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Grounding and Consciousness Conference

European Research Institute (ERI), Lucas House (Conference Park)
Friday 17 June (10:00) - Saturday 18 June 2016 (17:55)

The primary aim of the conference is to bring together metaphysicians and philosophers of mind in order to provide a forum to discuss questions connecting grounding and consciousness.

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For further details, contact Darragh Byrne: 
or Naomi Thompson:


These questions have as yet been little discussed, though many philosophers’ research lies near the intersection of these topics. This event will, as far as we know, be the first explicitly devoted to the topic. It will be the first of a series of two, the second to be held at the University of Hamburg in summer 2017. One reason for organizing them in this way is that Kit Fine (NYU) a hugely influential figure in the theory of grounding has affiliations with both the Universities of Birmingham and Hamburg and will participate in both conferences. For the sister conference in Hamburg 2017, likely participants include Kati Balog (Rutgers), Shamik Dasgupta (Princeton/Berkeley), Uriah Kriegal (Jean Nicod Institute, Paris), Jonathan Schaffer (Rutgers), Benjamin Schnieder (Hamburg), Scott Sturgeon (Birmingham) and Jessica Wilson (Toronto). We hope to publish a collection of papers presented at the conferences, and more widely, to use the events to initiate and consolidate a formal or semi-formal network of researchers working on these topics. (For more on how we see the topics, see below.) 

The conference is generously supported by The Mind Association, The Aristotelian Society, The Analysis Trust and The University of Birmingham College of Arts and Law.


Provisional Schedule:

Friday 17th June

G51, European Reasearch Institute Building (G3 on this map)

  • 10.30 – 12.00 David Papineau (KCL and CUNY)  TBA
  • 12.00 – 13.15: Hasen Khudairi  (St. Andrews)  Grounding, Conceivability and the Mind-Body Problem
  • 13.15 – 14.00 LUNCH
  • 14.00 – 15.15: Fatema Amijee (Austin)  Emergence and Grounded Fundamentality
  • 15.15 – 16.30: Umrao Sethi (Berkeley) Two Grounds for Sensible Qualities
  • 16.30 – 16.45 COFFEE
  • 16.45 – 18.15:  Philip Goff (CEU, Budapest)  Anti-Physicalism and Priority Monism

  • 18.15: Wine Reception (Atrium, ERI building)
  • 19.45: Dinner 

Saturday 18th June

Edgbaston Room, Lucas House

  • 09.45 – 11.15 David Chalmers (NYU and ANU)  Grounding and Analyticity
  • 11.15 – 11.30 COFFEE
  • 11.30 – 12.45 Donnchadh O'Conaill (Helsinki)  Grounding, Physicalism and Necessity
  • 12.45 – 13.30 LUNCH
  • 13.30 – 14.45 Giovanni Merlo (Hamburg)  The Subjective Grounds of Consciousness
  • 14.45 – 16.00 Gabriel Rabin (NYU Abu Dhabi)  Fundamentality Physicalism and the Intelligibility Constraint
  • 16.00 – 16.15 COFFEE
  •  16.15 – 17.45 Erica Shumener (Pittsburgh)  Against Grounding-Based Formulations of Physicalism
  •  17.45 – 17.55 Kit Fine (NYU and Birmingham) Concluding Remarks

Call for papers

The deadline for submissions was 18 April, so it has now passed. We received a surprisingly high number (41!) of papers - many of strikingly high-quality - and these are with our reviewers now. We'll announce which have been selected very soon!

Student bursaries

Thanks to the support of The Analysis Trust, we are able to offer several bursaries to PG students wishing to attend the conference. These will cover half of their registration and accommodation costs. They'll be awarded in the first instance on merit, to students who submit a paper but did not quite make it into the category of accepted student papers, and after that on a first-come, first-served basis. To apply for a bursary, contact the organizers.

The topic(s) in more detail

In the philosophy of mind the idea is very familiar that phenomenal qualities or states depend on or obtain in virtue of properties or states of a distinct and more fundamental (probably physical) kind. Recently, metaphysicians have become preoccupied with a much more general construal of this kind of thought: the idea that reality exhibits some kind of structure. Thus e.g. the following kinds of claim are held to be of the same general kind: that ordinary macroscopic objects depend on the sub-atomic particles that compose them, that the sole member of a singleton set is more fundamental than the set itself, and that the truth of a true disjunction can be explained by the truth of its true disjunct. Most often, this structure is thought to be provided by an explanatory dependence relation such as grounding, a notion that has recently risen to prominence thanks to influential arguments by philosophers such as Kit Fine (e.g. 2001; 2012) and Johnathan Schaffer (e.g. 2009; 2010), alongside Gideon Rosen, Fabrice Correia, Benjamin Schnieder, and many others.

The notion of grounding is somewhat opaque, and in the metaphysics literature it is generally assumed to be a theoretical primitive (i.e. it resists analysis in other terms). Consequently, grounding is usually introduced by appeal to examples such as those mentioned above, and in this vein, it is often casually suggested that facts about phenomenal consciousness are grounded in physical facts (or that phenomenal properties are grounded in physical properties). This suggestion has not yet been explored in detail, but lately it has surfaced here and there. It is now fairly widely agreed that the modal notion of supervenience is too coarse-grained to deliver the satisfactory explication of the relation between the psychological and the physical that many late 20th century physicalists hoped for, and so one reason to take an interest in grounding here is that it is generally agreed to be hyperintensional: finer-grained than supervenience. Something related to this thought (albeit with a negative gloss) has emerged recently in work by Ned Block (forthcoming) in which he distinguishes metaphysics as concerned with questions of ground, as opposed to ontology which involves what there is, and criticizes the orthodox ‘Canberra Plan’ conception of reductive physicalism (Smart, Lewis, Jackson, Kim, etc.) as failing properly to address the former.

The connections between grounding and consciousness which we hope to explore are not restricted to this possibility of a new construal of physicalism. For one thing, we assume that the idea that phenomenal qualities (or facts) are grounded can be decoupled from physicalism and explicated in ways that take one or both of the relata to be non-physical. Another example: it has been suggested (e.g. Barnes, 2012) that the possibility that consciousness is genuinely emergent provides reason to doubt that the notion of fundamentality ought to be understood in terms of grounding (i.e. to doubt that x is fundamental iff x is ungrounded). On her view, genuinely emergent features are to be considered both fundamental and grounded. A third example concerns essence. Above we mentioned the fairly familiar contention that modal properties are too coarse-grained to explicate the relation between the psychological and the physical: Fine argues that they are also too coarse-grained to explicate the important metaphysical notion of essence. (E.g. it is of the essence of a set to have the members it has, but not of those members to constitute the set; yet the set and its members exist in all and only the same possible worlds as one another.) His proposal is that the hyperintensional notion of grounding (which is distinct from but closely related to that of essence) can fill this gap. Meanwhile it is often proposed that phenomenal consciousness reveals the essence of something – whether that something is physical substance (as suggested by neutral monists) or something else – and it is natural to wonder whether grounding can help to explicate this notion of phenomenal essence.

Works cited

Barnes, E. (2012). ‘Emergence and Fundamentality’. Mind 121 (484): 873-901.

Block, N., (Forthcoming). ‘The Canberra Plan Neglects Ground’, in Horgan, Sabates & Sosa (eds.) Qualia and Mental Causation in a Physical World: Themes from the Philosophy of Jaegwon Kim, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fine, K. (2001). ‘A Question of Realism’. Philosopher’s Imprint 1 (1): 1-30.

Fine, K. (2012) ‘A Guide to Ground’. In Correia, F. and Schnieder, B. (eds.) Metaphysical Grounding: Understanding the Structure of Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) pp. 37-80.

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