chapter  1
32 Pages

The method of reflective equilibrium and the no contact with reality objection

The most widely discussed coherence method of moral inquiry is the method of wide reflective equilibrium, first described by John Rawls1 and later elaborated by Norman Daniels.2 The ultimate aim of this method is to bring a person’s moral beliefs to a point where her considered moral judgments about particular cases and about general principles are explicated3 by a simple and elegant moral theory that coheres with her broader philosophical outlook better than theories that capture alternative moral conceptions. As a person attempts to bring this sort of order to her moral beliefs, none of the component types4 of belief are immune to revision. If the person’s judgment regarding a particular action runs counter to what is entailed for that case by a general principle she accepts, it is an open question whether the particular judgment or the general principle should be retained. Should the person realize that a much simpler moral theory would satisfactorily explicate a set of considered judgments only slightly different from those she now accepts, this may lead her to alter her considered judgments, but it need not. Even if the person is confronted with a philosophical argument against a moral theory, say an argument based on her conception of a person, she will not necessarily reject the moral theory. She may just as well choose to revise her conception of a person. Thus, reflective equilibrium favors no type of belief, requiring instead that conflicts be resolved on a case-by-case basis, by appeal to such factors as the degree to which the inquirer is committed to the conflicting propositions, and the connections between these propositions and the other propositions she accepts or rejects.