The conclusion of the loose reconstruction of Greene (2014)’s argument provides grounds to reject Rawls’ method of reflective equilibrium (Rawls, 1999). If the loose reconstruction is correct, reflective equilibrium will reliably generate incorrect conclusions. (This section also presents a generalisation of the loose reconstruction: it now establishes a conclusion about not-justified-inferentially premises not only concerning particular moral scenarios and also concerning debatable moral principles.)
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The loose reconstruction of Greene (2014)’s argument (see Greene contra Ethics (Railgun Remix)) established a conclusion that is restricted to premises about particular moral scenarios. But it is possible to generalise the argument to a broader conclusion by elaborating on step 5. The result is this conclusion:
Not-justified-inferentially premises about particular moral scenarios, and debatable principles, cannot be used in ethical arguments where the aim is knowledge.
With this extension of the argument, we can use it to show that Rawls (1999)’s proposal about reflective equilibrium should be avoided. This is because it will reliably generate incorrect conclusions.
One standard in ethics is Rawls’ reflective equilibrium idea:
‘one may think of moral theory at first […] as the attempt to describe our moral capacity […] what is required is a formulation of a set of principles which, when conjoined to our beliefs and knowledge of the circumstances, would lead us to make these judgments with their supporting reasons were we to apply these principles conscientiously and intelligently’ (Rawls, 1999, p. 41; see Singer (1974) for critical discussion).
Roughly, then, the idea is to start with not-justified-inferentially judgements you are, on reflection, inclined to make. And then to consider which principles might be consistent with these judgements. You may drop some of the judgements you start with depending on how well principles can be made to fit them.
The not-justified-inferentially judgements you are inclined to make are an indirect consequence of fast processes (see What Is the Role of Fast Processes In Not-Justified-Inferentially Judgements?).
The fast process is fast because it trades away accuracy to gain speed. (All broadly inferential processes face trade-offs between speed and accuracy; see Preview: Ethics vs Physics.) Its function is to provide results that are accurate enough for mundane purposes in a limited but useful range of circumstances.
We know, therefore, that the fast process will reliably be inaccurate in a range of cases. (Even though we cannot yet say much about which cases these are; see Cognitive Miracles: When Are Fast Processes Unreliable?).
Reflective equilibrium is, in effect, a (relatively crude) method of identifying principles which characterise how fast processes operate and generalising them. (Roughly doing for ethics what Aristotelians did for physics.)
While capable of producing valuable results within limits (much as broadly Aristotelian physics has plenty of applications), we know in advance that this method will reliably generate incorrect conclusions.1
Since automaticity and cognitive efficiency are matters of degree, it is only strictly correct to identify some processes as faster than others.
The fast-slow distinction has been variously characterised in ways that do not entirely overlap (even individual author have offered differing characterisations at different times; e.g. Kahneman, 2013; Morewedge & Kahneman, 2010; Kahneman & Klein, 2009; Kahneman, 2002): as its advocates stress, it is a rough-and-ready tool, not the basis for a rigorous theory.
Claims made on the basis of perception (_That jumper is red_, say) are typically not-justified-inferentially.
Why not just say ‘noninferentially justified’? Because that can be read as implying that the claim is justified, noninferentially. Whereas ‘not-justified-inferentially’ does not imply this. Any claim which is not justified at all is thereby not-justified-inferentially.
Unless, that is, it were limited to familiar situations. But this would be hard to do given that we are not in a position to know which situations are unfamiliar (see Cognitive Miracles: When Are Fast Processes Unreliable?). And it would also not be very useful. After all, we have little need for a theory covering only cases that our fast processes already provide us with expertise in dealing with. And if the idea of reflective equilibrium is just to identify principle implicit in responses due to fast processes, it should be subsumed into moral psychology rather than viewed as a method of doing ethics. ↩