Prescribing Institutions Without Ideal Theory

Journal of Political Philosophy 20 (1):45-70 (2012)
It is conventional wisdom among political philosophers that <span class='Hi'>ideal</span> principles of justice (i.e., principles that would regulate the constitutions of fully just institutional arrangements) must guide our attempts to design institutions to avert actual injustice. Call this the <span class='Hi'>ideal</span> guidance approach. I argue that this view is misguided—<span class='Hi'>ideal</span> principles of justice are not appropriate "guiding principles" that actual institutions must aim to realize, even if only approximately. Fortunately, the conventional wisdom is also avoidable. In this paper, I develop an alternative approach to institutional design, which I call institutional failure analysis. The basic intuition of this approach is that our moral assessment of institutional proposals is most effective when we proceed from a detailed understanding of the causal processes generating problematic social outcomes. Failure analysis takes the institutional primary design task to be obviating or averting institutional failures. Consequently, failure analysis enables theorists to prescribe more effective solutions to actual injustice because its focuses on understanding the injustice, rather than specifying an <span class='Hi'>ideal</span> of justice.
Keywords ideal theory  nonideal theory  institutional design  failure analysis
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DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9760.2010.00387.x
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References found in this work BETA
Amartya Sen (2009). The Idea of Justice. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
John Rawls (1999). The Law of Peoples. Harvard University Press.
Thomas Pogge (2005). World Poverty and Human Rights. Ethics and International Affairs 19 (1):1–7.
John Rawls (2009/2005). A Theory of Justice. In Steven M. Cahn (ed.), Philosophy and Rhetoric. Oxford University Press 133-135.

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