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I have a question regarding the usage of "ultimately" in the passage below, quoted from an article here:

The reports about Thales show him employing a certain kind of explanation: ultimately the explanation of why things are as they are is grounded in water as the basic stuff of the universe and the changes that it undergoes through its own inherent nature.

According to the Cambridge online dictionary, it is an adverb and has two usages:

1: It is used to denote the meaning of "finally, in the end" 2: and used to denote the most important part of something.

Does it, in the passage above, mean that the gist and summary of his explanation is what follows or it may have some more profound explanation in this context?

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    Please stop at "denote the most important part of something…" If you believe that, justify it, with or without Cambridge… In your instance, grammar appears to make “ultimately the explanation of why things are as they are is grounded in water as the basic stuff of the universe and the changes that it undergoes through its own inherent nature” mean something, but semantics negates that. In the terms you asked about, it does seem to mean the gist and summary of his explanation was what followed. There could well be several more profound explanations but never usefully in that context. – Robbie Goodwin Jun 24 '18 at 21:28
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    The word here means what the dictionary says it means; there is nothing puzzling about this sentence so far as the English language and usage are concerned. Any further explanation of it would be a matter of substantive history of philosophy, which is outside the scope of this site. – jsw29 Jun 25 '18 at 4:06
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You should look at the word ultimately and determine what it does in the sentence. It is a sentence adverb that modifies the entire clause.

The meaning is made clear by comparing these two clauses:

  1. The explanation of why things are as they are is grounded in water as the basic stuff of the universe and the changes that it undergoes through its own inherent nature.

  2. Ultimately, the explanation of why things are as they are is grounded in water as the basic stuff of the universe and the changes that it undergoes through its own inherent nature.

Both of these would be a summary of what Thales explains. The important point here is that semi-colon. Everything after it is an explanation.

The second sentence indicates this: there are other ways to explain why things are the way they are, but ultimately the nature of things is most clearly explained by the essence of water.

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Yes, that's correct. The use of "ultimately" here signals the concise, get-to-the-point meaning of a rambling argument is summed up by the rest of the sentence.

Also, this sentence is written badly because it is needlessly redundant: It confusingly contains 2 complex phrases indicating that the subject is Thales "explanation", when only 1 is needed, and either version could be simplified.

  1. "...show him employing a certain kind of explanation..."
  2. "...the explanation of why things are as they are..."

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