The inconsistency is hidden in the psychology, not something that can be read off the sentence. Nevertheless, insofar as we are to eliminate inconsistencies from our beliefs we must believe ARC, even without misplaced certainty that any of our judgements are actually stable. We smugly have to believe we have an a priori first-person immunity from moral opinions that are stably false.
Egan was right after all. Instances of the Anti-Realist Conditional are first-order sentences. What does this mean for expressivism?
It means that expressivism commits us to some first-order claims. It means that quasi-realism, at least on my reading of Blackburn, fails. What we end up with is some form of quasi-anti-realism. Exactly what form this is will depend on the first-order choices the expressivist can make. To choose the latter is to judge that nobody can be fundamentally mistaken. And there are two ways to accept this.
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Firstly, we could be optimistic about the idea of eventual convergence of opinion. Perhaps everyone will reach Edna at the end of their ideal inquiry. Eccentrics would never be settled — there would always be changes they would be happy to call improvements to their situation that would eventually lead them to Edna.
This, we might say, is a kind of quasi-Kantianism. Settled eccentrics are possible, but they are not mistaken. For my part, I find it plausible that settled ideally coherent eccentrics are possible but I also believe they can be wrong. No matter how strange a settled ideally coherent Caligula would be, I cannot bring myself to think he speaks the truth when he says it is right to torture innocent people for no comparable gain in pleasure, happiness or desire satisfaction. Luckily I can know a posteriori that other people are not cut off from the truth. Perhaps we can call this a kind of quasi-idealism.
The language in this particular area of philosophy can be misleading. I believe even my most firmly held judgements might be wrong. But then again, I do not believe that you are cut off either. I believe you can access the moral truth just as well as I can. And I believe there are many people who are much better at ethical inquiry than I am and from whom I can learn a lot.
It is to be severed from the moral truth in a most heinous way. It is not simply to be mistaken about fundamental truths. So why is this supposed to be bad for the expressivist? Ordinary people do not think about the a priori. In my experience, people tend to have the same kinds of faculties as I do. Recognising the truth of expressivism should not prevent us from making the same kinds of judgements we made before philosophy distracted us. Egan thinks he has shown otherwise. Acceptance of Anti-Realist Conditionals does not force us to see ourselves as superior, it leaves us plenty of room for healthy scepticism, and it allows us to vindicate everything to be found in ordinary moral discourse.
I have discussed why the limits to the quasi-realist project are not bad for expressivism. I will end with reasons to welcome them. To begin, it yields an answer to the problem of creeping minimalism: there are first-order claims that a realist can make but an expressivist cannot. More importantly, it means expressivists evade some of the epistemological challenges that plague realists. For imagine what it would be like if we thought the ideally coherent Caligula was just as likely to be right as we are. If I genuinely believed that, I do not think I could go on as before. It would be realism that was the threat to ordinary moral thought.
After all, Caligula is an awful person. He thinks it right to torture people for the sole reason of maximising suffering! Why think that we have access to the realm of moral facts? You might fear this makes it mysterious why the moral truth hangs round people like us and not people like Caligula. The reason torture is wrong need not have anything to do with me or my moral sensibility, and judgements about what the moral truth depends on are to be assessed from the first-order level.
Caligula lacks these features. If these judgements are first-order, what progress has been made? Well, what I have argued in this paper is that if expressivism is true, we cannot coherently think of ourselves as hopeless inquirers. Radical scepticism undermines itself, and so expressivists do not have to answer radically sceptical worries.
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Therein lies the epistemic advantage of expressivism over realism. In summary, on the expressivist picture I can doubt the truth of every single one of my judgements. What I cannot do, on pain of inconsistency, is believe my false ones are incapable of correction. If the possibility of being severed from the truth is what Egan is fighting for, I want no part of it.
It is far healthier to always believe we might be mistaken, and to always believe we can correct our mistakes. I have argued that quasi-realism fails. There are some first-order claims an expressivist cannot coherently deny. Far from being a reason to reject expressivism, this is a reason to favour it, as the expressivist has the beginnings of an answer to the moral sceptic.
What the moral truth actually is , expressivists do not say. Ask an ethicist — we remain silent on the matter. How do we find stability? In much the same ways as before: collect evidence, cohere your thoughts, become more sympathetic, reflect. After all, stability is the end of inquiry. This is not a very realist thing to say, and it is a limit on quasi-realism, but it is no bad thing. It only means expressivists must accept that, at the end of inquiry, truth will out. To think otherwise is to abandon hope. See Wright and especially Dreier who gave the problem of creeping minimalism its name.
Street argues that her Darwinian dilemma, and Dreier argues that the supervenience objection, applies just as equally to the quasi-realist as to the realist although see Toppinen for an argument that the quasi-realist can answer the supervenience challenge in a way the realist cannot. We are not identifying the truth with their judging so, or saying that moral truths are made true by the responses of ideal observers. We are simply saying that the best hypothetical observers believe truths.
No particular order of explanation is implied. Blackburn , pp. See Egan , p. The first modal operator is epistemic whereas the second and third are metaphysical. Thanks to Jimmy Lenman for this point. Thanks to Elinor Mason and Alex Gregory for raising this concern and to Daniel Elstein for helpful discussion of the response to it. I am grateful to Jimmy Lenman, Stephen Ingram, Lewis Brooks, Mike Ridge and Teemu Toppinen for valuable comments and discussion about this paper, and to audiences at the New Directions for Expressivism conference and the annual conference of the British Society of Ethical Theory for excellent feedback.
Skip to main content Skip to sections. Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. Error and the Limits of Quasi-Realism. Open Access. First Online: 12 November Contemporary expressivists tend to be uncomfortable about attributing widespread error to common sense. Blackburn began the quasi-realist project with the Wittgensteinian conviction that ordinary language is, by and large, just fine as it is.
It works. We should aim to keep moral thought and discourse intact, and if the philosopher cannot make sense of it, it is the philosopher who is more likely at fault. In the previous section, it is proposed that one need not be a moral realist if she is a cognitivist that believes moral judgments express moral truths and that the truths they express are truths because of a correspondence between the judgments and facts in the world.
The argument might attract the following response: such an antirealist position appears possible simply because it involves denying that there are any literal truths in moral discourse; even if cognitivism and moral truths that are obtained by employing a revisionary theory of meaning are considered to not be adequate for moral realism, then cognitivism and moral truths that are obtained on a literal understanding of moral language should be considered adequate for moral realism.
This section offers replies to such a potential response. The national economy last year was good, and the economic boom was manifested by consumer confidence. Consequently, the antirealist can say that because the S-statement expresses the S-feeling-proposition about the national economy and consumer confidence, nothing prevents the antirealist from adopting a correspondence conception of truth. Santa antirealists cannot acknowledge any Santa fact if such an acknowledgement presupposes the existence of Santa, the person.
The S-statement obviously express something other than the S-proposition, but is it the same with moral judgments and statements? The literal meaning of moral language now comes to the fore of the discussion. We seem to have run a full circle. The non-descriptivist and the non-cognitivist point out that moral language may manipulate us ontologically because it misleads us into thinking that moral statements describe the world: obviously, the Santa statement cannot be taken literally.
Even if it is unreasonable to insist on the literal interpretation of the S-statement, the same cannot be maintained with an equal confidence about moral statements. It is not obvious that moral language must not be taken literally. We are certain that there is no such living person as Santa Claus: that is why we can be certain that the S-statement cannot be taken literally.
Nonetheless, with respect to moral statements, the existence of moral facts is exactly the issue. As a result, we cannot be as certain about moral language as we are about the S-statement that it must not be taken literally.
Granted, one of the most deeply rooted realist and antirealist disagreements has been whether moral language expresses things literally. Should moral language be taken literally or in some revisionist fashion? Skorupski, an antirealist cognitivist, must maintain that moral language describes the world, yet it does not do so literally.
For instance, it expresses our ways of influencing others and ourselves.
Realists, on the other hand, must maintain that moral language describes the world, and it does so literally. Moral language comes with shades of normativity, but that does not entail that moral language cannot be taken literally. Instead, the logico-linguistic considerations prove that moral language is no different from ordinary declarative statements that express ordinary beliefs. How are we to decide between the two? Surely, it is difficult to decide between the two above-mentioned alternatives.
Language allows many things for us. For example, people sometimes disagree about whether an utterance expresses a genuine question or whether it expresses an assertion in the form of a rhetorical question. This indicates that it can be difficult to know when a statement is to be taken literally and when it is not. That is, literalism about moral language requires an independent footing. We presumably understand what moral statements express, if only in a rudimentary fashion. The disagreement about literalism may help explain why moral realists and antirealists often seem to talk past each other.
Nevertheless, attributing different meaning to moral terms fails to further our inquiry. At any rate, it does not seem feasible to make literalism a criterion for moral realism, especially when the difficulty associated with literalism about moral language is considered. Some moral judgments are literally true, but some truths are not known. It is sometimes thought that we get moral facts right, while others get them totally wrong. Is there any merit to such a claim? Does one ever know a certain moral judgments to be true?
We get some moral facts right sometimes, according to the realist. That is, we succeed in knowing certain moral judgments to be true. Moral realism implies some sort of literal success theory, and so moral knowledge is implied by it. Or, moral realism entails at least the possibility of such knowledge.
Error and the Limits of Quasi-Realism
Moral realists hold that we can have justified true moral beliefs, or that we can have warranted moral beliefs, according to some post-Gettier theories of knowledge. Some moral antirealists deny this. It is impossible to know something false as true! Moral skeptics hold that no moral judgments are justified or warranted. The epistemic success claim at once provokes epistemological questions: under what conditions are we ever justified or warranted in holding moral beliefs? And, how can we truly say that we have correct moral facts? In answer, some moral realists have adopted a coherentist theory of justification, while others have opted for foundationalism and intuitionism.
For instance, David Brink adopts coherentism in defense of a naturalist version of moral realism. See especially Brink , Naturalistic epistemology also deserves a serious consideration. See Kim, , and Quine, Some theories of justification are able to accommodate moral knowledge more easily than others. A causal theory of knowledge and justification, for instance, is ill suited for the task.
See Goldman, , and But it seems obvious that the belief that moral knowledge is possible can be maintained even with these externalist theories of justification. One can be justified in holding that Doctor Evil is no good if the judgment results from a reliable cognitive process, say, for example, the cognitive process that results in Austin Powers being good.
The possibility of moral knowledge does not entail moral realism, even though moral realism entails moral knowledge. As was shown above, there is nothing to stop the moral antirealist from claiming moral knowledge once she helps herself to cognitivism, moral truths, and some theory of justification. On the other hand, moral realists need not be shy about adopting an externalist epistemology either.
A naturalistic realist would hope that moral knowledge is on a par with empirical knowledge. The realist may even agree that the paradigm justification for empirical knowledge is perceptual and is thus causal. The moral realist would have to reject causal reductionism, according to which the causal power of the supervening facts is entirely reducible to that of base facts. Moral judgments are true just in case they correctly report the supervening facts that depend on the non-moral base facts. Moral realists maintain that some literal moral truths are known, or that we are justified in holding them.
But are moral facts—the supposed truth-makers of moral judgments—objective? It could be the case that no ethical judgments are true independently of the desires or emotions that we happen to have, or, there could be different yet valid answers to the same ethical question as ethical relativists insist. Neither subjectivists nor relativists are obliged to deny that there is literal moral knowledge. Of course, according to them, moral truths imply truths about human psychology. Moral realists must maintain that moral truths —and hence moral knowledge—do not depend on facts about our desires and emotions for their truth.
For instance, W. Having objective literal moral knowledge seems to be sufficient for moral realism because no moral antirealists would acknowledge the possibility of such knowledge. Figure 5 summarizes the results of the discussion from 1. Figure 5. We finally arrive at the definite moral realist position, which is marked by the oval box above. The combination of cognitivism, descriptivism, success theory, literalism, and objectivism seems sufficient for moral realism. Nonetheless, there are a couple of reasons why the moral realist territory is better marked by the explanationist consideration.
This consideration leads to explanationist moral realism according to which there must be moral facts because they are essential in our understanding of the world. Despite these categories, the advent of quasi-realism signals the new antirealist way. A quasi-realist can claim that cognitivism, descriptivism, moral truths, moral knowledge, and even moral objectivity, are within the antirealist camp. Quasi-realists such as R. Hare, Gilbert Harman, and Simon Blackburn promise to set people free from the unduly rigid ontology of moral realism, namely, the existence of moral facts.
It all sounds too good to be true, but such a possibility seems exciting: why insist on the existence of moral facts if all aspects of our moral practices, especially the realist-sounding ones, could be understood without the fact-multiplying realist ontology? Of course, the real question is this: is there anything significant that will be lost in our understanding of our moral practices if we were to settle for quasi-realism?
The possibility that the quasi-realist extends to people is that quasi-realism poses no serious threat to the moral realist position. However, this quasi-realist contention— that by siding with quasi-realism nothing significant will be lost in our understanding of our moral practices—is simply mistaken. The quasi-realist loses some of the best explanations of events, states of affairs, and phenomena within the world: the quasi-realist must reject folk moral explanations. This is so, it will be argued, because the quasi-realist cannot accommodate folk moral explanations without reducing them to naturalistic explanations.
Blackburn discusses derogatory judgments in his attempt to show how the quasi-realist allows for realist comforts. The quasi-realistic understanding of these judgments, according to Blackburn, allows for antirealist cognitivism about derogatory judgments, derogatory descriptivism, derogatory truth, derogatory knowledge, and even derogatory objectivity.
The same may be said of the quasi-realistic understanding of moral judgments: for example, the quasi-realist might be entitled to cognitivism when it comes to moral judgments, descriptivism when it comes to moral language, moral truth, moral knowledge, and the quasi-realist perhaps may even be entitled to moral objectivity. Analogously to the quasi-realism about derogatory judgments, Blackburn claims that quasi-realists are entitled to all these, without being committed to the existence of moral facts as part of the supposed fabric of the world. It consists partly of the judgment that Franz is German.
The Franz sentence expresses something true, namely, that Franz is a German insofar as it expresses nothing further about him. But the Franz sentence expresses more than just his nationality. It also expresses that Germans, including Franz, are fit objects of derision. The Franz sentence expresses something false because, according to Blackburn, the part that expresses the derogatory judgment is false. No one is a fit object of derision solely because of his nationality.
Consequently, the Franz statement describes the world falsely. What makes the Franz statement false? The quasi-realist may maintain that the truth or falsity of the Franz statement is to be determined by the existence or non-existence of the person toward whom it is appropriate to have such an attitude.
Since there is no such person, the Franz statement is false. Truth or falsity in derogatory judgments may be found in the way that they correspond or do not correspond to the world. Analogously, quasi-realists may earn the right to maintain cognitivism when it comes to moral judgments, descriptivism, moral truths, moral knowledge, moral objectivity, and so on. For the quasi-realist, the inner workings of moral language are such that they afford such realist-sounding expressions like moral truths without ever accepting the realist ontology.
The quasi-realist paints a rosy philosophical picture in which one can enjoy realist-sounding luxuries while not multiplying entities beyond necessity. Nonetheless, the nagging question remains: is it not better to have a real thing than to have a quasi-real thing, especially when the theoretical price is right? It is ethical relativism that wins Harman antirealist entitlements. Blackburn earns his spurs through projectivism that eventually allows for the ontological parsimony. But why do quasi-realists think their particular brand of antirealism is true?
Both Harman and Blackburn give a surprisingly unanimous explanation. They call it the explanatory inadequacy thesis of the moral and it addresses the comparative explanatory inferiority of moral facts, the total lack of explanatory power of moral facts, or explanatory reductionism. It is the inadequacy thesis that entitles the quasi-realist to the antirealist parsimony. To mark the moral realist territory in such a way that implies the irrelevance view the view that the explanatory inadequacy of moral facts does not constitute evidence against moral realism ignores the fact that it is primarily the inadequacy thesis that entitles the quasi-realist to anti-realism.
The explanatory power of moral facts is the only realist doctrine that is immune from quasi-realist debunking. It is puzzling for the quasi-realist to advance the explanatory inadequacy thesis since she has ample room for accommodating folk moral explanations. She only needs to appeal to the putative moral facts as though they are real. It gives her the right to use notions such as bivalence, moral truth, moral knowledge, and so on.
It seems rather arbitrary to stop at accommodating moral explanations. Such quasi-delicacies like quasi-moral-truths, quasi-moral-knowledge, or quasi-moral-objectivity allow for contemporary antirealist ways, but moral realists surely cannot rest content with them. A couple of ways moral realists do this is by asserting the existence of objective literal moral truths and explanationist moral realism.
On this inflated moral realism, the realist view turns out to be a jumble of 4 major theories in philosophy: cognitivism, descriptivism, literalism, and success theory. The correspondence theory of truth is neither necessary nor sufficient for moral realism as we saw above. A less inflated way of marking the realist territory would be advisable, should there be such a way. This is because quasi-realists insist that they are as much entitled to cognitivism, descriptivism, moral truth, moral knowledge and even moral objectivity as moral realists.
Their insistence effectively thwarts realist attempts at marking their territory by relying on the traditional disagreement between realists and antirealists mapped in figure 5. Explanationist moral realism has been suggested as a way of blocking the alleged quasi-realist masquerade. It focuses on the significance of having moral explanations.
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The explanationist moral realist holds that moral facts genuinely explain events and states of affairs in the world. In a rough and ready way, the explanationist realist maintains that there are moral facts because they explain non-moral events. However, her claim is debated even within the realist camp.
Shin Kim Email: skim hufs. Moral Realism The moral realist contends that there are moral facts, so moral realism is a thesis in ontology, the study of what is. The moral realist may argue for the view that there are moral facts as follows: 1 Moral sentences are sometimes true.
Therefore, 4 The things that make some moral sentences true must exist. Cognitivism If it is noncognitivism that provides the antirealist a way of rejecting moral truth, moral knowledge, and moral objectivity, the denial of noncognitivism that is, cognitivism must be necessary for the realist to properly claim them. Descriptivism Moral language and descriptive language share the same syntactic structure. This is captured as follows: C1 S is a moral realist if and only if S is a moral descriptivist.
Figure 1 Non-descriptivists disagree about exactly what moral language accomplishes, while they are unanimous about what it does not. Figure 3 The ontological ramification of accepting descriptivism or, cognitivism is not inevitably moral realism. Truth in Moral Judgments Moral statements express judgments, and for some, moral statements describe the world.
This is captured in C2: C2 S is a moral realist if and only if S is a descriptivist; S believes that moral judgments express truth, and S believes that the moral judgments are true when they correspond to the world. To sum up, consider the following five claims: The correspondence theory of truth is false or implausible. The correspondence theory of truth requires the truth of realism. The correspondence theory of truth is not required for realism and no particular theory of truth is. Literal Moral Truth?
Moral Knowledge Some moral judgments are literally true, but some truths are not known. Moral Objectivity Moral realists maintain that some literal moral truths are known, or that we are justified in holding them. Figure 5 We finally arrive at the definite moral realist position, which is marked by the oval box above.
An Analogy: Quasi-Realism about Derogatory Judgments Blackburn discusses derogatory judgments in his attempt to show how the quasi-realist allows for realist comforts. Quasi-Realism, Antirealism, and Explanationist Moral Realism The quasi-realist paints a rosy philosophical picture in which one can enjoy realist-sounding luxuries while not multiplying entities beyond necessity.
Moral Realism after Quasi-Realism Such quasi-delicacies like quasi-moral-truths, quasi-moral-knowledge, or quasi-moral-objectivity allow for contemporary antirealist ways, but moral realists surely cannot rest content with them. A Realist Conception of Truth. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Ayer, A. Language, Truth, and Logic.
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