Antirealist Expressivism and Quasi-Realism

Simon Blackburn

Edited by David Copp

in The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory

Published in print December 2005 | ISBN: 9780195147797
Published online February 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780199785841 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Antirealist Expressivism and Quasi-Realism

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Expressivism is the view that the function of normative sentences is not to represent a kind of fact, but to avow attitudes, prescribe behavior, or the like. The idea can be found in David Hume. In the 20th century, G.E. Moore’s Open Question Argument provided important support for the view. Elizabeth Anscombe introduced the notion of “direction of fit,” which helped distinguish expressivism from a kind of naive subjectivism. The central advantage of expressivism is that it easily explains the motivational force of moral conviction. Its chief problem is it has difficulty explaining the “realist surface” of moralizing. Quasi-realism is a strategy for explaining the realist surface without abandoning the underlying ideas of expressivism. It aims to explain moral error as well as deal with the so-called Frege-Geach problem. This chapter explains quasi-realism, and evaluates it by comparison with its chief rivals: Aristotelian approaches, Kantian approaches, realist moral naturalism, and fictionalism.

Keywords: Elizabeth Anscombe; Aristotelianism; A.J. Ayer; direction of fit; error theory; expresssivism; fictionalism; Frege-Geach Problem; R.M. Hare; David Hume

Chapter.  8100 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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