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The justificatory power of moral experience
  1. G J M W van Thiel,
  2. J J M van Delden
  1. The Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Center Utrecht, The Netherlands
  1. Mrs G van Thiel, PO Box 85500, 3508 GA Utrecht, The Netherlands; g.j.m.w.vanthiel{at}


A recurrent issue in the vast amount of literature on reasoning models in ethics is the role and nature of moral intuitions. In this paper, we start from the view that people who work and live in a certain moral practice usually possess specific moral wisdom. If we manage to incorporate their moral intuitions in ethical reasoning, we can arrive at judgements and (modest) theories that grasp a moral experience that generally cannot be found outside the practice.

Reflective equilibrium (RE) provides a framework for balancing moral intuitions, ethical principles and general theories. Nevertheless, persisting problems associated with the use of intuitions need to be addressed. One is the objection that moral intuitions lack the credibility necessary to guide moral reasoning. Ethicists have tried to solve this problem by formulating criteria to separate the “bad” intuitions from the “good” ones at the beginning of the reasoning process. We call this the credible input-justified outcome strategy. An example is the appeal to the common morality by Beauchamp and Childress. We think this approach is unsuccessful. As an alternative, we outline the good reasoning-justified outcome strategy. It connects to a variant of RE in which intuitions from different sources are incorporated. We argue that the elements of RE have different levels of justificatory power at the start of reasoning. In our strategy, each element can gain or lose justificatory power when it is tested in a reasoning process that meets several criteria.

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.