Reflective Equilibrium as a Normative Empirical Model

Ethical Perspectives 17 (2):183-202 (2010)
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Abstract

People who work and live in a certain moral practice usually possess a specific form of moral wisdom. If we manage to incorporate their moral intuitions in ethical reasoning, we can arrive at judgements and theories that grasp a moral experience that generally cannot be found outside the said practice. To achieve this goal, we need a legitimate way to balance moral intuitions, ethical principles and general theories. In the present contribution, we describe a version of the model of Reflective Equilibrium, which we call the Normative-Empirical Reflective Equilibrium . RE provides a framework for ethical thinking that includes both moral experience and normative theory.After an outline of the model, we focus on the role of empirical research and illustrate how empirical data on moral intuitions can add to the comprehensiveness of the set of moral beliefs in NE-RE. Subsequently, we describe how coherence among the elements of an NE-RE can be understood and measured. Finally, we address an important question for any method of moral reasoning: what is the status of the outcome of the reasoning process? This is a matter of justification. We argue for a so-called good reasoning-justified outcome strategy in NE-RE. This strategy is built on a reasoning process in which the reason-giving force of each element is tested and weighed. The thinker has to work towards a coherent view in which only the elements with sufficient justificatory power are retained. If the thinker decides that the elements fit together into a coherent view, a reflective equilibrium is reached. NE-RE is an attempt to describe a model for moral reasoning that can profit from the moral wisdom present among experienced agents through the use of empirical research

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