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 78)
Alma mater
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Academic advisors Casimir Lewy
Doctoral students
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 1969 from Churchill College, Cambridge. [1]

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. [2] 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 [3] and a Foreign Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2008. [4]

He is a former editor of the journal Mind . [5]

Philosophical work

In philosophy, he is best known as the proponent of quasi-realism in meta-ethics [6] 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." [6]

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. [7]

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. [8]

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, [9] and has argued that "religionists" should have less influence in political affairs. [8] At the same time, he has also argued, in a televised debate, against the position of the antitheist author and philosopher Sam Harris that morality can be derived from science. [10]

He was one of 240 academics to sign a letter to the Equality and Human Rights Commission opposing 'radical gender orthodoxy', published in The Sunday Times. [11]


Related Research Articles

In analytic philosophy, anti-realism is a position which encompasses many varieties such as metaphysical, mathematical, semantic, scientific, moral and epistemic. The term was first articulated by British philosopher Michael Dummett in an argument against a form of realism Dummett saw as 'colorless reductionism'.

Moral relativism or ethical relativism is a term used to describe several philosophical positions concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different peoples and their own particular cultures. An advocate of such ideas is often labeled simply as a relativist for short. In detail, descriptive moral relativism holds only that people do, in fact, disagree fundamentally about what is moral, with no judgment being expressed on the desirability of this. Meta-ethical moral relativism holds that in such disagreements, nobody is objectively right or wrong. Normative moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, everyone ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when considerably large disagreements about the morality of particular things exist.

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.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Moral nihilism</span> Philosophical view that nothing is morally right or wrong

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

Philosophical realism is usually not treated as a position of its own but as a stance towards other subject matters. Realism about a certain kind of thing is the thesis that this kind of thing has mind-independent existence, i.e. that it is not just a mere appearance in the eye of the beholder. This includes a number of positions within epistemology and metaphysics which express that a given thing instead exists independently of knowledge, thought, or understanding. This can apply to items such as the physical world, the past and future, other minds, and the self, though may also apply less directly to things such as universals, mathematical truths, moral truths, and thought itself. However, realism may also include various positions which instead reject metaphysical treatments of reality entirely.

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.

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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.

Projectivism in philosophy involves attributing (projecting) qualities to an object as if those qualities actually belong to it. It is a theory for how people interact with the world and has been applied in both ethics and general philosophy. There are several forms of projectivism.

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  1. "Professor Simon Blackburn FBA". Churchill College Cambridge. Retrieved 23 September 2022. He was a slightly younger contemporary of Edward Craig as a Philosophy undergraduate at Trinity College (Cambridge), and he obtained his first position as a professional philosopher at Churchill College in 1967 when he became a Junior Research Fellow. Simon left Churchill for Oxford two years later.
  2. "Professor Simon Blackburn | NCH". Archived from the original on 25 January 2015. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
  3. "Sections - British Academy". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  4. "Cambridge academics elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences". 30 April 2008. Retrieved 10 February 2018.
  5. "CHANGE OF EDITOR". Mind. XCIII (372): 640. 1 October 1984. Retrieved 23 September 2022.
  6. 1 2 "Moral Anti-Realism > Projectivism and Quasi-realism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)". Archived from the original on 1 May 2020. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  7. Besser-Jones, Lorraine (1 September 2014). "Review of Mirror, Mirror: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love". Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. ISSN   1538-1617.
  8. 1 2 Philosophy Now's interview with Simon Blackburn, November 2013, accessible here
  9. "Letters: Harsh judgments on the pope and religion". The Guardian. London. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  10. Timothy Havener (27 April 2012). "The Great Debate - Can Science Tell Us Right From Wrong? (FULL)". Archived from the original on 15 March 2013. Retrieved 10 February 2018 via YouTube.
  11. "We will not bow to trans activist bullies on campus".