|Abstract||How realistic should normative political philosophy be? Our choices fall along a spectrum. At one end is utopianism. We could set out a theory that depicts the truly just society inhabited by ideal persons under highly favorable circumstances. Yet if we are not ideal persons and do not inhabit highly favorable circumstances, it is unlikely that such a theory would be feasible, or, if it were feasible, that it would give us particularly good advice. At the other end of the spectrum is a kind of strict realism. We could set out a theory that sticks close to recommending a society we are sure is possible, namely, our own. Yet few of us believe the distance between where we are and where we should be is so small. A theory that did little more than endorse the status quo would be normatively overmodest. The consensus on this question for many years was thought to reside somewhere between these extremes, with John Rawls’s idea of a “realistic utopia.”1 A realistically utopian theory holds out the prospect of improvement for us and our social world, while constraining that prospect to what we think is possible given what we know about us and our world. There are obviously some questions about what this means, but suffice it to say that Rawls took himself to be offering a realistically utopian theory.|
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