Reed Philosophers Hold their Ground

Prof. Troy Cross and Brian Haas '17 look to help two sides of a philosophy debate come together.

Alejandro Chavez '17 | September 20, 2017

Listen to this audio piece about the summer research conducted by Prof. Troy Cross [Philosophy 2010-] and Brian Hass '17.


The first round of the 2016 March Madness basketball tournament featured a stunning upset. Baylor University, a basketball powerhouse, lost their match against lowly Yale by 79-75. One of the most surprising aspects of the game was that Yale outrebounded Baylor, despite the fact that Baylor team was much taller. In the post-game press conference, a reporter asked Taurean Prince, the star forward of the Baylor squad, how Baylor could have been outrebounded by their shorter Ivy League opponents.

Now you might think that this report is about basketball. But really it’s about philosophy. And that’s because of how Prince responded…

Taurean Prince Interview

This clip went viral. People fell in love with the way that Taurean Prince was able to answer the reporter's question without actually giving him a response about the game. Prince explained what constituted a rebound and that Yale got more of those than Baylor did. He didn’t address why it is that this rebound differential occurred. This tongue-in-cheek response is called a grounding response. The idea of grounding is the focus of recent Philosophy major graduate Brian Haas ‘17 and Philosophy Prof. Troy Cross [2010-] in their summer research. Here is Brian on grounding,

Brian Haas

Professor Cross thinks that grounding is not only interesting in the form of his current research but also that it has far reaching roots in philosophy.

Professor Cross

The importance of grounding is debated within philosophy and within the people that believe that grounding is important there are even more debates about the properties of grounding. The properties of grounding are a part of what Haas and Cross are researching. They are not taking a side in the debate. They’re actually taking the stance of peacemakers.

Professor Cross

These fights that Cross is talking about have to do with the properties of grounding. Basically there are people who believe that grounding is always transitive or always reflexive and then there are those who don’t. Transitivity in grounding means that if you can say that a grounds b and b grounds c then you can say that a grounds c.

Haas and Cross’s believe they have found a solution to these debates, they do this by defining two different types of grounding. This allows for both sides of the schism to be correct without negating one another. Cross gave the following example of a grounding paradox and then implemented their solution.

Professor Cross

Okay basically if we understand the properties of this shape we can make a few grounding statements.

For instance, we can say that the dent grounds, partially, its having shape s.

We can also say that it being nearly spherical grounds it having shape s.

And because of that we can also say that its having that shape s grounds its being nearly spherical

We can also say that its having that shape s grounds its being dented

However, we cannot say that its being dented makes it almost spherical. Because if we’re to say that it would be to say that any object with a dent would be almost spherical and that is not true.

This could serve as a counter-example to transitivity. But Haas and Cross believe that there are two types of grounding, one that is transitive and one that isn’t.

The first kind of grounding, which is transitive, is called how grounding.

How grounding is used to described the way in which something is the case.

So to get back to our example, the dent is a part of the way in which the object is shape s, and its being shape s is the way in which its nearly spherical and also its having a dent is a part of the way in which its nearly spherical.

Professor Cross

This solution gets people to listen to each other and understand what they’re actually saying instead of talking past one another. This is something that Cross tries to do with his research everyday. Here’s his philosophy in Philosophy.

Professor Cross

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