Quasi-realism is the meta-ethical view claiming that Ethical sentences do not
express propositions. Ethical sentences project emotional attitudes as though they were
Quasi-realism a form of non-cognitivism or expressivism.
Quasi-realism stands in opposition to other forms of non-cognitivism such as
emotivism and universal prescriptivism, as well as to all forms of cognitivism, including
both moral realism and ethical subjectivism.
Aesthetic judgements are autonomous, as many other judgements are not: for the latter, but
not the former, it is sometimes justifiable to change one's mind simply because several
others share a different opinion. Why is this? One answer is that claims about beauty are
not assertions at all, but expressions of aesthetic response. However, to cover more than
just some of the explananda, this expressivism needs combining with some analogue of
cognitive command, i.e. the idea that disagreements over beuaty can occur, and when they
do it is a priori that one side has infringed the norms governing aesthetic discourse.
This combination can be achieved by reading Kant's aesthetic theory in expressivist terms.
The resulting view is a form of quasi-realism about beauty. This conclusion generalises to
quasi-realism about other matters. - Kant, Quasi-Realism, and the Autonomy of Aesthetic
Judgement - Hopkins, Robert, European Journal of Philosophy, Vol 9, Num 2, August 2001
QUASI-REALISM, ACQUAINTANCE, AND THE NORMATIVE CLAIMS OF AESTHETIC JUDGEMENT -
Cain Samuel Todd
Cain Todd, Centre for Philosophy, IEPPP, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YG, UK.
My primary aim in this paper is to outline a quasi-realist theory of aesthetic judgement.
Robert Hopkins has recently argued against the plausibility of this project because he
claims that quasi-realism cannot explain a central component of any expressivist
understanding of aesthetic judgements, namely their supposed autonomy. I argue
against Hopkinss claims by contending that Roger Scrutons aesthetic attitude
theory, centred on his account of the imagination, provides us with the means to develop a
plausible quasi-realist account of aesthetic judgement. Finally, I respond to two recent
attempts to discredit the validity of the notion of aesthetic autonomy. I claim that both
fail adequately to address the underlying non-realist motivations and justifications for
maintaining the principle.
Pragmatism, Quasi-realism and the Global Challenge
Expressivism is typically a local view. An expressivist about moral or aesthetic judgments
will contrast these judgments to "genuinely" descriptive claims (such as those
of science, perhaps). This contrast comes under pressure from several directions, however.
Externally, it has been thought to be threatened by minimalism about truth,
whichit is arguedleaves no room for the view that moral claims (say) are not
really truth-evaluable. (If truth is "thin", then it seems easy for moral claims
be truth-evaluableit is sufficient that "X is good" is true iff X is good,
and who disputes that?)
Internally, it seems threatened by the quasi-realist program of explaining on
expressivist foundations why non-descriptive claims "behave like" descriptive
claims. If these explanations work in the hard cases, such as moral and aesthetic
judgements, then surely they'll work in the easy cases, tooin which case the idea
that the easy cases are genuinely descriptive seems an idle cog, not needed to explain the
use of the statements in question.
As first sight, it may seem as though these pressures push in opposite directions. Doesn't
the first threaten to make everything descriptive, and the second to make everything
expressive? So a problem for a local expressivist either way, in other words, but a very
different kind of problem, in each case.
On closer inspection, however, it turns out that both pressures push in the same
direction, towards a form of pragmatism that might be characterised as global
expressivism. Contrary to some claims, this position does not lead to a homogeneous view
of language, unable to make the substantial claims that expressivists wanted to make about
the function of particular domains of discourse. What's lost is simply the idea that there
is a substantial descriptive or representational function, characteristic of some domains
but not others.
In this paper we explore these ideas against the background of some remarks by Simon
Minimalism versus Quasi-Realism: Why The Minimalist Has A Dialectical Advantage
Alan Thomas, King's College, London
Minimalist and quasi-realist approaches to problematic discourses such as the causal,
moral and modal are compared and contrasted. The problem of unasserted contexts
demonstrates that while quasi-realism can meet the challenge of reconstructing a logic of
"commitment" to cover both "projected" and "detected"
discourses, it can only do so at an unacceptable cost. The theory must globally revise
logic, in spite of its implicit commitment to a substantial notion of truth for
Thus, quasi-realism fails to meet its own standards for theory acceptance. By contrast,
minimalism does not face the problem of unasserted contexts, can give a global account of
the truth predicate and can explain the univocality of the logical connectives. This
demonstrates the dialectical superiority of the minimalist's approach.
The aim of this paper is to compare and contrast two research programmes, minimalism and
quasi-realism, in their approaches to such problematic areas of discourse as the modal,
the moral and the causal.
The two theories are in many ways very similar. They are both opposed to
"quietistic" stances towards realism which advocate reiterating the standards of
objectivity immanent in discourses from an "internal" perspective. As Blackburn
neatly puts it, "loss of a global issues is not a global loss of issues".
Both views are similarly opposed to a completely "external" approach which
classifies discourses in the light of a prior standard of objectivity, perhaps drawn from
Both views, in a Wittgensteinian manner, want to "place" discourses on a scale
from the more to the less objective. However, they differ over the role of the concept of
truth in this exercise, and I will argue that one ought to prefer the minimalist approach
since the projectivist/quasi-realist alternative fails on its own terms.
I will first describe these two alternative approaches in more detail. Minimalism about
truth is the view that an examination of the surface syntax and the internal norms of a
discourse will suffice to reveal whether that discourse sustains a truth predicate.
However, this point is compatible with attributions of the truth predicate being supported
by a range of different considerations relevant to the objectivity of the discourse. Thus,
to take Crispin Wright's example, even if a discourse shows all the internal discipline
and syntactic marks of truth bearing discourse, there remain further issues as to whether
the discourse is representational, whether the properties it cites have a "wide
cosmocentric role", and whether these cited properties can be characterised
independently of human response. Wright looks to Wittgenstein's Tractatus as a paradigm of
minimalism and expresses his own form of minimalism in a paragraph worth quoting in full:
A proposal is being made in a spirit close to what I take to be that of Wittgenstein's
insistence in the Tractatus that object and proposition are formal concepts. The proposal
is simply that any predicate that exhibits certain very general features qualifies, just
on that account, as a truth predicate. This is quite consistent with acknowledging that
there may, perhaps must be more to say about the content of any predicate that does have
these features. But it is also consistent with acknowledging that there is a prospect of
pluralism - that the more there is to say may well vary from discourse to discourse - and
that whatever may remain to be said, it will not concern any essential features of truth.
Fictionalism, Quasi-Realism and the Question of Right
Michael Hicks, Johns Hopkins University
A well-known trouble in ontological debates, e.g., about abstracta, is tracking down just
what is at stake in the debate. Simon Blackburn has claimed that such debates are best
interpreted as concerned with the right to employ the vocabulary in question.
I argue that ?ctionalism about abstracta is a well-motivated anti-realist response to
Blackburns question of right, but one that ultimately fails, in a suggestive way.
The ?ctionalist herself ends up a subtle realist.
Quasi-Realism and Ethical Appearances
Edward Harcourt, Department of Philosophy, School of European Culture and Languages,
University of Kent at Canterbury
The paper develops an attack on quasi-realism in ethics, according to which expressivism
about ethical discourseunderstood as the thesis that the states that discourse
expresses are non-representationalis consistent with some of the discourse's
familiar surface features, thus saving the ethical appearances. A dilemma is
posed for the quasi-realist. Either ethical discourse appears, thanks to those surface
features, to express representational states, or else there is no such thing as its
appearing to express such states. If the former then, by expressivism, the appearance
presented by ethical discourse is false, so the ethical appearances are not saved. If the
latter, it is unintelligible why an appeal to projection should be needed to explain how
the surface features come to express non-representational states if no explanation is
neededas evidently none isto explain how they come to express representational
states. The conclusion of this argument is then argued to converge with some other
considerations which show that there is no gap between ethical discourse's possessing the
surface features in question and its expressing representational states.
Quasi-realism, sensibility theory, and ethical relativism = Le quasi-réalisme, la
théorie de la sensibilité et le relativisme éthique
KIRCHIN Simon, University of Sheffield, ROYAUME-UNI
This paper is a reply to Simon Blackburn's Is Objective Moral Justification Possible on a
Quasi-realist Foundation?' Inquiry 42 (1999), pp. 213-28. Blackburn attempts to show how
his version of non-cognitivism - quasi-realist projectivism - can evade the threat of
ethical relativism, the thought that all ways of living are as ethically good as each
other and every ethical judgment is as ethically true as any other. He further attempts to
show that his position is superior in this respect to, amongst other accounts, sensibility
theory (or 'secondary quality' theory). According to Blackburn, sensibility theory
succumbs easily to the relativistic challenge because it depends on some 'substantive'
notion of truth. It is agreed with Blackburn that the threat of relativism is less of a
threat to him than at first appears, although I think that it retains some menace, but not
agreed that sensibility theorists cannot also counter the threat of relativism (although,
again, ethical relativism retains some menace in the face of the sensibility theorist's
reply). The point is that the threat of ethical relativism depends less on truth than
Blackburn supposes. Thus sensibility theorists can counter ethical relativism in much the
same way that quasi-realist projectivists can.
Quasi-Realism, Negation and the Frege-Geach Problem
Nicholas Unwin, Bolton Institute
Every expressivist theory of moral language requires a solution to the Frege-Geach
problem, i.e., the problem of explaining how moral sentences retain their meaning in
unasserted (e.g., conditional and disjunctive) contexts. An essential part of Blackburn's
'quasi-realist project', i.e., the project of showing how we can earn the right to treat
moral sentences as if they have ordinary truth-conditions, is to provide a sophisticated
solution. I show, however, that simple negated contexts provide a fundamental difficulty,
since accepting the negation of a sentence is easily confused with merely refusing to
accept that sentence. I argue that Blackburn's model-set semantics for his 'Hooray!' and
'Boo!' operators requires logical apparatus to which he is not entitled. I consider
various modifications, but show that they do not succeed.
Quasi-realism and Relativism
A. W. Moore, St. Hugh's College
QUASI-REALISM IN MORAL PHILOSOPHY
From An interview with SIMON BLACKBURN
By Darlei Dall´Agnol
You have been developing over the years a metaphysical program known as
quasi-realism. How would you explain it in a few words to our readers?
I think, the easiest way to understand my program is if we look back to people like A. J.
Ayer, Language, truth and logic, Charles Stevenson, Ethics and language, and the
expressivist or emotivist traditions in ethics. The situation in about 1970 was that the
emotivists were very much on the retreat. People had arguments against them.
In particular, Peter Geach had, in a famous paper of 1965, argued that emotivists simply
couldnt cope with the way moral language is used. Specially, the way there seemed to
have a moral proposition, which cannot, for example, ever be asserted. But we can, he had
prophesized, wonder whether its true; you can say, if its true, then other
things are true. So, it behaves in some quite complex logical ways. Geach had argued that
emotivists or prescritivists like Hare, the famous author of The Language of morals, might
have a story about what we do when we assert moral propositions. For example, that
is good, its good to be kind to your mother etc. They gave an
account of that along the lines of hurray to be kind to your mother or
be kind to your mother, that doesnt explain whats happening when
you say things like if its good to be kind to your mother, then its also
good to be kind to your father.
You dont say positively hurray, to be kind to your mother, but nor can
we say in English or in any other language if hurray to be kind to your mother, then
hurray to be kind to your father. The if-construction doesnt work
with the hurray, the expression of attitude. Arguments like this show that
emotivism simply couldnt work. You have to give a better account of the moral
propositions, the content of the moral thought. You couldnt say that when we
moralize, we express attitudes because of this argument. By 1970 a lot of philosophers, I
think, had been impressed by this argument. John Searle talked about the policy of trying
to give an account of meaning in terms of speech acts. Other philosophers tried to answer
in different manners. Hare himself wrote a nice answer in The Philosophical
Review in 1970. Dummett said some things about it in his book on Frege. But, I
think, there wasnt a very good general account.
This led John Mackie, in his book Ethics (1977), to say that emotivism was right, but
ordinary language, and ordinary thought, implied that it was wrong. So, ordinary language
and ordinary thought were actually based on mistakes. This was his error theory: ordinary
language is full of mistakes of what normative facts were. According to Mackie, emotivists
are right in saying that there are no moral facts and ordinary language wrong when it
talks as if there were. I was very dissatisfied about it, that is, I had very strong
sympathies with the emotivists. I thought there was something fundamentally right about
giving an account of the meaning of moral language in terms of the attitude it expresses
when we moralize. But I also didn´t want an error theory. I thought it was not true. I
thought that ordinary language was in perfect order. I read Wittgenstein who taught that
ordinary thought is better than philosophical thinking.
So, I tried to attack Geach´s argument in a slightly different way and to give an account
of the constructions, the contents of moral speech, to such a problem. I tried to give an
account of what are we doing when we use language in that way. But that would be both an
explanation of what we are doing and also a justification. It wouldnt give any
motive, any account of the content, of the reasons, of the motivations, of the error
theory. So, that was the program.
I called it quasi-realism because it starts from with an emotivist, a
fundamental expressionist, account of the fundamental elements of what we are doing when
we moralize. And that is a particular activity, a particular thing you do, which is
basically to express attitudes, to put pressure on plans, intentions, conducts. Its
something practical. But we talk as if there were a truth in that talk, that´s why the
quasi. We talk as if there were a reality, normative reality, the kind of reality Plato
believed in. Now, Mackie thought that that was an error. I said No! The talk is
okay, it is the philosopher who is wrong.
The philosophers make the error when they are demanding some fact, some kind of Platonic
forms in the world, or, in Aristotle, some kind of teleology of human nature. All these
are philosophers stories about something which I thought could be explained and
justified more easily. And, so, that was the program and it required answering
Geachs arguments, his technical work. I tried to do it. That work proved to be quite
controversial. There are many discussions on this matter because, in a way,
I made the picture more confusing than people like. People used to think
expressionists say that...., realists say that..... But I came
along and said: Well, why shouldnt expressionists say this thing, which
realist also says. But if it is an account of what hes doing when he says it, then,
of course, the picture becomes a lot more confused. The quasi proves to be
quite tantalizing. People are interested in it. They also found it quite confusing, more
confusing than I had expected. So, thats the story.
in Quasi-Realism Review:
"It is a genuine service to have Blackburn's work brought together....His prose style
is extremely refreshing. He writes with clarity and vigor, without pretension or
over-qualification. Fans of issues concerning realism will know that this is not faint
praise."--The Philosophical Review
"Technically and historically accurate and helpful. Good treatment, especially, of
moral realism."--Manuel Davenport, Texas A & M
"This collection well represents Blackburn's contribution to
philosophy."--Ronald Glass, University of Wisconsin, La Crosse
"All these essays have been published previously, and everyone in the field will be
glad to have them conveniently collected. They well display their author's virtues in
advancing philosophical debate."--Utilitas
This volume collects some influential essays in which Simon Blackburn, one of our leading
philosophers, explores one of the most profound and fertile of philosophical problems: the
way in which our judgments relate to the world. This debate has centered on realism, or
the view that what we say is validated by the way things stand in the world, and a variety
of oppositions to it. Prominent among the latter are expressive and projective theories,
but also a relaxed pluralism that discourages the view that there are substantial issues
at stake. The figure of the "quasi-realist" dramatizes the difficulty of
conducting these debates. Typically philosophers thinking of themselves as realists will
believe that they alone can give a proper or literal account of some of our
attachments--to truth, to facts, to the independent world, to knowledge and certainty. The
quasi-realist challenge, developed by Blackburn in this volume, is that we can have those
attachments without any metaphysic that deserves to be called realism, so that the
metaphysical picture that goes with our practices is quite idle. The cases treated here
include the theories of value and knowledge, modality, probability, causation,
intentionality and rule-following, and explanation. A substantial new introduction has
been added, drawing together some of the central themes. The essays articulate a fresh
alternative to a primitive realist/anti-realist opposition, and their cumulative effect is
to yield a new appreciation of the delicacy of the debate in these central areas.