This volume collects together some influential essays in which Simon Blackburn explores one of the most profound and fertile of philosophical problems: the way in which our judgements 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 to certainty. The quasi-realist challenge, developed by Blackburn in this volume, is that we can have those attachments without any metaphysic that deserves calling realism, so that the metaphysical picture that goes with our practices is quite idle. The cases treated here include the theory of value, of 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.
Simon BlackburnFBA (born 12 July 1944) is an English academic philosopher known for his work in metaethics, where he defends quasi-realism, and in the philosophy of language; more recently, he has gained a large general audience from his efforts to popularise philosophy.
He retired as the professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge in 2011, but remains a distinguished research professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, teaching every fall semester. He is also a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and a member of the professoriate of New College of the Humanities. He was previously a Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford and has also taught full-time at the University of North Carolina as an Edna J. Koury Professor. He is a former president of the Aristotelian Society, having served the 2009–2010 term. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2002 and a Foreign Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2008.
He has appeared in multiple episodes of the documentary series Closer to Truth.
Early life and education
Blackburn was born on 12 July 1944 in Chipping Sodbury, England. He attended Clifton College and went on to receive his bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1965 from Trinity College, Cambridge. He obtained his doctorate in 1970 from Churchill College, Cambridge.
Life and views
In philosophy, he is best known as the proponent of quasi-realism in meta-ethics and as a defender of neo-Humean views on a variety of topics. He is a former editor of the journal Mind. He makes occasional appearances in the British media, such as on BBC Radio 4's The Moral Maze. Blackburn was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007.
He is a patron of Humanists UK (formerly the British Humanist Association), and when asked to define his atheism, he said he prefers the label infidel over atheist:
Being an infidel, that is, just having no faith, I do not have to prove anything. I have no faith in the Loch Ness Monster, but do not go about trying to prove that it does not exist, although there are certainly overwhelming arguments that it does not.
In 2008 The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, which was authored by Blackburn, was published. He was one of 55 public figures to sign an open letter published in The Guardian in September 2010, stating their opposition to Pope Benedict XVI's state visit to the UK, and has argued that "religionists" should have less influence in political affairs. At the same time, he has also argued, in a televised debate, against the position of the antitheist author and neuroscientist Sam Harris that morality can be derived from science.