Essays in Quasi-Realism

Essays in Quasi-Realism

Essays in Quasi-Realism

Essays in Quasi-Realism

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

In many of these essays the main protagonist is a figure I christened the 'quasi- realist'. Two routes led to this persona. One is familiar to every student of moral philosophy. There everyone learns of philosophers who take a 'non- descriptive' or non-representational view of our commitments, seeing them instead as serving some other function, such as expressing attitude, endorsing prescriptions, or, in general, putting pressure on choice and action. Such a view is thought of as 'anti-realist', and is easily contrasted with a realist, or descriptive or representational, story that says that such commitments do what they seem to do: describe what we take to be the ethical facts. But while everybody learns of this contrast, nobody, it seemed to me, really knew how to conduct the debate about such ideas (or about the inevitable second-order question: whether the alleged point of contrast is really well drawn this way, or is even intelligible). the images behind the opposing sides are powerful enough, and find cavalier expression in thoughts like this: the realist thinks there is truth and knowledge to be had, that ethical properties exist, that they explain things, that they are independent of us, that they are objective. the anti-realist, or here the expressivist, is presumed to deny these doctrines. This is why such a view seemed to many philosophers to imply an 'error theory' of everyday ethical thought, claiming that a substantial component of that thought is indefensible. the reasoning is that everyday ethical thought embodies a claim to truth, or to knowledge or objectivity, or to something which 'lies beyond' the opinions and sentiments that we endorse, and which those opinions might distort or represent badly. However, if this claim to objectivity is quite spurious, as it seems to be on the non-descriptive theory, then everyday ethical thought involves a kind of self-deception or fraud. But is the claim indeed spurious, on the non-descriptive story? Does the anti-realist indeed have to accept the baggage forced upon him when the debate is conducted this way?

The issue is a large one, for not only in ethics but in many spheres -- law, literary theory, history, even science -- there exists the same kind of radical threat. the threat is that once we see the disappearance of some favoured conception of objectivity and truth, or once we see what these amount to, we can no longer exercise judgement as before. a proper consciousness of the activity of judgement would unmask and undermine the activity itself. But is it . . .

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