Simon Blackburn

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Simon Blackburn

Simon Blackburn.jpg
Blackburn at the 2017 Nobel Week Dialogue in Göteborg, Sweden
Born (1944-07-12) 12 July 1944 (age 75)
Alma mater
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Main interests
Notable ideas

Simon Blackburn FBA (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 has appeared in multiple episodes of the documentary series Closer to Truth . During his long career, he has taught at Oxford University, Cambridge University, and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.


Life and career

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.

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. [1] 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 [2] and a Foreign Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2008. [3]

He is a former editor of the journal Mind .

Philosophical work

In philosophy, he is best known as the proponent of quasi-realism in meta-ethics [4] and as a defender of neo-Humean views on a variety of topics. "The quasi-realist is someone who endorses an anti-realist metaphysical stance but who seeks, through philosophical maneuvering, to earn the right for moral discourse to enjoy all the trappings of realist talk." [4]

In 2008 The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy , which was authored by Blackburn, was published.

In 2014 Blackburn published Mirror, Mirror: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love, focusing on different philosophical aspects of self-love, discussing modern forms and manifestations of pride, amour-propre, integrity or self-esteem through various philosophical frameworks and ideas. [5]

Public philosophy

He makes occasional appearances in the British media, such as on BBC Radio 4's The Moral Maze .

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. [6]

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, [7] and has argued that "religionists" should have less influence in political affairs. [6] 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. [8]


Related Research Articles

In analytic philosophy, anti-realism is an epistemological position first articulated by British philosopher Michael Dummett. The term was coined as an argument against a form of realism Dummett saw as 'colorless reductionism'.

Problem of universals Philosophical question of whether properties exist, and if so, what they are

In philosophy and its sub-branch metaphysics, the problem of universals refers to the question of whether properties exist, and if so, what they are. Properties are qualities or relations that two or more entities have in common. The various kinds of properties, such as qualities and relations, are referred to as universals. For instance, one can imagine three cup holders on a table that have in common the quality of being circular or exemplifying circularity, or two daughters that have in common being the female offsprings of Frank. There are many such properties, such as being human, red, male or female, liquid, big or small, taller than, father of, etc. While philosophers agree that human beings talk and think about properties, they disagree on whether these universals exist in reality or merely in thought, speech and sight.

Morality differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are distinguished as proper and those that are improper

Morality is the differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are distinguished as proper and those that are improper. Morality can be a body of standards or principles derived from a code of conduct from a particular philosophy, religion or culture, or it can derive from a standard that a person believes should be universal. Morality may also be specifically synonymous with "goodness" or "rightness".

Moral realism is the position that ethical sentences express propositions that refer to objective features of the world, some of which may be true to the extent that they report those features accurately. This makes moral realism a non-nihilist form of ethical cognitivism with an ontological orientation, standing in opposition to all forms of moral anti-realism and moral skepticism, including ethical subjectivism, error theory ; and non-cognitivism. Within moral realism, the two main subdivisions are ethical naturalism and ethical non-naturalism.

John McDowell South African philosopher and academic

John Henry McDowell is a South African philosopher, formerly a fellow of University College, Oxford and now University Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Although he has written extensively on metaphysics, epistemology, ancient philosophy, and meta-ethics, McDowell's most influential work has been in the philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. McDowell was one of three recipients of the 2010 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Distinguished Achievement Award, and is a Fellow of both the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the British Academy.

Bernard Williams English moral philosopher

Sir Bernard Arthur Owen Williams, FBA was an English moral philosopher. His publications include Problems of the Self (1973), Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (1985), Shame and Necessity (1993), and Truth and Truthfulness (2002). He was knighted in 1999.

Moral nihilism is the meta-ethical view that nothing is morally right or wrong.

In metaphysics, realism about a given object is the view that this object exists in reality independently of our conceptual scheme. In philosophical terms, these objects are ontologically independent of someone's conceptual scheme, perceptions, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc.

In meta-ethics, expressivism is a theory about the meaning of moral language. According to expressivism, sentences that employ moral terms – for example, "It is wrong to torture an innocent human being" – are not descriptive or fact-stating; moral terms such as "wrong", "good", or "just" do not refer to real, in-the-world properties. The primary function of moral sentences, according to expressivism, is not to assert any matter of fact, but rather to express an evaluative attitude toward an object of evaluation. Because the function of moral language is non-descriptive, moral sentences do not have any truth conditions. Hence, expressivists either do not allow that moral sentences have truth value, or rely on a notion of truth that does not appeal to any descriptive truth conditions being met for moral sentences.

Michael Andrew Smith is an Australian philosopher who teaches at Princeton University. He taught previously at the University of Oxford, Monash University, and was a member of the Philosophy Program at the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University. He is the author of a number of important books and articles in moral philosophy. In 2013, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Evolutionary ethics Field of inquiry that explores how evolutionary theory might bear on our understanding of ethics or morality.

Evolutionary ethics is a field of inquiry that explores how evolutionary theory might bear on our understanding of ethics or morality. The range of issues investigated by evolutionary ethics is quite broad. Supporters of evolutionary ethics have claimed that it has important implications in the fields of descriptive ethics, normative ethics, and metaethics.

Cornell realism is a view in meta-ethics, associated with the work of Richard Boyd, Nicholas Sturgeon, and David Brink. There is no recognized and official statement of Cornell realism, but several theses are associated with the view.

Quasi-realism is the meta-ethical view which claims that:

  1. Ethical sentences do not express propositions.
  2. Instead, ethical sentences project emotional attitudes as though they were real properties.

Peter Albert Railton is an American philosopher who is Gregory S. Kavka Distinguished University Professor and John Stephenson Perrin Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he has taught since 1979.

Julia Elizabeth Annas is a British philosopher who has taught in the United States for the last quarter-century. She is Regents Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona.

Geoffrey Sayre-McCord American philosopher

Geoffrey Sayre-McCord is a philosopher who works in moral theory, meta-ethics, the history of ethics, and epistemology. He teaches at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is also the director of the Philosophy, Politics and Economics Society.

Mark de Bretton Platts is a philosopher at the Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. He is well known for criticizing the Humean theory of motivation, especially in his book Ways of Meaning (1979/1997).

Objectivity is a philosophical concept of being true independently from individual subjectivity caused by perception, emotions, or imagination. A proposition is considered to have objective truth when its truth conditions are met without bias caused by a sentient subject. Scientific objectivity refers to the ability to judge without partiality or external influence, sometimes used synonymously with neutrality.

John Michael Rist is a British scholar of ancient philosophy, classics, and early Christian philosophy and theology, known mainly for his contributions to the history of metaphysics and ethics. He is the author of monographs on Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Epicurus, Plotinus, the dating of the Gospels, and Augustine. Rist is Professor of Classics Emeritus at the University of Toronto, part-time Visiting Professor at the Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum in Rome, holds the Father Kurt Pritzl, O.P., Chair in Philosophy at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and is a life member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University. During his lengthy academic career he has also been Regius Professor of Classics at the University of Aberdeen (1983-1996), and the Lady David Visiting Professor in Philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (1995).

Sharon Street is a Professor of Philosophy and Associate Chair of the Department of Philosophy at New York University. She specializes in metaethics, focusing in particular on how to reconcile our understanding of normativity with a scientific conception of the world.


  1. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 January 2015. Retrieved 26 July 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. "Cambridge academics elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences". 30 April 2008. Retrieved 10 February 2018.
  4. 1 2
  5. Besser-Jones, Lorraine (1 September 2014). "Review of Mirror, Mirror: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love". Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. ISSN   1538-1617.
  6. 1 2 Philosophy Now's interview with Simon Blackburn, November 2013, accessible here
  7. "Letters: Harsh judgments on the pope and religion". The Guardian. London. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  8. Timothy Havener (27 April 2012). "The Great Debate - Can Science Tell Us Right From Wrong? (FULL)" . Retrieved 10 February 2018 via YouTube.