Non-Naturalism and Reference

Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 11 (2):1-24 (2017)
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Metaethical realists disagree about the nature of normative properties. Naturalists think that they are ordinary natural properties: causally efficacious, a posteriori knowable, and usable in the best explanations of natural and social sciences. Non-naturalist realists, in contrast, argue that they are sui generis: causally inert, a priori knowable and not a part of the subject matter of sciences. It has been assumed so far that naturalists can explain causally how the normative predicates manage to refer to normative properties, whereas non-naturalists are unable to provide equally satisfactory metasemantic explanations. This article first describes how the previous non-naturalist accounts of reference fail to tell us how the normative predicates could have come to refer to the non-natural properties rather than to the natural ones. I will then use the so-called qua-problem to show how the causal theories of reference of naturalists also fail to fix the reference of normative predicates to unique natural properties. Finally, I will suggest that, just as naturalists need to rely on the non-causal mechanism of reference magnetism to solve the previous problem, non-naturalists, too, can rely on the very same idea to respond to the pressing metasemantic challenges that they face concerning reference.

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Jussi Suikkanen
University of Birmingham

Citations of this work

Normative Commitments in Metanormative Theory.Pekka Väyrynen - 2019 - In Jussi Suikkanen & Antti Kauppinen (eds.), Methodology and Moral Philosophy. Routledge. pp. 193-213.
Representation, Deflationism, and the Question of Realism.Camil Golub - 2021 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 7.
Getting a Moral Thing Into a Thought: Metasemantics for Non-Naturalists.Preston J. Werner - 2020 - In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics. Oxford University Press. pp. 140-169.

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On the Plurality of Worlds.David Lewis - 1986 - Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell.
Word and Object.Willard Van Orman Quine - 1960 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
Writing the Book of the World.Theodore Sider - 2011 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
On What Matters: Two-Volume Set.Derek Parfit - 2011 - New York: Oxford University Press.

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