Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Heller, Mark


Coherentism, Explanation, Fundamentality, Grounding, Understanding

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Epistemology | Metaphysics | Philosophy


I defend metaphysical coherentism, according to which reality is an interdependent network, system, or web, held together by a relation philosophers call "metaphysical explanation" or "grounding". If coherentism is true, nothing is ungrounded, things ground each other, and understanding what it is to be any given thing – a tree, a house, or a person – is grasping how it fits in: how it grounds and is grounded by its environment.

Coherentism is inconsistent with a widely-accepted, orthodox view of grounding, according to which certain fundamental facts about reality asymmetrically determine everything else. In Chapter 1, I argue that this view is not supported by any compelling argument,but merely assumed.

In Chapter 2, I argue that explanation should be our guide to ground. In other words, I argue that claims about the total distribution of explanations may serve as premises in arguments for conclusions about grounding. I argue, in particular, that instances in which things explain each other are proof of the fact that things ground each other.

In Chapter 3, I argue for coherentism from understanding. To understand, I argue, is to recognize coherence, interconnection, and, generally, how things stand with respect to each other. We understand by grasping the complex weaving-together of relationships. Coherentism, I maintain, best accounts how we may, by discerning what grounds what, come to genuinely understand our world.

In Chapter 4, I pursue an intramural debate among varieties of metaphysical coherentism. I argue that the core features of coherentism are compatible with many different intuitions about the nature of reality, and that the view can take many different forms.


Open Access