"Professor, have you ever had to change an ethical position drastically—like a sudden, major shift?"
You have to think on your feet, and immediate responses might not be the best. My salient response was, "No. I don't think so. Changes in my ethical thinking have happened incrementally, over time, through reading, study, and dialogue." With hindsight, I don't think I would say anything differently.
Nature's normal way of change is often slow and incremental. Abrupt changes might signal something is wrong, out of kilter.
For two seasons our magnificent magnolia tree in the back yard bore no blossom. This year it is magnificent again. We have pondered why two years were barren, hoping that our tree was not on the way out. Our best guess is that three years ago we had a brief and unseasonably hot period in March. It brought the buds along almost to the point of blossom. A sudden drop to below freezing temperatures killed the buds. The sudden and dramatic changes—super hot, then way too cold—messed with the balance of the tree's metabolism. Gradual change allows for continued balance. To be sure, life is changes, and the secret of a flourishing life is learning how to manage the changes well. Too drastic a change and you are in danger of losing your blossom. (Tree specialists can correct me!)
Changing the metaphor, little known to English readers, Austrian philosopher Otto Neurath (1882–1945), said:
We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom.In 1997, Pamela Sue Anderson published A Feminist Philosophy of Religion. In 1999, Grace Jantzens's followed up with Becoming Divine: Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion. Both books were important, but took a different approach. Anderson demolished existing philosophies of religion, in the belief that it's masculinist basis was irredeemable. Jantzen rather worked with existing philosophies, challenging, adjusting, rejecting, and renewing in turn. Of the two Jantzen followed Neurath's understanding. If you totally deconstruct the ship at sea, you will likely sink without trace.
Life is change, but make those changes incrementally. Don't try to change things all at once. I have not always followed Neurath, being too impatient to see change, to fix the leaking ship by destroying it.
I hope that as my students do the hard thinking of philosophy that their ship is not destroyed, but rather changed, little by little, to become a more sea-worthy vessel.
Neurath quote in Simon Blackburn, Think (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 44