Quasi-realism, sensibility theory, and ethical relativism

Inquiry 43 (4):413 – 427 (2000)
Abstract
This paper is a reply to Simon Blackburn's 'Is Objective Moral Justification Possible on a Quasi-realist Foundation?' Inquiry 42 (1999), pp. 213-28. Blackburn attempts to show how his version of non-cognitivism - quasi-realist projectivism - can evade the threat of ethical relativism, the thought that all ways of living are as ethically good as each other and every ethical judgment is as ethically true as any other. He further attempts to show that his position is superior in this respect to, amongst other accounts, sensibility theory (or 'secondary quality' theory). According to Blackburn, sensibility theory succumbs easily to the relativistic challenge because it depends on some 'substantive' notion of truth. It is agreed with Blackburn that the threat of relativism is less of a threat to him than at first appears, although I think that it retains some menace, but not agreed that sensibility theorists cannot also counter the threat of relativism (although, again, ethical relativism retains some menace in the face of the sensibility theorist's reply). The point is that the threat of ethical relativism depends less on truth than Blackburn supposes. Thus sensibility theorists can counter ethical relativism in much the same way that quasi-realist projectivists can.
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