Referring to Moral Properties: Moral Twin Earth, Again

This is the third in a series of posts on the Moral Twin Earth.  In the last post Horgan and Timmons issued a challenge for Copp to find a determinate reference-fixing relation R.

To meet Horgan and Timmons’ challenge, Copp offers his own society-centered theory TSC.

The theory provides an account of the content and truth conditions of moral propositions. It identifies the property of rightness –that is, the property of being the right action in a context C (in relation to the relevant society S) – with the property of being required by the code of rules, whatever it is, the currency of which in S actually would best contribute to S’s ability to meet its needs – its needs, inter alia, for social stability, for peaceful cooperative interaction among its members, and for its members to be able to contribute to the overall flourishing of the society.  Call this code the “best code” for the society in question.

Copp combines TSC with Putnam’s semantics.  Recall Putnam’s semantics begins with the referential intention of the speaker.  So Copp assigns the referential intention of the moral term ‘right’ to be TSC.  If Earthings and Twin Earthings have the same referential intention TSC, and are talking about the same circumstances and the same society, then it seems they will have genuine disagreement.  But is there a determinate referent or a “best code”?  Copp say there can be multiple “best codes” for TSC–this is analagous to Sam Harris’ multiple peaks on a moral landscape.  (For example, it may be that TC and TD equally benefit society.)

Lastly, Copp points out that semantic indeterminacy isn’t limited to synthetic moral naturalism.

One might think it is not a problem for a noncognitivist moral semantics that denies that moral predicates are standardly used to ascribe properties. Yet such a semantics must say something about the semantics of these predicates. It might say that they are used to express certain appropriate conative attitudes. The problem is that there are too many types of attitudes. Suppose the theory says that “wrong” is used to express moral disapproval. Precisely which attitude counts as moral approval? This issue corresponds to the issue in cognitivist semantics of specifying precisely which property counts as wrongness.

And, not only is it a problem for moral language, it’s a problem for language in general.

The next post gives concluding thoughts.

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