Williamson – POP – 7.7

This is the last in a series of posts on chapter 7 of The Philosophy of Philosophy. Section 7 touches on a subject I have spent some time researching and thinking about: reflective equilibrium (RE). Williamson uses a familiar line of reasoning to argue against RE. This reasoning goes as follows:

  • Knowledge channel/methodology X (e.g. RE, judgment skepticism, epistemic conservatism) relies on psychological facts (beliefs).
  • X assumes those beliefs are unproblematic.
  • However, those beliefs are problematic (i.e. access to the beliefs is problematic, X cannot explain/defend the beliefs).
  • So, X must be abandoned as a knowledge channel/methodology because X’s reliance on psychological facts is problematic.

In working through chapter 7 I have realized that Williamson keeps reapplying the reasoning above to different philosophical methodologies (1). However, there is something right about this reasoning. It is beneficial to the enterprise of philosophy to spotlight methodologies relying on unexamined  assumptions. It is correct to label methodologies as problematic pending further defense of those assumptions. Williamson makes this point in connection with RE:

[O]ne has no basis for an epistemological assessment of the method of reflective equilibrium in philosophy without more information about the epistemological status of the “intuitions.” In particular, it matters what kind of evidence “intuitions” provide (2007: 244).

RE must defend the intuitions it relies on. The epistemic status of intuitions (as inputs in the RE process) must be elaborated. Based on his comments it seems Williamson is unaware that the literature on RE contains accounts addressing the epistemic status of considered moral judgments (i.e. RE’s version of intuitions). Some philosophers hold that intuitions constitute evidence like observations in science do. If this is the case, then “observed facts are sometimes relevant evidence,” as Williamson objects, and this is no problem for RE. There are, however, problems with the analogy between intuitions and observation reports. I address these issues within the RE literature in the first half of my thesis. In the second half of my thesis I provide a positive account of the epistemic status of intuitions. It is my hope that this account can establish the evidential value of intuitions and directly address the concern Williamson raises. This makes it reasonable to rely on intuitions within RE methodology, as within RE are found the tools for explaining and defending the status of intuitions as evidence.


(1) I wonder if this way of thinking pervades the entire book. If so, what seems like a dynamic tome on philosophical methodology reduces to a one trick pony (i.e. externalism is true, or internalism is false).


P.S. I will be on a brief hiatus from blogging. I am in the process of moving (fun, fun, fun). Also, I am trying to decide what kind of posting to do next. I will likely take a break from commenting on a chapter from a book and proceed on a topic-by-topic basis. Though, I must admit, I am tempted to tackle some of Moser’s Knowledge and Evidence. I am still kicking around that possibility.

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