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January 08, 2012

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Hmm, I'm not sure I see the problem for the Robust Realist here. Either there's a uniquely eligible candidate non-natural "realiser", or there are multiple equally-eligible candidates. If there's only one, no problem. If there are multiple, then can't we just take their disjunction to be the referent of the normative concept in question?

We might allow for a kind of multiple (or disjunctive) realisability in this way whilst still being "picky" in taking the conceptual role to restrict the metaphysical nature of candidate "realisers" to only non-natural properties, no?

(I find this topic a little slippery, though, so do let me know if I'm missing something!)

Thanks Richard. I find this topic very slippery too. Here's a couple of thoughts:

With the one uniquely eligible candidates, I think we can create a similar propblem even then. Presumably there are lots and lots of normative concepts if we include all the thick evaluative, aesthetic, moral and so on concepts. If these are to be different concepts, they need to have different conceptual roles - that is the basic rules for making inferences with these concepts are going to be only slightly different. So, consider the example of grace and delicacy. Presumably these are different concepts.

Now, we also need equally many normative properties on the Robust Realism picture. But, how do we then know that not one of these properties, say, gracefulness makes both 'grace' and 'delicacy' involving inferences ok. So, the question I guess how could the inferential roles of these concepts be so fine-grained that they fix a unique referent even of the existing normative properties?

I agree about the second point. There's a worry there too, however. The conceptual role semanticist only cares about the reference in so far as it is needed to make the inferences correctness-preserving. I take it this is why according to Wedgwood the semantic value of ought is the 'weakest' property of a proposition that makes it correct to it as a part of one's ideal plan. Given that this is the weakest property and we are non-committal about the correctness at this stage, you might think that the conceptual role per se might leave natural properties to play the realiser role. So, I guess that it's hard to see how the conceptual role itself could limit the candidates to non-natural properties.

I agree that this topic is slippery, but I am sympathetic to the general Wedgwood/Enoch picture. Here is my own view of how this goes.

Consider the property of being valid, in the logical sense. Here is a klutzy way to reason: “All As are Bs; All Bs are Cs; the foregoing is an instance of the Barbara syllogism, which is valid; therefore All As are Cs.” It is much shorter to simply reason, “All As are Bs; All Bs are Cs; therefore All As are Cs.” In very complex situations (analyzing philosophy articles, for example) it might help to reason in the first, usually klutzy way. Or maybe if you are fighting wishful thinking tremendously hard. But in general, the concept of validity is introduced in attempting to talk about reasoning and evaluate it. It is, in a loose sense, metalanguage.

I think the same goes for normative properties like “ought”, “is a reason to”, “have most reason to”, “is morally required/permitted”, etc. The simple way to reason practically is to have one’s reasons as premises and one’s intentions as conclusions: “A, B, C, therefore I’ll do X.” The klutzy way is to introduce normative terms: “A, B, C; if A, B, C then I ought to do X; so I’ll do X.” On occasion it may be useful to introduce normative terms, but their basic home is in the attempt to talk about our practical reasoning and evaluate it.


As you rightly note, Jussi, I am very tentative about the whole thing, partly because I just don't feel competent enough about this. Still, two points:
First, *some* indeterimnacy is not a problem for RR, right? I mean, it's totally fine if the conceptual role for delicacy and grace aren't fine-tuned enough. Waht would be threatening is much more by way of indeterminacy. And I don't yet see that you've argued that case.
Second, you point out that on this picture hte metaphysical stuff drops out of the picture -- the functional stuff does all the work. I'm not totally sure abut this, but I'm accepting this at least for the sake of argument (at least for now). Still, this is consistent with RR. It's possible that we don't need, as it were, the metaphysical stuff *here*, in order to supply a decent account of reference. But we do need the metaphysical stuff elsewhere (say, to give the right kind of objectivity, or as what is deliberatively indispensable). If so, we have these other reasons to believe that the only thing that can satisfy the functional role (which is the only thing directly doing semantic work) is the heavuer metaphysical stuff. And that's ok for RR, isn't it?
(Have I just rejected what I said I would accept for the sake of argument?)


Hi David,

thanks. I don't feel competent enough about this yet either but I'm trying to investigate this more at the moment. I realise that my comments above are horribly sketchy but I really do want to write a paper on this. At the moment, I'm quite impressed by Hilary Putnam's argument against conceptual role semantics in the case of logical connectives. I'm thinking that it'll work for normative terms too.

Yes - I need to come up with better cases than that even if, for certain other theories, some people (like Roger Crisp) have taken that degree of indeterminacy to be decisive. I need to show that metaphysically very different kinds of referents can make the same practical inferences equally correctness-preserving.

With the second point, I think I see the requirements for RR's semantic theory slightly differently. You seem to think that it's ok if we can show here that the conceptual role *could* fix the reference to the non-natural properties, and then fight other metaethical views elsewhere.

I'm thinking that what we would need here is a stronger argument to the conclusion that the conceptual role *in fact fixes* reference to the non-natural properties. Otherwise, it could be the case that the non-natural properties exist but we in fact never talk about them because the reference of our concepts has been fixed to some other properties or even that they lack reference altogether.

Yes - it seems like you rejected what you said you would accept. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. Anyway, I've got another paper to write for now but this will be probably in line after that. I hope I'll be able to soup up my argument and I'll probably discuss Wedgwood more given that this is his theory. I might use some help though at some point.

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