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Encyclopedia > Reflective equilibrium
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Reflective equilibrium is a state of balance or coherence among a set of beliefs arrived at by a process of deliberative mutual adjustment among general principles and particular judgments. Although he did not use the term, the method of reflective equilibrium was first introduced by philosopher Nelson Goodman as an approach to justifying the principles of inductive logic. The term 'reflective equilibrium' was coined by John Rawls and popularized in his celebrated A Theory of Justice as a method for arriving at the content of the principles of justice. A judgment or judgement, in a legal context, is synonymous with the formal decision made by a court following legal proceedings. ... This article needs to be wikified. ... Theory of justification is that part of epistemology that attempts to understand the justification of statements and beliefs. ... John Rawls (February 21, 1921 – November 24, 2002) was an American philosopher, a professor of political philosophy at Harvard University and author of A Theory of Justice (1971), Political Liberalism, and The Law of Peoples. ...

Rawls argues that human beings have a "sense of justice" which is both a source of moral judgment and moral motivation. In Rawls's theory, we begin with "considered judgments" that arise from the sense of justice. These may be judgments about general moral principles (of any level of generality) or specific moral cases. If our judgments conflict in some way, we proceed by adjusting our various beliefs until they are in "equilibrium," which is to say that they are stable, not in conflict, and provide consistent practical guidance. Rawls argues that a set of moral beliefs in ideal reflective equilibrium describes or characterizes the underlying principles of the human sense of justice. Jump to: navigation, search Allegory of Justice as woman with sword and with book - statue at court building. ...

An example of the method of reflective equilibrium may be useful. Suppose Zachary believes in the general principle of always obeying the commands in the Bible. Suppose also that he thinks that it is not ethical to stone people to death merely for being Wiccan. These views may come into conflict (see Exodus 22:18). If they do, Zachary will then have several choices. He can discard his general principle in search of a better one (for example, only obeying the Ten Commandments), modify his general principle (for example, choosing a different translation of the Bible, or deciding to interpret the commands figuratively), or change his opinions about the point in question to conform with his theory (by deciding that witches really should be killed). Whatever the decision, he has moved toward reflective equilibrium. Jump to: navigation, search The Bible (sometimes The Book, Good Book, Word of God, or Scripture), from Greek (τα) βιβλια, (ta) biblia, (the) books, plural of βιβλιον, biblion, book, originally a diminutive of βιβλος, biblos, which in turn is derived from βυβλος—byblos, meaning papyrus, from the ancient Phoenician city of Byblos which exported this... Stoning is a form of capital punishment in which the convicted criminal is put to death by having stones thrown at them, generally by a crowd. ... For the book series Wicca see Sweep (book series) and Circle Of Three. ... Christian views on witchcraft arise from scriptural, theological, and historical considerations. ... Jump to: navigation, search The Ten Commandments on a monument in the grounds of the Texas State Capitol This 1768 parchment (612x502 mm) by Jekuthiel Sofer emulated 1675 decalogue at the Esnoga synagogue of Amsterdam The Ten Commandments, or Decalogue, is a list of religious and moral imperatives which, according...

Reflective equilibrium serves an important justificatory function within Rawls's political theory. The nature of this function, however, is disputed. The dominant view, best exemplified by the work of Norman Daniels and Thomas Scanlon, is that the method of reflective equilibrium is a kind of coherentist method for the epistemic justification of moral beliefs. However, in other writings, Rawls seems to argue that his theory bypasses traditional metaethical questions, including questions of moral epistemology, and is intended instead to serve a practical function. This provides some motivation for a different view of the justificatory role of reflective equilibrium. On this view, the method of reflective equilibrium serves its justificatory function by linking together the cognitive and motivational aspects of the human sense of justice in the appropriate way. Rawls argues that candidate principles of justice cannot be justified unless they are shown to be stable. Principles of justice are stable if, among other things, the members of society regard them as authoritative and reliably compliant with them. The method of reflective equilibrium determines a set of principles rooted in the human sense of justice, which is a capacity that both provides the material for the process of reflective equilibration and our motivation to adhere to principles we judge morally sound. The method of reflective equilibrium serves the aim of defining a realistic and stable social order by determining a practically coherent set of principles that are grounded in the right way in the source of our moral motivation, such that we will be disposed to comply with them. As Fred D'Agostino puts it, stable principles of justice will require considerable "up-take" by the members of society. The method of reflective equilibrium provides a way of settling on principles that will achieve the kind of "up-take" necessary for stability.

Reflective equilibrium is not static; it will change as the individual considers his opinions about individual issues or explores the consequences of his principles.

Rawls applied this technique to his conception of a hypothetical original position from which people would agree to a social contract. He arrived at the conclusion that the optimal theory of justice is the one to which people would agree from behind a veil of ignorance, not knowing their social positions. See the article on John Rawls for more information about his theory. The original position is a hypothetical situation created by philosopher John Rawls as a thought experiment. ... For political policies of the same name see Bob Raes Social Contract (Ontario) and Harold Wilsons Social Contract (Britain) Social contract is a phrase used in philosophy, political science, and sociology to denote a real or hypothetical agreement within a state regarding the rights and responsibilities of the... The veil of ignorance is a concept introduced by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice. ... John Rawls (February 21, 1921 – November 24, 2002) was an American philosopher, a professor of political philosophy at Harvard University and author of A Theory of Justice (1971), Political Liberalism, and The Law of Peoples. ...

See Also

Consistency has three technical meanings: In mathematics and logic, as well as in theoretical physics, it refers to the proposition that a formal theory or a physical theory contains no contradictions. ...

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  Results from FactBites:
Reflective Equilibrium (6984 words)
Still, he comments that seeking a reflective equilibrium that merely irons out minor incoherence in a person's system of beliefs is not really the use of the method that is of true philosophical interest in ethics, just as we saw it might not be in the case of justifying logical inferences.
The effect of both institutions and reflection about internal disagreements about doctrine is that reasonable comprehensive world views can find room, from within their own perspectives, for a wide reflective equilibrium that includes the elements of public reason (the political reflective equilibrium) and a willingness to engage in public methods of justification for them.
Proponents of reflective equilibrium might reject the requirement by suggesting it is premature to ask for such a story in ethics or by claiming that we can provide no analogous causal story for credible judgments we make in other areas, including mathematics or logic.
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