Metasemantics and Metaethics
Metaethicists disagree about the semantic content of normative and evaluative terms. According to traditional metaethical realists, the semantic role of normative terms is similar to that of natural kind terms: adjectives like ‘morally right’ pick out a property as their reference, and all competent users of the expression co-refer. Error theorists and fictionalists agree that the semantic role of normative terms is to pick out a property, but they doubt that any such property is instantiated. Contextualists hold that the reference of normative terms varies according to the context of utterance; relativists hold that the truth of normative claims should be evaluated with respect to the standards of an interpreter; and expressivists maintain that the semantic role of normative terms is to express the motivational states of the speaker. Similar positions have been developed for evaluative terms like ‘morally good’ and ‘brave’. For ease of exposition, we’ll focus primarily on normative terms in this chapter, but the issues discussed generalize to evaluative terms.