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God(s) and Fundamentality

National Graduate course in theoretical philosophy (7,5 hp)

In a particular corner of the recent literature on analytic metaphysics, much is made of notions of fundamentality, grounding, metaphysical explanation, ultimate explainers and the idea that reality has an over-arching distinctively non-causal structure. Curiously, this literature proceeds with an apparent blindness to the rich and developed history of many of these ideas. In particular, the notion of an ultimate explainer has not only enjoyed an enormous amount of attention in the history of both our own and non-Western traditions, but it has also been associated with a number of, in some cases intractable, problems. Contemporary discussions of fundamentality - where that which is fundamental is said to be an ultimate explainer - offer little to recognition of these problems.

Open to PhD- and MA-students nationally as well as to BA-students in theoretical philosophy (with a suitable background in analytic metaphysics) from Gothenburg University. To learn more about the National Graduate Course program in philosophy, visit this page.


Oct 15-19 2018


Department of Philosophy, Linguistics, and Theory of Science,
Olof Wijksgatan 6
University of Gothenburg
Link to Google Maps


I hope to write a book. The underwriting premise of the book is as follows. The idea that there must be some kind of ultimate explainer is a very old and fairly universal one. Many different traditions, in many different time periods, have arrived at the conclusion that there must be something that is such that it explains/grounds/gives rise to everything else. In our own tradition, perhaps the quintessential example of this is God. But we see the same idea expressing itself in the form of Heidegger’s Being or xx. We also see the same idea expressing itself in the form of the dharmas of the Indian Abhidharma tradition, the absolute Nothingness of the likes of Nishida, and the Brahman of the Vedanta traditions.

Just as the history of ultimate explainers is vast and extensive, so too is the history of noteworthy problems associated with them. Both Heidegger and Nishida, for example, were aware that if it is the job of the ultimate explainer to account for the being of everything, then it cannot, itself, have being (in Heidegger we get the identifciation of Being with Nothingness). Many Christian thinkers were also of the view that God’s ontological status was shaky for similar reasons. Buddhist thinker Nagarjuna presented countless arguments against the existence of dharmas. And whole Indian schools sprung up around reasons to think there was no such thing as Brahman.

In the contemporary analytic literature, the thought that there is or must be something fundamental is often treated as an axiom of a certain kind of metaphysics. Of course, people have challenged the idea, but in general, these challenges leave philosophers with the sense that there might not need to be something fundamental after all, rather than with the sense that there is something wrong with fundamentality. Indeed, by naturalizing our metaphysics, one has the sense that whatever the problems were that beset various other kinds of more ‘spooky’ ultimate explainers, our naturalised metaphysics does away with them.

I wish to challenge this assumption. I wish to challenge the assumption that by dragging our ultimate
explainers into the natural world, we have absolved them of their metaphysical difficulties. I wish to devote a monograph to an assessment of various of the problems associated with ultimate explainers that have been well-developed in the historical and non-Western literatures.

For the purposes of our week-long course, there are actually TWO questions that I would like to get clear on: (i.) what is the relationship between being independent and being an ultimate explainer? I think it’s obvious, but people tell me it is not; (ii.) why is causal overdetermination a problem, but not grounding overdetermination? Why these questions are (a.) interesting, and (b.) relevant to my project may not be immediately clear. Hopefully this will become clear as the week progresses!


The person who wants to write a book, and teach this class, is Ricki Bliss. Ricki is an assistant professor of philosophy at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her specialty is analytic metaphysics, especially metaphysical dependence, explanation and fundamentality. For more information, please visit her personal webpage.


To register, e-mail Anna-Sofia Maurin at anna-sofia.maurin@gu.se


All talks/seminars take place in various rooms at ‘gamla hovrätten’ (Olof Wijksgatan 6). There is one exception, though: Tuesday morning, the lecture is in a seminar room on Dicksonsgatan 4 (map here). It’s locked (you need a special card to get in), so make sure you are in time for that one!

Monday: 10-12 room T346
13-15 room T340
Tuesday: 10-12 the seminar room at Dicksonsgatan 4
13-15 room T116
Wednesday: 10-12 room T346
15-17 room T340
Thursday: 10-12 room T116
13-15 room T340
Friday: 10-12 room T340
13-15 room T340


For a complete reading list (which also what to read for which session), check out this document.
If you have problems accessing any of the texts, let us know asap by e-mailing Anna-Sofia at anna-sofia.maurin@gu.se.



Sidansvarig: Monica Havström|Sidan uppdaterades: 2018-10-02

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