, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 29–43 | Cite as

Wide Reflective Equilibrium as a Normative Model for Responsible Governance

Original Paper


Soft regulatory measures are often promoted as an alternative for existing regulatory regimes for nanotechnologies. The call for new regulatory approaches stems from several challenges that traditional approaches have difficulties dealing with. These challenges relate to general problems of governability, tensions between public interests, but also (and maybe particularly) to almost complete lack of certainty about the implications of nanotechnologies. At the same time, the field of nanotechnology can be characterized by a high level of diversity. In this paper, we discuss and compare two models for framing public policy in relation to technology regulation: the first is a deliberative model based on foresight knowledge and the second the wide reflective equilibrium model, developed by political philosopher John Rawls. In both models, the aim is to find consensus on (a framework for) policy measures and regulation. On the basis of a critical discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of both models, some tentative conclusions are drawn for effective policy making and implementation based on soft law.


Wide reflective equilibrium Deliberative democracy Consensus Governance Regulation Soft law Regulatory challenges 



This research is carried out within the framework of the NanoNextNL project, theme 1C. The author would like to thank the editors of the special issue, Diana M. Bowman and Elen Stokes, and Bärbel Dorbeck-Jung for reading earlier drafts of the paper. The article has profited a lot from their comments and the helpful suggestions they provided.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.3TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology / Department of Technology, Policy and ManagementDelft University of TechnologyDelftThe Netherlands

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