Justification by Reflective Equilibrium
Famously, John Rawls is regarded as using reflective equilibrium (RE) to justify his principles of justice. But the point of justification by RE in Rawls's more recent work is not easily established since he regards his own work as still contractarian. In order to clarify matters, I distinguish between wide and narrow RE, as well as show that wide RE consists of several kinds of narrow RE: RE as a plea for (re)consideration, RE as a constructive procedure of choice, and safe ground RE. The connection of these REs is shown in order to reach justification. The point of introducing RE for justification is seen in opening the range of possible revisions to allow for consensus. However, (the lack of) wide RE for itself is not enough to bring about revision. Rather, an additional causal link between two kinds of RE is proposed to be necessary.
1. Famously, John Rawls uses the method of reflective equilibrium (RE) to justify his principles of justice. (1) But the point of justification by RE in Rawls's more recent work is not that easy to establish, since he regards his own work still as contractarian. Accordingly, it is peoples', citizens', or rational deciders' acceptance of the basic notions, methods, and results of Rawls's framework at its different stages (2) that is to establish his Justice as Fairness. Since every single one of us supposedly has already accepted a moral view of the world, though not the same one, it is in the end with regard to that moral view of the world, (3) or in Rawls's terms, that comprehensive theory of the good, (4) that the principles of justice have to be justified. (5) From the point of view of every one of us who reads Rawls's work or from the point of view of any particular citizen engaged in a discussion of a just society nothing else matters (6) - or so it seems. What, then, can be the point of justification provided for by RE that is not provided for by our comprehensive theories of the good? (7) Imagine we are discussing what kind of society is just. Here the plurality of views is likely to foreclose easy agreements. I take RE in Rawls's more recent works to widen the range of possible agreements in that situation, and, hence, facilitate agreements otherwise impossible to arrive at.
The request of RE may facilitate aggrements in two ways: first, by asking us to reconsider initial refutations (in this case) of Rawls's proposed principles, and, second, on settling what may be seen as the second best solution of what a just society is like from the point of view of the single comprehensive views. I take Rawls to have both of those requests in mind when he asks us to go back and forth between a set of principles of justice and our existing considered judgments (8) - or so I want to argue.
2. Let's begin the argument with the concept of RE. Clearly, what Daniels expounded in general as "narrow reflective equilibrium" (9) could only be a method for the first of...