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.
Dworkin Ronald. 2011. Justice for Hedgehogs. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Frege, Gottlob. 1892.Über Sinn und Bedeutung. Zeitschrift für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik 100: 25-50. Translated as On Sense and Reference by M. Black in Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege. Edited by P. Geach and M. Black. Oxford: Blackwell, third edition, 1980.
Kalderon, M. A. 2013. Does metaethics rest on a mistake? Analysis 73: 129-138.
Jackson, Frank. 1998. From Metaphysics to Ethics. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Long, Justin. 2012. Right-Making and Reference. American Philosophical Quarterly 49: 277-280.
Putnam, Hilary. 1979. On Properties. In Philosophical Papers: Vol. 1, Mathematics, Matter and Method. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 305-322.
Railton, Peter. 1986. Moral Realism. Philosophical Review 95: 163-207.
Russell, Bertrand. 1905. On Denoting. Mind 14: 479-493.
Schroeder, Mark. 2005. Realism and Reduction: the Quest for Robustness. Philosophers’ Imprint 5: 1-18.
Shafer-Landau, Russ. 2003. Moral Realism: A Defence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.