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Volume 49 • Number 3

July 2012



Right-Making and Reference

by Joseph Long

Either no normative ethical theory is true, or the following prominent version of the causal theory of reference, held by certain moral philosophers and philosophers of science, is false:

(CTR) A general term [T] rigidly designates a property F if the use of [T] by competent users of the term is causally regulated by F.

According to (CTR), the term "is water," for example, refers to the purely descriptive property of being composed of H2O and does so because being composed of H2O causally regulates the competent use "is water." (For ease of discussion, assume that any user of a term mentioned hereafter is competent with the term.) Now, a normative ethical theory attempts to specify which purely descriptive properties are fundamental right-making properties (FRM-properties, henceforth). An FRM-property is a purely descriptive property that, if possessed by an action, ultimately explains the action's being right. Utilitarianism, for example, holds that there is exactly one FRM-property, namely, maximizing pleasure. The view of Moore (1993 [1903]), by contrast, held that promoting pleasure, promoting knowledge, and promoting beauty are all FRM-properties.

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ISSN: 2152-1123