The Claims of Reflective Equilibrium

  • Joseph Raz


As well as propounding a theory of justice, Rawls’ A Theory of Justice advocated a method in moral philosophy, the method of reflective equilibrium. My aim is to raise doubts concerning the significance and value of this method. I will first briefly describe the process of reasoning dubbed by Rawls Reflective Equilibrium. I will then examine some of the claims made for it by Rawls, Nielsen, and others.


Moral Judgment Moral Philosophy Moral Theory Moral Belief Linguistic Theory 
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  1. 1.
    All page references in the text are to J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.: 1971). Since Rawls is happy to apply his method to morality in general I shall refer to a sense of justice or to a moral capacity, interchangeably.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    J. Rawls, ‘Outline of a Decision Procedure for Ethics’, Philosophical Review, vol. 60 (1951) no. 2. Rawls allowed only particular pre-philosophical judgments to count. But he has later come to revise this view.Google Scholar
  3. See his ‘Independence of Moral Theory’, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, vol. 48 (1974–75): 7.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Norman Daniels, ‘Wide Reflective Equilibrium and Theory Acceptance in Ethics’, Journal of Philosophy, vol. 76 (1979): 274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 13.
    Ibid., p. 8. Is this all one may expect from philosophy generally? Is it the only form of non-coercive philosophy, one which does not offer proofs but explains how certain views are possible? Is it, that is, an example of R. Nozick’s conception of proper philosophical arguments as explained in Philosophical Explanations (Oxford: Clarendon, 1981), Ch. 1.Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    R. M. Dworkin, ‘The Original Position’, N. Daniels (ed.), Reading Rawls (Oxford: Blackwell, 1975) p. 26Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    Ibid., p. 28. Dworkin’s use of ‘constructivism’ is not to be confused with Rawls’ in ‘Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory’, Journal of Philosophy, vol. 77 (1980): 515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 21.
    See his ‘Moral Realism’, J. Casey (ed.), Morality and Moral Reasoning (London: Methuen, 1971) p. 101;Google Scholar
  9. ‘Truth, Realism, and the Regulation of Theory’, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, vol. 5 (1980): 353;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. ‘Rule Following and Moral Realism’, S. H. Holtzman and C. M. Leich (eds), Wittgenstein: to Follow a Rule (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981) p. 163Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph Raz

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