Two features of Blackburn’s quasirealism will be relevant to our later discussion. First, quasirealism is based on projectivism. Human beings have conative, action-motivating mental states, such as emotions and preferences. We then “project” such inner states onto the external world, giving expression to these states in a property-ascribing way. For instance, one can express one’s commitment to the obligation to alleviate suffering by uttering “Torture is wrong”, where the property ascription “is wrong” does not pick out any worldly entity. Second, quasirealism respects the phenomenology of moral objectivity: even if we acknowledge the human-dependent origin of moral practices, such acknowledgement would not weaken our commitments to moral obligations. Quasirealists are willing to assert counterfactuals like the following:
[Quasirealist Counterfactual] “even if we had approved of it or enjoyed it or desired to do it, bear-baiting would still have been wrong…it is not our enjoyments or approvals to which you should look in discovering whether bear-baiting is wrong (it is at least mainly the effect on the bear).” (Blackburn, 1993, p. 153)
That is to say, regardless of how we feel, the wrongness of bearbaiting is always tied to the bad effects and pain inflicted on the bear.
Where does quasirealism stand with regard to Asay’s account of realism? It is essentially an anti-realist theory, yet it maintains a strong hold on realist notions: on the one hand, the projectivist elements of quasirealism let us “gild and stain” the world with moral properties, making the theory anti-realist; on the other hand, as is demonstrated in [Quasirealist Counterfactual], quasirealism resembles realism in its insistence on moral objectivity. Asay explains the dual character of quasirealism with the following example. Consider the moral truth < Kicking dogs is wrong > . Suppose naturalist realists take an object, a, to be the truthmaker. The object a is a perfectly naturalistic entity: the existence of a causes pain in dogs, which is enough to necessitate < Kicking dogs is wrong > (Asay, 2020, 162). The object a is a pain-producer, which, strictly speaking, is different from pain. However, to simplify the discussion, Asay sometimes uses a and pain interchangeably.
This example shows that, if focusing solely on the truthmaker cited by a quasirealist for moral truths, we would not hesitate to label this theory as realist. How could it still be anti-realist? This is where Asay’s condition (iii) comes into play. Condition (iii) states that a realist theory has “to maintain that those truths are true in virtue of that ontology in a relevant fashion”. What makes Blackburn’s theory anti-realist is therefore that he maintains moral truths are true in virtue of a naturalist realist ontology in an anti-realist fashion.
The contrast between a realist fashion and an anti-realist fashion of truthmaking is never explicitly stated. Instead, Asay articulates this contrast, in five different places, by explaining what distinguishes quasirealism from realism. The ways in which the realist/quasirealist contrast is formulated are quite diverse. The relevant passages share a common feature: what makes Blackburn’s theory different from realism is his account of the relation between a moral truth and its truthmaker. Other than this point, these paragraphs seem to be discussing quite different questions.
Table 1 is a summary of the questions under discussion in each of the five paragraphs, with the respective answers from realists and quasirealists:
Each pair of answers is an attempt to cash out the contrast of “fashions” as required by the condition (iii). However, it is still hard to pin down the core requirement of condition (iii) because, strictly speaking, these questions are about quite different things. Take the questions raised by [A] and [D] for example. Asking “how x gets to be y” invites quite different answers from asking “how the fact that x is y uncovered to us” (compare this pair of question, for instance, with “how Tokyo gets to be the host for the 2020 Olympic Game” and “how the fact that Tokyo is the host is uncovered to us”). [A] and [E] also concern different subjects: [E] is reflecting on the kind of activity we engage in when we ask questions like the one in [A]. It is therefore hard to pin down what condition (iii) is asking for.
This lack of clarity of condition (iii) puts pressure on Asay’s account of realism. In the following sections, I consider 3 interpretations of condition (iii).
One apparent constraint on the interpretation is that the reading should be consistent with the theoretical commitments of both Blackburn’s quasirealism and Asay’s truthmaking theory. Another constraint is that quasirealism and realism do not disagree over what truthmakers should be cited for a moral truth. This is important because the “gild and stain” metaphor makes it sound like that quasirealist’s truthmaker is not pain per se, but pain gilded by our sentiments. But this is to take quasirealism as a form of error theory, which quasirealists like Blackburn explicitly deny.