Reflective Equilibrium – Reconception and Application

How can ethical requirements and recommendations be justified? Contemporary moral philosophy frequently offers the so-called reflective equilibrium as an answer. In this project, we work out the details of the method of reflective equilibrium, apply it to an important ethical issue in a case-study and evaluate the method.

Aims of the project: 

John Rawls has suggested that answers to ethical questions be based upon a reflective equilibrium. To follow the method, one has to start out with judgements concerning the rightness of actions, find systematic principles that account for these judgements and reapply these principles to new cases; if conflicts result between judgements and principles, both of them have to be adjusted until an equilibrium is reached. But what exactly is meant by an equilibrium in this context? Which judgements should we start out with? And what counts as a systematic principle? The first goal of this project is to answer such questions, to develop a more precise account of the method and to clarify important aspects of it, partly with the help of formal techniques. Secondly, the resulting account will be tested in a case-study in which the method is applied to an important problem in climate ethics. Thirdly, the project aims at a re-evaluation of the method of reflective equilibrium. We will take into account objections against it in the literature, but also draw on the results of our case study.

Scientific and social context: 

The project investigates a promising method for developing justified solutions of conflicts in theoretical as well as in applied ethics. Since current societies are facing serious ethical challenges, the project also contributes to a methodological basis for discussing problems of a broader societal relevance.



The project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.