Rationality Means Reaching a Reflective Equilibrium

#proposition2 mentions

Rationality is an evolved strategy, aiming for success within an evolutionary environment.

But we also aim for better success rates at a second level, Rationality’s explicit Articulation and critical examination. When we consciously scrutinise and adapt our conception of rationality as it guides our judgements, i.e. as a normative conception, we also do so “in response to practical needs”.Ismael (2013), 90

When we articulate, evaluate and modify our normative conception of rationality in order to increase our chances for success, we work towards a reflective equilibrium – a balance between principles and principled arguments on one side and intuitions and concrete cases on the other:

We modify the theories accordingly until theories and data fit together—though it is not always the theories which are adjusted to the data [i. e. individual or paradigmatic cases]; it can also be the other way round.Spohn (2002), 257

Reaching this equilibrium is a mark of rationality itself – there are no good reasons to change our account anymore, neither arguments nor intuitions. We have reached the most reasonable position. Of course, a reflective equilibrium is always only temporary. “And so the normative discourse develops, ramifies, and becomes more and more sophisticated.”ibid.

When building a unified Theory of rationality, this equilibrium has to be reached not only within, but between the normative and the empirical parts of the theory: “We deal with quite a complex two-fold reflective equilibrium of theory formation.”ibid., 261

As with every scientific endeavour, the normative conception of rationality guides empirical psychological research. But sometimes the normative account has to be corrected due to the development of the empirical theory: We will have to give up normative demands that are systematically not fulfilled in “real life” if we want to satisfy Donald Davidson’s coherence criterion.That we need to assume “a large degree of rationality” of our belief system. (Davidson 1982, 99)

This also reflects the fact that A theory of rationality articulates our practices.

References