Thought ISSN 2161-2234
Against Existential Grounding
University of Toronto
Existential grounding is the thesis that all existential generalizations are grounded in their particu-
lar instances. is paper argues that existential grounding is false. is is because it is inconsistent
with two plausible claims about existence: (1) the claim that singular existence facts are general-
izations and (2) the claim that no object can be involved in a fact that grounds that same object’s
existence. Not only are these claims intuitively plausible, but there are also strong arguments in
favour of each of them.
Keywords grounding; existence; generalizations; metaphysics; identity
Existential grounding is the thesis that true existential generalizations are at least par-
tially grounded in their true particular instances.
is paper argues that existential
grounding is false. Using ≺ to stand for the partial grounding relation, we can characterize
existential grounding as follows. For any true Fα:
Existential grounding: Fα ≺∃xFx.
e goal of this paper is to show that existential grounding is inconsistent with two
Russell’s thesis: e singular existence fact oexistshas the logical form ∃x(x = o).
Kant’s thesis: No fact involving an object o can ground the fact that oexists.
I think that both of these theses are quite intuitively plausible, but that the crux of the
argument is with the defence of Kant’s thesis. is is not because Russell’s thesis cannot
be denied, but rather because it tends not to be. As a result, I will focus my discussion in
this paper on the motivations one might have to accept Kant’s thesis. Since Fine (2012)
rejects Russell’s thesis in order to address this kind of problem, I also discuss my concerns
with rejecting this thesis.
Before giving a defence of Kant’s thesis, I want to show that the claims listed above do in
fact jointly entail the falsity of existential grounding. Suppose, for reductio that existential
grounding is true, and consider for some arbitrary object o, the singular existence fact
that o exists. According to Russell’s thesis, this fact has the logical form ∃x(x = o). Given
existential grounding, we conclude that (o = o) ≺ ∃x(x = o). But (o = o) is a fact involving
o. So, a fact involving o grounds the fact that o exists. But this contradicts Kant’s thesis.
So, existential grounding is false.
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Thought 7 (2018) 3–11 © 2018 The Thought Trust and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 3