Simon Blackburn
Blackburn in 2017
Born (1944-07-12) 12 July 1944 (age 79)
Alma mater
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
Academic advisorsCasimir Lewy
Doctoral students
Main interests
Notable ideas

Simon Walter 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. In 2004, he delivered the Gifford Lectures on Reason's Empire at the University of Glasgow.[3] He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2002[4] and a Foreign Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2008.[5]

He is a former editor of the journal Mind.[6]

Philosophical work

In philosophy, he is best known as the proponent of quasi-realism in meta-ethics[7] 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."[7]

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.[8]

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.[9]

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,[10] and has argued that "religionists" should have less influence in political affairs.[9]

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]

In a televised debate, Blackburn argued against the position of the author and podcaster Sam Harris that morality can be derived straightforwardly from science.[12]



  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. ^ "The Glasgow Gifford Lectures". University of Glasgow.
  4. ^ "Sections - British Academy". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  5. ^ "Cambridge academics elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences". 30 April 2008. Retrieved 10 February 2018.
  6. ^ "CHANGE OF EDITOR". Mind. XCIII (372): 640. 1 October 1984. Retrieved 23 September 2022.
  7. ^ a b "Moral Anti-Realism > Projectivism and Quasi-realism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)". Archived from the original on 1 May 2020. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  8. ^ Besser-Jones, Lorraine (1 September 2014). "Review of Mirror, Mirror: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love". Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. ISSN 1538-1617.
  9. ^ a b Philosophy Now's interview with Simon Blackburn, November 2013, accessible here
  10. ^ "Letters: Harsh judgments on the pope and religion". The Guardian. London. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  11. ^ "We will not bow to trans activist bullies on campus".
  12. ^ 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.