International Political Theory Meets International Public Policy

In Chris Brown & Robyn Eckersley (eds.), Oxford Handbook of International Political Theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. pp. 480-494 (2018)
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How should International Political Theory (IPT) relate to public policy? Should theorists aspire for their work to be policy- relevant and, if so, in what sense? When can we legitimately criticize a theory for failing to be relevant to practice? To develop a response to these questions, I will consider two issues: (1) the extent to which international political theorists should be concerned that the norms they articulate are precise enough to entail clear practical advice under different empirical circumstances; (2) whether they should provide concrete practical advice on policy choice and institutional reform. These questions are related but distinct, and we should answer each quite differently. Regarding the first, I shall argue that it counts heavily against a theory if it is not precise enough to guide policy and reform given certain empirical assumptions. On the second, I will argue that theorists should be very cautious when engaging with questions of policy and institutional design. Some principles of IPT can be criticized for being insufficiently precise, but a degree of abstraction from concrete policy recommendations is a virtue, rather than a vice, of an element of IPT. I conclude that we should aim to be precise without being concrete. To help fix ideas and anchor my argument, I will discuss these issues with reference to a principle that John Rawls has advocated in his influential work The Law of Peoples (Rawls 1999a): a duty of assistance to societies that lack the capacity to satisfy the basic needs or protect the basic rights of their people.



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Christian Barry
Australian National University

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What We Owe to Each Other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Justice as Fairness: A Restatement.John Rawls (ed.) - 2001 - Harvard University Press.
Famine, affluence, and morality.Peter Singer - 1972 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (3):229-243.
What We Owe to Each Other.Thomas Scanlon - 2002 - Mind 111 (442):323-354.
The Limits of Morality.Shelly Kagan - 1989 - Oxford University Press.

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