Dear philosophers, I've been told that instead of looking for objective moral facts, many philosophers see the task of ethics as bringing intuitions into "reflective equilibrium". But if intuitions aren't a sort of sixth sense that allows people to perceive moral facts, and are merely behavioural tendencies from nature and nurture, why ought we try to systematise them? What special authority do they have, and why <a href="">duree action viagra</a> should we care about them?

I think there may some some false dichotomies afoot here.

Most of us think there are some first-order moral facts. For example: I may think (I do, actually) that torturing people just for fun is wrong. However, if I'm doing moral philosophy, I'm not trying to assemble a collection of first-order moral truths. I'm trying to present an account of (for instance) what makes things right or wrong. And so I offer some general view—for example, some version of utilitarianism, perhaps. But how do we decide whether my theory is correct? What counts as evidence?

One important piece of evidence is whether my theory can account for uncontroversial cases. I think it's pretty uncontroversial that torturing people for fun is wrong. If my theory didn't entail this, that would be a serious piece of evidence against it. (Compare: if a scientific theory fails to account for some apparently unproblematic piece of experimental evidence, that's a strike against the theory.) Part of the process of arriving at reflective equilibrium is checking whether the theory does a good job of dealing with straightforward cases. But we also have judgments about principles. Most of us judge that moral reasoning should treat similar cases similarly. Most of us judge that suffering is morally relevant. And so on. Whatever principles the theory offers will be more or less plausible at first blush. The theory may also have some apparent advantages or disadvantages along dimensions such as clarity, generality, simplicity and the like.

And then there are hard cases. If a theory gives us what seems to be a satisfying way of dealing with a range of hard cases, that counts in its favor. Taking that into account is part of the process of getting to reflective equilibrium.

Overall, the process amounts to bringing first-order judgements and theoretical considerations into balance. Sometimes, first-order moral judgments lead us to reject or modify parts of a theory. Sometimes, the overall advantages of the theory, including things like simplicity, unificatory strength... persuades us to modify some of our first-order judgments—in effect to "explain away" apparent counter-evidence. The same is true in science. No one thinks that just any apparent experimental counterexample is enough to overthrow a theory. If the theory is otherwise plausible enough, we treat isolated bits of counter-evidence as anomalies to be explained rather than fatal blows.

The comparison with science is important, but it's not just science. In almost any intellectual endeavor, part of what goes on is an attempt to bring higher-order theoretical judgments and close-to-the-ground first-order judgments into equilibrium. It's fair to say that the method of seeking reflective equilibrium is one of the most important tools in any philosopher's toolbox, whether what's at issue is morality or matters of a very different sort. It's not a matter of a "sixth sense," and it's not a question of "behavioral tendencies." But it's not just philosophy. In any domain where we've gotten far enough to think theoretically, we bring various judgments to the table. The judgments differ in strength and they differ in degrees of abstraction. They also don't usually start off as a consistent lot. When we go through the process of shaping, pruning, balancing, augmenting and so on, we are trying to achieve reflective equilibrium.

The process assumes that our first-order judgments aren't just wildly wrong, and it also assumes that we have some ability to make sound judgments about more abstract matters. That means reflective equilibrium takes it for granted that radical skepticism is wrong. That may bother some people, but most philosophers take it in stride. We patch up the boat while it's afloat. Reflective equilibrium is a fancy name for a large part of that sort of carpentry.

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