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Abstract

The causal theory of reference (CTR) provides a well-articulated and widely-accepted account of the reference relation. On CTR the reference of a term is fixed by whatever property causally regulates the competent use of that term. CTR poses a metaethical challenge to realists by demanding an account of the properties that regulate the competent use of normative predicates. CTR might pose a challenge to ethical theorists as well. Long (2012) argues that CTR entails the falsity of any normative ethical theory. First-order theory attempts to specify what purely descriptive property is a fundamental right-making property (FRM). Long contends that the notion that the FRM causally regulates competent use of the predicate ‘right’ leads to a reductio. The failure of this argument is nevertheless instructive concerning a point at which ethics and metaethics overlap.

Abstract

I have recently argued that if the causal theory of reference is true, then, on pain of absurdity, no normative ethical theory is true. In this journal, Michael Byron has objected to my reductio by appealing to Frank Jackson’s moral reductionism. The present essay defends my reductio while also casting doubt upon Jackson’s moral reductionism.

formulations of the descriptivist theory under attack by Kripke in Naming and Necessity (as well as formulations of rigidity, the causal theory of reference, and the like) that improve on Kripke’s own, if only from the point of view of thoroughness. But I confess to getting impatient working my way through the chapter, which is not to scorn Hughes’ meticulous delineation of the issues. What I found myself thinking about, however, and wanting more of, was the more general significance of Kripke’s theses about reference, descriptions, and meaning (in this chapter), and

that Putnam and Donnellan in those same years were independently promoting. This is the thesis that the meaning of some signs of our language (for instance proper names) depends on external entities that do not reside in the minds of each individual speaker. For Kripke (and for Donnellan and Kaplan) this thesis coincides with the causal theory of reference that explains the connection between a proper name and its referent in terms of causal relations. A name can be introduced into the public language by fixing its referent either by ostension (through a