More and more, I'm finding myself inclined to think that philosophical reflection about ethical issues is, on average, morally useless. Central to my thinking about this is what I've been calling The Problem of the Ethics Professors -- the fact (I take it to be a fact) that ethics professors do not behave particularly better or worse than others of similar social background, despite (presumably!) a greater penchant for philosophical reflection about ethical issues.
Still, I want to hold onto the idea that ethical reflection is morally profitable. It would be despairing counsel indeed to say that there's no point in thinking about the ethical dimensions of one's behavior! My current thought is this: The kind of ethical reflection that leads to moral improvement is reflection that's emotionally engaged with the affected parties -- reflection that involves empathy, sympathy, trying to see things from the other's perspective, keying into one's feelings of shame, disgust, and visceral approval.
Philosophical reflection (as actually practiced by philosophers) is typically "cooler" than this, more abstract and theoretical. While it may benefit us morally in certain ways -- for example, by revealing the consistency or inconsistency of certain principles -- it may also distract us from a more profitable type of moral reflection. Worse, it may conceal and rationalize immoral desires that we might discover if we reflected with more (or more explicit) emotional engagement. It might, thus, be positively harmful as often as it is helpful.
There are problems, of course, with a simplistic approach to letting one's emotions guide one's moral reflections. For example, if you focus entirely on, say, the wrong done to a member of your group, you may work yourself up into a lather of revenge. A judge needs to avoid being overwhelmed by sympathy for the criminal. But this is merely to say that emotionally engaged reflection needs to be balanced and sophisticated in certain ways -- and perhaps some of what philosophers do can be helpful with that.