Das Überlegungsgleichgewicht als Lebensform. Versuch zu einem vertieften Verständnis der durch John Rawls bekannt gewordenen Rechtfertigungsmethode

Dissertation, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (forthcoming)

Michael W. Schmidt
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
The objective of this thesis – Reflective Equilibrium as a Form of Life – is to contribute to the deepening of understanding of the method of reflective equilibrium – a method of internal epistemic justification. In the first part of the study, four paradigmatic conceptions of the method will be analyzed in order to carve out a conceptual core: The ones by John Rawls – who coined the name of the method – Norman Daniels, Michael DePaul and Catherine Elgin. I will argue that the conceptual core of the method contains four elementary rules: 1) A minimalistic fallibilism, 2) a moderate holism, 3) a minimalistic rationality, and 4) a weak foundationalism. Compliance with these rules is necessary and jointly sufficient for any epistemic procedure of justification to be in accordance with the method of reflective equilibrium. The second part of the study is intended to answer some of the open questions concerning this definition of the conceptual core of the method. It will be argued that the a minimalistic fallibilism, as a very central element of the method, is justified since there is no belief whose truth is transparent to an epistemic agent. Even if it were the case that such beliefs exist, there would be attractive options of retreat which provide a quasi-universal justification of minimalistic fallibilism. It will also be argued that all alternative methods of justification are either compatible with the method of reflective equilibrium or are not justified. While a metajustification of the method – understood as a justification of the method employing the method itself – is on the one hand not completely satisfactory, as it presupposes the acceptance of the method before it is justified, it is epistemically acceptable on the other hand, since it allows for a critical inquiry and is open-ended. It will be pointed out that a moderate foundationalism can be justified by the method for some specific area of inquiry insofar as basic beliefs can be identified. Yet, the default-position of the method is only a weak foundationalism (often also termed “coherentism”). With regard to the possibility of a formal interpretation of the method with which one could specify key terms used in the definition of the conceptual core, I will sketch general ways such a formalization might take. However, I will argue that the informal interpretation of the method has priority over any formal interpretation. In the third and concluding part of the study, I will present the claim that one should interpret the method of reflective equilibrium as a form of life. This means that the method is at least implicitly accepted by some epistemic agents: they have developed a disposition and ability to act according to the method. This interpretation of the method can be related to the notion of critical thinking, which, as a civic virtue and educational ideal, is subject of empirical research and practical application. A possible misunderstanding with respect to the method of reflective equilibrium as a form of life should be avoided: To interpret the method as a form of life does not indicate that it must be a comprehensive form of life. Acknowledging it in private life is optional. According to the proposed understanding of the method it is primarily a public and political form of life.
Keywords Überlegungsgleichgewicht  Reflective Equilibrium
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