Rational Groping

How does one inquire into value? The standard answer these days is, by rational groping. That is, we begin from our intuitive sense of things and then fashion our ethical “intuitions” into a body of knowledge through reflection. Say we ask the question, is time in leisure good in itself? I’m inclined to answer, “Yes, intuitively speaking; it does seem so.” Which is to say something like “Yes, it seems so, but I don’t yet claim to have an explanation why this would be true, and I might change my mind I can’t find one.” But then I can try to think up principles or theories that would explain my intuitive reactions. I can adjust and prune either the intuitions or the principles or theories, until they all fit into a coherent system. I can keep tinkering until the overall fit seems holistically satisfying, much in the way scientists gradually refine theories. John Rawls, the twentieth century’s most influential political philosopher (and Quine’s colleague at Harvard), called this the search for “reflective equilibrium.” It is always a search, in both ethics and science. We never just coast along without the Socratic labors of reexamination. But the search has a destination. We can gain in understanding and confidence.

Surfing with Sartre: An Aquatic Inquiry into a Life of Meaning
Aaron James