Reflective Equilibrium and Understanding

Baumberger, Christoph; Brun, Georg (2020). Reflective Equilibrium and Understanding. Synthese Springer Netherlands

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Elgin has presented an extensive defence of reflective equilibrium embedded in an epistemology which focuses on objectual understanding rather than ordinary propositional knowledge. This paper has two goals: to suggest an account of reflective equilibrium which is sympathetic to Elgin’s but includes a range of further developments, and to analyse its role in an account of understanding. We first address the structure of reflective equilibrium as a target state and argue that reflective equilibrium requires more than an equilibrium in the sense of a coherent position (i.e. an agreement of commitments, theory and background theories). On the one hand, the position also needs to be stable between a ‘conservative’ pull of input commitments and a ‘progressive’ pull of epistemic goals; on the other hand, reflective equilibrium requires that enough of the resulting commitments have some credibility independent of the coherence of the position. We then turn to the dynamics of reflective equilibrium, the process of mutual adjustment of commitments and theories. Here, the most pressing internal challenges for defenders of reflective equilibrium arise: to characterize this process more exactly and to explain its status in relation to reflective equilibrium as a target state. Finally, we investigate the role of reflective equilibrium in Elgin’s account of understanding and argue that objectual understanding cannot be explained in terms of reflective equilibrium alone. An epistemic agent who understands a subject matter by means of a theory also needs to be able to use this theory and the theory needs to meet some external rightness condition.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute of Philosophy
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute of Philosophy > Theoretical Philosophy

UniBE Contributor:

Brun, Georg


100 Philosophy
100 Philosophy > 120 Epistemology




Springer Netherlands


[4] Swiss National Science Foundation




Georg Brun

Date Deposited:

24 Feb 2020 08:52

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:36

Publisher DOI:

Uncontrolled Keywords:

Reflective equilibrium, Justification, Understanding, Truth, Coherence, Theoretical virtues




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