chapter  4
35 Pages

Naïveté, corruption, and the method of balance and refinement

Having just spent a chapter arguing that the radical method of reflective equilibrium is the only rational method of moral inquiry, I now want to present some reasons for thinking that even it cannot claim to be an entirely rational method. My aim is not to push for some sort of skeptical conclusion by first arguing that reflective equilibrium is the only possibly rational method, and then pulling out the rug by arguing that even it falls short of being rational. And I hope that I do not suffer from some sort of perverse urge to assert contradictions. What, then, is the structure of the argument I am out to present? The argument of the last chapter may be understood in the following way. Both defenders and critics of reflective equilibrium seem to proceed on the basis of a tacit agreement as to what might be relevant to the rationality of moral inquiry. This agreement recognizes the following to be relevant to the rationality of moral inquiry: (i) the inquirer’s considered moral judgments, (ii) background philosophical theories, such as theories regarding the nature of persons and personal identity, (iii) background social scientific theories, such as theories regarding the role that a moral conception plays in a society, (iv) the various alternative moral theories that have been developed, and defended, within the inquirer’s cultural tradition, and possibly within alien traditions with which the inquirer’s tradition has had to interact, and, of course, (v) the various philosophical arguments that have been constructed for and against all these moral conceptions. In the last chapter, I did not question this tacit agreement as to what might be relevant to the rationality of moral inquiry. Proceeding on the basis of the agreement, I argued that while the method of radical reflective equilibrium does not exclude any of these features from playing a role in a person’s moral inquiry, where this is appropriate, any alternative method is liable arbitrarily to exclude something that ought to influence a person’s inquiry. Hence, no alternative to reflective equilibrium can guarantee that it will not lead an inquirer to make irrational revisions of belief. So ends the argument of the last chapter.