Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Norms and the causal theory of reference

  1. We can refer to norms.

  2. We can only refer to the kinds of things that cause effects in us. (Causal theory of reference.)

  3. So, norms are a kind of thing that causes an effect in us.

  4. Norms are non-physical.

  5. So, something non-physical causes an effect in us.

  6. So, either we are not entirely physical, or the non-physical affects the physical, or both.


Michael Gonzalez said...
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Michael Gonzalez said...

Is the "Causal Theory of Reference" referring to "things" as in what the philosopher usually calls "substances"? In other words, is it just limiting the substance referents of sentences to the set of substances which cause effects in us?

I ask because there will often be "objects" in the grammatical sense, which are not taken by competent users of the language to be referring to any substance in the world. For example, if I say "there are really good chances of peace in the Middle East", the term "chances" is grammatically an "object", but no one thinks that there are substances in the world (physical or otherwise) that are called "chances" and that I'm referring to those here. At least, no normal competent user of the English language is under that confusion.

Or, to borrow Hacker's example, if a mother tells a child "do it for my sake", the child (not being a fully competent English-speaker yet) may ask "what is a sake?" and may mistake it for a substance in the world which her mother has one of. She may even wonder where her mother keeps her "sake" and what it looks like. This is just a linguistic confusion on her part.

Likewise, if norms are not being referred to as though they were substances in the world, but are rather just standing in the place in sentences that is called "the object of the sentence", could the Causal Theory of Reference really have anything to say about that?