How can ethical requirements and recommendations be justified? Contemporary moral philosophy frequently offers the so-called reflective equilibrium as an answer. In this project, we work out the details of the method of reflective equilibrium, apply it to an important ethical issue in a case-study and evaluate the method.
Aims of the project: John Rawls has suggested that answers to ethical questions be based upon a reflective equilibrium. To follow the method, one has to start out with judgements concerning the rightness of actions, find systematic principles that account for these judgements and reapply these principles to new cases; if conflicts result between judgements and principles, both of them have to be adjusted until an equilibrium is reached. But what exactly is meant by an equilibrium in this context? Which judgements should we start out with? And what counts as a systematic principle? The first goal of this project is to answer such questions, to develop a more precise account of the method and to clarify important aspects of it, partly with the help of formal techniques. Secondly, the resulting account will be tested in a case-study in which the method is applied to an important problem in climate ethics. Thirdly, the project aims at a re-evaluation of the method of reflective equilibrium. We will take into account objections against it in the literature, but also draw on the results of our case study.
Scientific and social context: The project investigates a promising method for developing justified solutions of conflicts in theoretical as well as in applied ethics. Since current societies are facing serious ethical challenges, the project also contributes to a methodological basis for discussing problems of a broader societal relevance.
Traditional epistemology focuses on theories of knowledge that account for true beliefs and truth-conducive justification. This is too narrow a perspective because scientific and philosophical theories do not exclusively aim at amassing true sentences. Rather, their goal is to advance our understanding of problems and phenomena. An epistemology that can explicate understanding in this sense must include further goals of inquiry (e.g. systematicity and coherence) and account for non-propositional contributions to understanding (e.g. illuminating examples, fruitful categories). The project investigates how the method of reflective equilibrium can be used as a basis for an epistemology of understanding. This framework is also of special interest in the context of policy-oriented research, as it provides an account of epistemic justification that evades the dogmatism of traditional foundationalism and the subjectivism of popular relativism.
In non-philosophical discourse, “identity” is often used in descriptions or evaluations of the specific character of non-personal objects. In contrast to identity as numerical identity, essence, persistence over time and the self-concept of a person, this notion has been neglected in philosophy although it is commonly used in everyday discourse as well as in, for example, aesthetic criticism and in consumer research. Buildings are said to contribute to a positive identity of a city, the Barcelona chair is claimed to have a distinctive identity, many people consider themselves to be attached to the specific identity of a certain landscape and corporate identity is an issue in many firms and organizations. As a first task, we clarify and delineate this notion of identity. We propose an explication which draws on the symbol-theory of Goodman and Elgin. This not only constitutes a further development of this symbol-theory but also calls for investigating the relation of identity to the basic notions of reference and exemplification, as well as to other aesthetic notions such as style. On this basis, we investigate in what sense an object can have multiple and even conflicting identities, and how identities can be evaluated. Our analysis is extensively illustrated with examples (especially, buildings, design objects and everyday objects).
The three projects address problems of choosing policies in the context of sustainable development. Choices among policy options are typically justified with reference to an evaluative ordering of these options. Evaluations of policies with respect to sustainability, however, run into difficulties because sustainability is a complex value that encompasses a broad range of often conflicting ecological, economic and social values. This calls for integrating conflicting values in a way that respects the basic idea of sustainability. In a first step, we analyse which conditions of adequacy the concept of sustainability places on methods for integrating diverse evaluations. Secondly, we analyse the potential and limits of using cost-benefit-analysis, of resorting to parity as a fourth value relation, and of methods of multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA). The results are applied in studies on economic valuation methods of forest externalities and in an analysis of uncertainties which arise in assessing methane mitigation policies relating to ruminants.
The project studies methods of analysing arguments and texts, especially with a view to their practical applicability and effectiveness for teaching skills in text analysis and critical thinking. We focus on techniques from philosophy and the humanities that are useful for philosophers as well as for scientists and engineers in a wide variety of contexts. How can formal logic, theory of argumentation, theories of definition and accounts of metaphor be put to use as general techniques for analysing texts and arguments?
In cognitive science and ethics, the emotions have been of central interest during the last decade. Some philosophers have argued that emotions can not only distort cognition but also motivate inquiry, determine relevance and provide access to facts, beliefs, norms and non-propositional aspects of knowledge. On this background, the project investigates possible roles emotions have been claimed to play in epistemology. While it is certainly not true that emotions invariably thwart our epistemic endeavours, it is less clear whether this calls for redesigning epistemology or just for more careful study of their contributions to knowledge.
As the theory of valid arguments, logic is of crucial significance for philosophy. It is also an important tool for analysing reasoning and argumentative text. However, the formal theories of logic are only relevant to arguments if they are supplemented by theories about the relationship between real arguments and logical formulas. The project develops a theory of formalization and investigates its philosophical implications and underpinnings. Specifically, the project aims at elucidating principles of formalization that are implicitly operative in standard practice of elementary first-order logic, and to investigate how they are related to various, for example, semantic or proof-theoretic conceptions of logic.