Wide reflective equilibrium as a method of justification in bioethics

Theor Med Bioeth. 2012 Oct;33(5):325-41. doi: 10.1007/s11017-012-9223-3.

Abstract

Carson Strong has recently argued that wide reflective equilibrium (WRE) is an unacceptable method of justification in bioethics. In its place, Strong recommends a methodology in which certain foundational moral judgments play a central role in the justification of moral beliefs, and coherence plays a limited justificatory role in that the rest of our judgments are made to cohere with these foundational judgments. In this paper, I argue that Strong's chief criticisms of WRE are unsuccessful and that his proposed alternative is in fact just another version of WRE. In the course of doing so, I specify which theses are central to WRE and which are not, and thus, provide a response to an additional objection, advanced by Peter Singer, that WRE is vacuous. I conclude by arguing that there may be better prospects for advancing the debate regarding methodology in bioethics if we focus on restricted epistemic and methodological theses rather than broad approaches, such as WRE, that come in many different varieties.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced
  • Bioethical Issues*
  • Choice Behavior / ethics
  • Decision Making / ethics*
  • Ethical Theory*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Religion and Medicine
  • Treatment Refusal