Joaquim Giannotti (University of Birmingham): Brutalist Fundamentalism and Naturalistic Metaphysics
Joaquim Giannotti (University of Birmingham)

part of: CLE Permanent Seminar on Metaphysics
March 30, 2022, 5:00pm - 6:30pm

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  • Support: grant #2021/11381-1, São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP)


University of Campinas
Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro

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[All seminars] 17:00 to 18:30 pm (GMT+0)


Metaphysicians and physicists are often portrayed as being like cats and dogs. However, despite the recognition of substantial differences between their disciplines, both parties agree on the importance of the concept of fundamentality in their theorizing. An immediate question arises: How should we articulate the notion of fundamentality in a way that is both metaphysically insightful and informed by our best science?

My aim is to advance the debate concerning this question. To this end, I discuss a ground-theoretic approach to brutalism: the doctrine that the fundamental is that which is brute---namely, that which lacks explanation.

According to the very popular radical brutalism, the fundamental facts are those that are wholly ungrounded. These facts are radically brute:  there is no metaphysical explanation of why the obtain. Against this view, several metaphysicians have argued in favour of the existence of moderately brute facts. These are facts are merely partially grounded. They are fundamental yet have some incompletable partial grounds. The existence of moderately brute facts undermines the tenability of radical brutalism. However, considerations in favour of moderately brute facts typically relies on controversial scenarios. These involve metaphysically possible cases that allegedly violate an orthodox principle of completability (e.g., Fine 2012): a fact f is a partial ground of g iff there is a (possibly empty) plurality of facts Γ such that fΓ is a full ground of g.

My goal is to show that the naturalistic metaphysician, who minimally believes that physics should inform our characterization of the fundamental, has more compelling reasons to reject both completability and radical brutalism. By defending a novel grounding interpretation of an argument put forward by Kerry McKenzie (2017), I will argue that plausible considerations from quantum field theory yield the existence of moderately brute facts. My focus will be on the fact that our world instantiates a distinctive suite of fundamental kinds of quantum fields. I will argue that present-day physics can only provide partial but not full ground for it. This fact is, therefore, moderately brute. To defend the originality of my approach, I will show that it successfully resists three important objections raised by De Rizzo (2019) against McKenzie's original argument.

I will conclude by discussing the implications of the existence of moderately brute physical facts. Should the naturalistic metaphysician endorse moderate brutalism, namely the view that all fundamental facts are moderately brute? I will argue for a negative answer. As a more promising alternative, I will defend the adoption of pluralistic brutalism: the view that some fundamental facts are moderately brute, and others are radically so. My argument will be one by elimination: if radical brutalism is false and moderate brutalism is empirically unwarranted, then the naturalistic metaphysician should endorse pluralistic brutalism. My conclusion will be that the advertised form of pluralism about brute facts is better suited to capturing the kinds of fundamental facts we can expect to find in nature.

Works cited:

De Rizzo, J. (2019). How (not) to Argue Against Brute Fundamentalism. Dialectica 73 (3):395--410.

Fine, K. (2012). A Guide to Ground. In F. Correia & B. Schnieder (eds.), Metaphysical Grounding. Cambridge University Press. pp. 37--80.

McKenzie, K. (2017). Against Brute Fundamentalism. Dialectica 71 (2):231--261.

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