Rawls’s Ideal Theory: A Clarification and Defense

Res Publica 25 (4):553-570 (2019)
  Copy   BIBTEX

Abstract

In recent work in political philosophy there has been much discussion of two approaches to theorizing about justice that have come to be called ‘ideal theory’ and ‘non-ideal theory’. The distinction was originally articulated by Rawls, who defended his focus on ideal theory in terms of a supposed ‘priority’ of the latter over non-ideal theory. Many critics have rejected this claim of priority and in general have questioned the usefulness of ideal theory. In diagnosing the problem with ideal theory, they have frequently fingered for blame the idealization it involves. In this paper I focus on one particular, much-discussed idealization—full compliance—in order to defend it. Focusing on the assumption, I argue that Rawls’s work is not ideal in the way that it is usually thought to be, is less ideal than is widely recognized, and became less ideal over time. I also argue that critics who in effect claim that it is not realistic enough simply fail to understand Rawls’s central motivation. Finally, I defend the assumption by arguing that there is an important sense in which all theories of justice must assume full compliance. Such an assumption, I argue, is needed if we are to have a plausible basis on which to judge the normative attractiveness of a theory.

Links

PhilArchive



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 92,075

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Can Rawls’s Non-Ideal Theory Save his Ideal Theory?Hye-Ryoung Kang - 2016 - Social Theory and Practice 42 (1):32-56.
Can Rawls’s Nonideal Theory Save his Ideal Theory?Hye Ryoung Kang - 2016 - Social Theory and Practice 42 (1):32-56.
Convergence and Political Autonomy.Paul Weithman - 2011 - Public Affairs Quarterly 25 (4):327-348.
The Incompleteness of Ideal Theory.Jörg Schaub - 2014 - Res Publica 20 (4):413-439.
Race, ideology, and ideal theory.James Boettcher - 2009 - Metaphilosophy 40 (2):237-259.
Three Failed Charges against Ideal Theory.Eva Erman & Niklas Möller - 2013 - Social Theory and Practice 39 (1):19-44.
John Rawls: Reticent Socialist.William A. Edmundson - 2017 - New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press.

Analytics

Added to PP
2018-11-28

Downloads
100 (#174,002)

6 months
16 (#157,177)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Dale C. Matthew
York University

Citations of this work

Mills, The racial contract and ideal theory.D. C. Matthew - 2024 - Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 27 (1):47-61.
Ideal Theory for a Complex World.Jeffrey Carroll - 2022 - Res Publica 28 (3):531-550.

Add more citations

References found in this work

A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition.John Rawls - 1999 - Harvard University Press.
Political Liberalism.John Rawls - 1993 - Columbia University Press.
Justice as fairness: a restatement.John Rawls (ed.) - 2001 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
The idea of justice.Amartya Sen - 2009 - Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

View all 36 references / Add more references