Quasi-realism is the view that moral statements are non-cognitive because they actually express emotions or prescriptions or some other non-cognitive state, but that people generally intend and interpret moral statements as cognitive, as being either true or false. To use an example, while the statement “it is good to give to the poor” is generally intended to convey that one has a duty to give to the poor by operation of a moral law independent of and preexisting oneself and any of one’s subjective preferences or inclinations, and is intended as a proposition (i.e., a statement that can be found to be true or false), in fact the statement in question does not entail a proposition. Rather, according to quasi-realism, while the statement “it is good to give to the poor” is intended by most people who say it to communicate a proposition, in reality it is a statement of emotion (i.e., what it really says is “Yay, giving to the poor!”), prescription (i.e., “Give to the poor!”), or another statement that cannot be determined to be true or false.

My position is that every moral statement intended as a statement of truth, as a statement of “the way things are,” is false or at least impossible to verify. While this puts me at odds with quasi-realism, at least on this (admittedly central) point, I nevertheless find much to commend in quasi-realism. Given that there are, as far as I can tell, no objective or universal moral standards, and that all people who believe there are such standards are mistaken, it makes sense to treat all moral statements as non-cognitive in practice.

Of course, those making moral statements they believe to be capable of truth-determination would likely object to taking their statements as non-cognitive, and would likely insist that they are not merely stating their own emotional preferences or making mere prescriptive statements. But if I am correct (as I obviously believe I am) that there are no objective or universal moral standards, then some form of non-cognitivism becomes the only way to continue to evaluate and try to make sense of such statements after they have been determined to be false.

Put another way, if all moral statements intended as truth-statements are false, this completely disposes of the issue of their validity or invalidity as a metaphysical matter. But the psychological bases and ramifications of morality would still not be understood, and indeed could only be understood by reference to forms of human behavior that themselves are neither true nor false (while observations of those behaviors could be falsified, the behaviors themselves could not be).

It may well make sense to take a short cut and get to the point of only considering the psychological bases and ramifications of morality in the first place rather than continuing to debate cognitive meta-ethical theories ad nauseum. This is precisely what quasi-realism does. However, everyone participating in the particular moral discourse in question would still need to agree in rejecting moral realism and universal forms of ethical subjectivism before this “short cut” could be made in a way that was agreeable to all participants of the discourse in question.