Ethics Seminar: "Reflective Equilibrium Without Principles"

Thomas Schmidt (Humboldt University of Berlin) will speak to the Centre for Ethics and Metaethics about "Reflective Equilibrium Without Principles". All welcome!

Date: 22-03-2017
Time: 15:00 - 17:00

Thomas Schmidt is the Chair Professor of Practical Philosophy and Ethics at the Humboldt University of Berlin. His research and teaching interests focus on normative ethics (deontology, moral principles, ethical pluralism) and foundational problems of practical philosophy (objectivity, normativity, practical reason, moral epistemology, and moral responsibility). More information can be found on his web page.


Ethical pluralists hold that even though there are principles about morally relevant factors, or reasons, there are no reasonably informative moral principles about how to decide in cases of conflict. Some particularists go even further and hold that there are no defensible and reasonably informative moral principles at all. Since there is no a priori guarantee that either of these views is wrong, it makes sense to explore the extent to which ethical reflection and theorizing can be conceived as a project that does not require appealing to moral principles.

In my talk, I argue that we can understand the systematic point of the justificatory methodology of reflective equilibrium in such a way. My account emphasises the role that moral equivalence judgements can play in our justificatory efforts in ethical theorizing. These are judgements to the effect that there are no morally relevant differences between certain acts, or between certain situations. Such equivalence judgements occupy a middle ground between moral principles and moral judgements about particular acts or situations. It is because of this that moral equivalence judgements, as I argue, can replace the appeal to moral principles in reflective equilibrium reasoning in a way that is available to both moral generalists and moral particularists. Over and above this result, I show that moral equivalence judgements are quite generally a powerful conceptual tool in ethical theorizing, e.g. when it comes to representing the moral content of ethical theories.

Location: Botany House 1.03
Cost: Free