Medical Ethics Darin Harootunian 10/3/11 1 Reflective Equilibrium – the Method of Philosophical Ethics Last week, I posed a question to you: How are individual moral judgments about particular cases justified? These moral judgments are commonly called considered moral judgments . An obvious answer was this: The judgments are justified by moral principles that are being applied to the cases in question. Then I asked, “ How are the moral principles justified? ” I left you with this question. I said the answer is reflective equilibrium . But I said no more, and I told you to read Beauchamp and Childress pgs. 381-387. What is reflective equilibrium? Reflective equilibrium, I submit, is the method of philosophical ethics – of ethical theorizing. Reflective equilibrium is a process by which we formulate and justify both normative principles and our judgments about particular cases. Ethical principles, for instance, are normative principles, as are logical principles. Consider an endorsed set of ethical principles. Consider a set of ethical principles that we judge to be a right set of principles. It might be the case that we discover that this set of principles sanctions what we judge to be a “wrong” verdict in particular cases. This considered judgment about the case is treated as a datum, a given – it drives us to re-examine the set of principles that yielded it. In many cases, the considered judgment about the case forces us to revise the set of principles, perhaps by excluding the culprit principle. In other cases, we might amend a principle that is responsible for the judgment – qualifying the principle in some way so that it delivers the right result in
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