Tragedies of non-ideal theory

European Journal of Political Theory 11 (3):229-246 (2012)
Abstract
This paper has three aims. First, it argues that the present use of ‘ideal theory’ is unhelpful, and that an earlier and apparently more natural use focusing on perfection would be preferable. Second, it has tried to show that revision of the use of the term would better expose two distinctive normative issues, and illustrated that claim by showing how some contributors to debates about ideal theory have gone wrong partly through not distinguishing them. Third, in exposing those two distinct normative issues, it has revealed a particular way in which ideal theory even under the more specific, revisionary definition will often be central to working out what to do in non-ideal circumstances. By clarifying the terms on which debates over ideal and non-ideal theory should take place, and highlighting the particular problems each deals with, it tries to clear the ground for turning to the actual problem, which is what to do in our non-ideal and often tragic circumstances
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