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Against Ideal Guidance

Journal of Politics 77 (2):433-446 (2015)

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  1. Norms, Evaluations and Ideal and Nonideal Theory.Robert Jubb - 2016 - Social Philosophy and Policy 33 (1-2):393-412.
    -/- This essay discusses the relation between ideal theory and two forms of political moralism identified by Bernard Williams, structural and enactment views. It argues that ideal theory, at least in the sense Rawls used that term, only makes sense for structural forms of moralism. These theories see their task as describing the constraints that properly apply to political agents and institutions. As a result, they are primarily concerned with norms that govern action. In contrast, many critiques of ideal theory (...)
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  • The Best and the Rest: How Ideals Mislead and Distort -- Yet Sharpen -- Comparative Evaluation.David Wiens - manuscript
    Political philosophers sometimes defend the value of idealistic normative theories by arguing that they help specify principles for evaluating feasible solutions to real-world problems. I start by showing that this defense is ambiguous between three interpretations, one of which I show to be a nonstarter. The second interpretation says (roughly) that a description of a normatively ideal society provides a benchmark from which to measure deviations from the ideal; the third says (again, roughly) that a description of a normatively ideal (...)
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  • Political Ideals and the Feasibility Frontier.David Wiens - 2015 - Economics and Philosophy 31 (3):447-477.
    Recent methodological debates regarding the place of feasibility considerations in normative political theory are hindered for want of a rigorous model of the feasibility frontier. To address this shortfall, I present an analysis of feasibility that generalizes the economic concept of a production possibility frontier and then develop a rigorous model of the feasibility frontier using the familiar possible worlds technology. I then show that this model has significant methodological implications for political philosophy. On the Target View, a political ideal (...)
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  • Assessing Ideal Theories: Lessons From the Theory of Second Best.David Wiens - 2016 - Politics, Philosophy, and Economics 15 (2):132-149.
    Numerous philosophers allege that the "general theory of second best" (Lipsey and Lancaster, 1956) poses a challenge to the Target View, which asserts that real world reform efforts should aim to establish arrangements that satisfy the constitutive features of ideal just states of affairs. I demonstrate two claims that are relevant in this context. First, I show that the theory of second best fails to present a compelling challenge to the Target View in general. But, second, the theory of second (...)
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  • Will the Real Principles of Justice Please Stand Up?David Wiens - 2017 - In Kevin Vallier & Michael Weber (eds.), Political Utopias: Contemporary Debates. Oxford University Press.
    This chapter develops a ``nesting'' model of deontic normative principles (i.e., principles that specify moral constraints upon action) as a means to understanding the notion of a ``fundamental normative principle''. I show that an apparently promising attempt to make sense of this notion such that the ``real'' or ``fundamental'' demands of justice upon action are not constrained by social facts is either self-defeating or relatively unappealing. We should treat fundamental normative principles not as specifying fundamental constraints upon action, but as (...)
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  • Cosmopolitanism and Competition: Probing the Limits of Egalitarian Justice.David Wiens - 2017 - Economics and Philosophy 33 (1):91-124.
    This paper develops a novel competition criterion for evaluating institutional schemes. Roughly, this criterion says that one institutional scheme is normatively superior to another to the extent that the former would engender more widespread political competition than the latter. I show that this criterion should be endorsed by both global egalitarians and their statist rivals, as it follows from their common commitment to the moral equality of all persons. I illustrate the normative import of the competition criterion by exploring its (...)
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  • The Tyranny of a Metaphor.David Wiens - 2018 - Cosmos + Taxis 5 (2):13-28.
    Debates on the practical relevance of ideal theory revolve around Sen's metaphor of navigating a mountainous landscape. In *The Tyranny of the Ideal*, Gerald Gaus presents the most thorough articulation of this metaphor to date. His detailed exploration yields new insight on central issues in existing debates, as well as a fruitful medium for exploring important limitations on our ability to map the space of social possibilities. Yet Gaus's heavy reliance on the navigation metaphor obscures questions about the reasoning by (...)
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  • Ideal Theory After Auschwitz? The Practical Uses and Ideological Abuses of Political Theory as Reconciliation.Benjamin McKean - 2017 - Journal of Politics 79 (4):1177-1190.
    Contemporary debates about ideal and nonideal theory rest on an underlying consensus that the primary practical task of political theory is directing action. This overlooks other urgent practical work that theory can do, including showing how injustice can be made bearable and how resisting it can be meaningful. I illustrate this important possibility by revisiting the purpose for which John Rawls originally developed the concept of ideal theory: reconciling a democratic public to living in a flawed world that may otherwise (...)
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  • Nonideal Justice as Nonideal Fairness.Marcus Arvan - 2019 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 5 (2):208-228.
    This article argues that diverse theorists have reasons to theorize about fairness in nonideal conditions, including theorists who reject fairness in ideal theory. It then develops a new all-purpose model of ‘nonideal fairness.’ §1 argues that fairness is central to nonideal theory across diverse ideological and methodological frameworks. §2 then argues that ‘nonideal fairness’ is best modeled by a nonideal original position adaptable to different nonideal conditions and background normative frameworks (including anti-Rawlsian ones). §3 then argues that the parties to (...)
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  • Three Feasibility Constraints on the Concept of Justice.Naima Chahboun - 2017 - Res Publica 23 (4):431-452.
    The feasibility constraint on the concept of justice roughly states that a necessary condition for something to qualify as a conception of justice is that it is possible to achieve and maintain given the conditions of the human world. In this paper, I propose three alternative interpretations of this constraint that could be derived from different understandings of the Kantian formula ‘ought implies can’: the ability constraint, the motivational constraint and the institutional constraint. I argue that the three constraints constitute (...)
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