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Why Reflective Equilibrium? I: Reflexivity of Justification

I am pleased to have in this “Notebook Corner” the first of three articles by Svein Eng discussing John Rawls's concept of “reflective equilibrium.” E.P.


  • Svein Eng

    1. University of Oslo, Department of Public and International Law, Oslo, Norway
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    • The main elements of this enquiry were drafted during a stay at The Centre for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in 2001–2. Material drawn from the enquiry was presented at an international Kant conference in Oslo in May 2004. I should like to thank Susan Haack, Thomas Pogge, and Allen W. Wood, who read and commented upon previous versions. I should also like to thank Stanley L. Paulson, George Pavlakos, Dietmar von der Pfordten, Howard Williams, Jon Elster, Arnt Myrstad and Helga Varden for comments on various aspects of the manuscript. I am also indebted to Stanley L. Paulson for his comments on the entire manuscript with an eye to matters of English style. The responsibility for any and all remaining shortcomings, of whatever kind, rests with the author.


In A Theory of Justice (1971), John Rawls introduces the concept of “reflective equilibrium.” Although there are innumerable references to and discussions of this concept in the literature, there is, to the present author's knowledge, no discussion of the most important question: Why reflective equilibrium? In particular, the question arises: Is the method of reflective equilibrium applicable to the choice of this method itself? Rawls's drawing of parallels between Kant's moral theory and his own suggests that his concept of “reflective equilibrium” is on a par with Kant's concept of “transcendental deduction.” Treating these two approaches to justification as paradigmatic, I consider their respective merits in meeting the reflexive challenge, i.e., in offering a justification for choice of mode of justification. My enquiry into this topic comprises three parts. In this first part, I raise the issue of the reflexivity of justification and question whether the reflexive challenge can be met within the framework of A Theory of Justice.