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Rawls’ Reflective Equilibrium as a Method of Justifying Moral Beliefs


It is undeniable that people have beliefs about what actions are morally right. These beliefs play an important role in guiding moral action. Is it possible however to justify beliefs about what actions are morally right? How can beliefs of this sort be justified? Sinnott-Armstrong has advanced an epistemic regress argument against the justification of moral beliefs with the consequence that moral beliefs cannot be justified. This essay addresses the issue of the justification of moral beliefs to answer the question about how moral beliefs can be justified in response to Sinnott-Armstrong’s epistemic regress argument. It argues for the plausibility of Rawls’ reflective equilibrium as an adequate method of justification of moral beliefs. Three problems arise in the attempt to show that reflective equilibrium can adequately respond to Sinnott-Armstrong’s regress argument. These are vicious circularity, arbitrariness and epistemic moral disagreement. It is shown in this essay that these problems can be satisfactorily dealt with.

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  1. 1.

    According to Rawls, ‘‘a conception of justice cannot be deduced from self-evident premises or conditions or principles; instead its justification is a matter of the mutual support of many considerations, of everything together into one coherent view’’ (Rawls, p.21).

  2. 2.

    It is important to distinguish here between pragmatic tests of mathematical beliefs and epistemic tests of same. The former takes into account, for instance, the usefulness of mathematical belief for making successful predictions in science. One may even consider here, the aesthetic pleasure and beauty that expressions of mathematical beliefs afford. Nevertheless, none of these count as epistemic tests of mathematical beliefs so far us truth is not their sole aim.


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Correspondence to Husein Inusah.

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Inusah, H., Quansah, P.K. Rawls’ Reflective Equilibrium as a Method of Justifying Moral Beliefs. Axiomathes (2021).

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  • Reflective equilibrium
  • Justification
  • Moral disagreement
  • Vicious circularity