John Rawls Moral Knowledge Summary

1588 Words7 Pages
The Possibility of Moral Knowledge: Rawls's Reflective Equilibrium Reconsidered Are statements in morality simply expressions of approvals or disapprovals, as suggested by emotivists, or are they certain kinds of universal prescriptions, as what R.M. Hare has pointed out (Hare, The Language of Morals, p.163-179)? While nearly all moral theories cannot avoid counter-examples and conflicts between duties, it seems that moral knowledge is not possible. In this essay, with reference to John Rawls's conception of reflective equilibrium, I argue that moral knowledge is indeed possible under a coherentist model, without accepting that there are no universal moral standards as what non-cognitivists suggest.

It is important to distinguish between
…show more content…
Contrary to foundationalism, coherentism denies the existence of basic beliefs (Steup, Epistemology). Moral coherentists oppose that some beliefs alone either inferentially support or entail moral conclusions, but rather suggest that the justification of moral views involves various elements, such as social, intuitive, psychological or any other relevant considerations (Landau, Ethical Theory: An Anthology, p.112-126). In other words, one cannot attribute moral knowledge solely to any sorts of privileged class of knowledge, according to moral coherentists; it is to oversimplify the matters of morality if one were to take something to be the foundation of moral knowledge. John Rawls's reflective equilibrium is exactly a coherentist model of moral knowledge. In the following parts, I will discuss the decision procedure using reflective equilibrium, how it avoids the problems that moral foundationalists may face, and will answer some objections to reflective equilibrium.…show more content…
Rawls illustrated that there are some necessary conditions for one to make good judgment on any topics: a "competent judge" must not be upset or frightened, and must have the ability, willingness and access to a correct decision (Rawls, "Outline of a Decision Procedure for Ethics", p.177-197). A competent judge, Rawls argues, could come up with principles which follow "everyday moral judgments" or "considered judgments" that people make (Rawls, "A Theory of Justice", p.47). Once the necessary conditions for a competent judge is fulfilled, and principles behind one's considered judgments are formulated, Rawls thinks that the moral knowledge of that person would reach "provisionally fixed points". However, given the fact that there are always distortions and irregularities among people's considered judgments, these judgments should not be given an absolute priority to the choice of one's moral principles (Rawls, "A Theory of Justice", p.48). On the other hand, as there are also some circumstances that moral principles cannot cater to, for instance, conflicts between duties. Therefore, one should regularly reflect on his own system of moral beliefs, sometimes modifying principles to be coherent with his considered judgments, sometimes modifying
Get Access