Reflective equilibrium and the 'moral conservatism' objection

Reflective equilibrium is widely accepted as a method of justifying ethical beliefs. Narrow reflective equilibrium justifies moral beliefs by achieving coherence between moral principles and moral judgments. However, this theory has been accused of moral conservatism objection; that is, moral beliefs may appear to be coherent but wrong. What are the normative grounds for criticizing implausible beliefs that seem to be in equilibrium? Wide reflective equilibrium has been the traditional attempt to respond to the conservatism objection. It adds non-moral beliefs into the coherence. All our moral principles, moral judgments, and non-moral beliefs must be in balance. If there is incoherence in our system of beliefs, adjustments must be made to one or more of our beliefs to return our beliefs into equilibrium. However, wide reflective equilibrium is also susceptible to the moral conservatism objection. All our beliefs may seem to be coherent but lead to implausible results. In this thesis, I argue that a modified wide reflective equilibrium theory is a better response to the moral conservatism objection. My theory of modified wide reflective equilibrium adds two other elements into the equilibrium: background social and economic conditions, and formative experiences. By background social and economic conditions I mean to include social, economic, technological, political, institutional, and legal conditions that influence our beliefs. They give rise to new moral issues and color old moral issues in a new light. They highlight moral issues not previously noticed and uncover hidden inconsistencies. Formative experiences are actual or vicarious experiences of situations that generate moral issues. By formative experiences we become more competent in judging the salient facts, the interrelationships of data, the motivations of actions, and the consequences of our decisions. Adding conditions and experiences to the equation helps challenge implausible ideas and better responds to the moral conservatism objection
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