 30(1), 39–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Enoch, D. (2010). The epistemological challenge to metanormative realism: how best to understand it, and how to cope with it. Philosophical Studies, 148(3), 413–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fine, K. (1994). Essence and modality. Philosophical Perspectives, 8, 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fine, K. (2012). Guide to ground. In F. Correia & B. Schnieder (Eds.), Metaphysical grounding (pp. 37–80). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Glazier, M. (2016). Laws and the completeness of the fundamental. In M. Jago (Ed.), Reality making. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Joyce, R. (2006). The evolution of morality. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  18. Kim, J. (1994). Explanatory knowledge and metaphysical dependence. Philosophical Issues, 5, 51–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Korman, D. Z. (2015). Objects: Nothing Out of the Ordinary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Korman, D. Z. (forthcoming). Debunking arguments in metaethics and metaphysics. In A. Goldman & B. McLaughlin (eds.), Metaphysics and cognitive science.Google Scholar
  21. Korman, D. Z., & Locke, D. (forthcoming). Against Minimalist Responses to Moral Debunking Arguments. Oxford Studies in Metaethics.Google Scholar
  22. Leuenberger, S. (2014). Grounding and Necessity. Inquiry, 57, 151–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lewis, D. (1991). Parts of classes. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  24. Litland, J. E. (2015). Grounding, explanation, and the limit of internality. Philosophical Review, 124(4), 481–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Markosian, N. (1998). Simples. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 76, 213–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McDaniel, K. (2009). Extended simples and qualitative heterogeneity. The Philosophical Quarterly, 59, 325–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Merricks, T. (1999). Composition as identity, mereological essentialism, and counterpart theory. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 77(2), 192–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Merricks, T. (2001). Objects and persons. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Merricks, T. (2003). Replies to Lowe, Dorr, and Sider. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 67, 727–744.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Merricks, T. (2005). Composition and vagueness. Mind, 114(455), 615–637.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Merricks, T. (2016). Do ordinary objects exist? No. In E. Barnes (Ed.), Current controversies in metaphysics. New York, NY: Routledge Press.Google Scholar
  32. Miller, K., & Norton, J. (2017). Grounding: it’s all in the head. Philosophical Studies, 174(12), 3059–3081.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Moon, A. (2017). Debunking morality: Lessons from the EAAN literature. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 98(S1), 208–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Moore, G. E. (1903). Principia ethica. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.Google Scholar
  35. Parsons, J. (2004). Distributional properties. In F. Jackson & G. Priest (Eds.), Lewisian Themes: The philosophy of David K Lewis (pp. 173–180). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Plantinga, A. (1993). Warrant and proper function. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Plantinga, A. (2011). Where the conflict really lies: science, religion, & naturalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rosen, G. (2010). Metaphysical dependence: Grounding and reduction. In B. Hale & A. Hoffmann (Eds.), Modality: Metaphysics, logic, and epistemology (pp. 109–136). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rosen, G. (2015). Real definition. Analytic Philosophy, 56(3), 189–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rosen, G. (2017a). Metaphysical relations in metaethics. In T. McPherson & D. Plunkett (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of metaethics. Routledge, pp. 151–169.Google Scholar
  41. Rosen, G. (2017b). Ground by law. Philosophical Issues, 27(1), 279–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Saenz, N. B. (2015). A grounding solution to the grounding problem. Philosophical Studies, 172(8), 2193–2214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Schaffer, J. (2009). On what grounds what. In D. Manley, D. J. Chalmers, & R. Wasserman (Eds.), Metametaphysics: New essays on the foundations of ontology (pp. 347–383). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Schaffer, J. (2010a). Monism: The priority of the whole. Philosophical Review, 119(1), 31–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Schaffer, J. (2010b). The internal relatedness of all things. Mind, 119(474), 341–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Schaffer, J. (2012). Why the world has parts: Reply to Horgan and Potrc. In Goff (Ed.), Spinoza on Monism. Google Scholar
  47. Schaffer, J. (2017). Laws for metaphysical explanation. Philosophical Issues, 27(1), 302–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sider, T. (2003). What’s so bad about over determination? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 67(3), 719–726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Sider, T. (2007). Parthood. Philosophical Review, 116(1), 51–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sider, T. (2011). Writing the book of the world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Skiles, A. (2015). Against grounding necessitarianism. Erkenntnis, 80(4), 717–751.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Street, S. (2006). A Darwinian dilemma for realist theories of value. Philosophical Studies, 127, 109–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tan, P. (forthcoming). Counterpossible non-vacuity in scientific practice. Journal of Philosophy.Google Scholar
  54. Thomasson, A. L. (2007). Ordinary objects. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Trogdon, K. (2013). Grounding: Necessary or contingent? Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 94(4), 465–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wasserman, R. (2017). Vagueness and the laws of metaphysics. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 95(1), 66–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wielenberg, E. J. (2010). On the evolutionary debunking of morality. Ethics, 120, 441–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wilsch, T. (2016). The deductive-nomological account of metaphysical explanation. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 94(1), 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Notre DameNotre DameUSA

Personalised recommendations