Philosophical Studies 166 (2):243-256 (2013)

Kenneth Walden
Dartmouth College
Recent years have seen a rekindling of interest in the method of reflective equilibrium. Most of this attention has been suspicious, however. Critics have alleged that the method is nothing more than a high-minded brand of navel-gazing, that it suffers from all the classic problems of inward-looking coherence theories, and that it overestimates the usefulness of self-scrutiny. In this paper I argue that these criticisms miss their mark because they labor under crucial misconceptions about the method of reflective equilibrium. In defending reflective equilibrium I put forward a handful of theses about the nature of inquiry (or, more generally, norm-governed enterprises) that form the backdrop to the method. The critics’ objections fall short, I argue, because they do not recognize reflective equilibrium’s embrace of these theses. Confronting these objections and understanding why they fail brings us to a better understanding what, exactly, the method of reflective equilibrium is. The answer I come to in the final section of the paper is that the method of reflective equilibrium is not, exactly, anything. It is a mistake to try to give a positive characterization of the view, to identify it with a concern with a particular species of data, particular procedures and methods, or even a particular conception of normative success. Instead, it should be understood as the denial of essentialism about just these matters—as a form of anti-essentialism about our epistemic inputs, methods, and goals
Keywords Reflective equilibrium  Justification  Coherence  Normativity
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s11098-012-0025-2
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 72,607
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Fact, Fiction, and Forecast.Nelson Goodman - 1955 - Harvard University Press.
The Sources of Normativity.Christine M. Korsgaard - 1996 - Cambridge University Press.
Philosophical Papers.David Kellogg Lewis - 1983 - Oxford University Press.

View all 21 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Reflective Equilibrium and Moral Objectivity.Sem de Maagt - 2017 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 60 (5):443-465.

View all 11 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Is Reflective Equilibrium a Coherentist Model?Roger P. Ebertz - 1993 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 23 (2):193 - 214.
Reflective Quilibrium.Massimo Pigliucci - 2012 - Philosophy Now 88 (Jan/Feb):27-27.
Ethics and Intuitions: A Reply to Singer.Joakim Sandberg & Niklas Juth - 2011 - The Journal of Ethics 15 (3):209-226.
Is Reflective Equilibrium Enough?Thomas Kelly & Sarah McGrath - 2010 - Philosophical Perspectives 24 (1):325-359.
Grounding Rights and a Method of Reflective Equilibrium.Kai Nielsen - 1982 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 25 (3):277 – 306.


Added to PP index

Total views
192 ( #62,808 of 2,533,641 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
3 ( #199,500 of 2,533,641 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes