Reflective Equilibrium and Practical Wisdom


This project investigates the underexplored possibility of increasing the viability of reflective equilibrium as a method of ethical reflection by supplementing it with a virtue-ethical account of practical wisdom. This is necessary because reflective equilibrium ‒ which aims to bring one’s intuitive moral beliefs, one’s moral principles, and (in the case of wide reflective equilibrium) one’s background theories in coherence through mutual adjustment ‒ suffers from a fundamental problem, although it is the most dominant method of ethical reflection. Moral philosophers have described the problem with reflective equilibrium in terms of ‘garbage in, garbage out’. Reflective equilibrium gives important weight to moral intuitions, while it does not have the resources to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable moral intuitions. This means that reflective equilibrium cannot exclude the possibility that the conclusions of ethical reflection are garbage.
Since reflective equilibrium itself does not have the resources to overcome this problem, it needs to be supplemented with other approaches in ethics. This project does that by adopting a virtue-ethical approach that focuses on practical wisdom, asking what practical wisdom entails, what it contributes to reflective equilibrium, and how it can be cultivated. This is promising because it is plausible to suppose that, when we become more practically wise, (1) our spontaneous moral beliefs will become more reasonable, and (2) the quality of our ethical reflections in general will increase. The project is highly relevant, moreover, because (1) it aims to improve the viability of the most influential method for tackling pertinent moral issues, and because (2) it relates two bodies of literature that are very rarely brought together. By disseminating its results in workshops, moral case deliberations, and popular articles, it also makes an important contribution to society, especially to the areas of education and health care.





Dr. J.R. Compaijen

Verbonden aan

Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Faculteit der Filosofie, Theologie en Religiewetenschappen, Filosofie


Dr. J.R. Compaijen


20/11/2018 tot 31/08/2022