Nonideal theory and compliance—A clarification

European Journal of Political Theory 14 (2):229-245 (2015)
This paper examines the various ways in which nonideal theory responds to noncompliance with ideal principles of justice. Taking Rawls’ definition of nonideal theory as my point of departure, I propose an understanding of this concept as comprising two subparts: Complementary nonideal theory responds to deliberate and avoidable noncompliance and consists mainly of theories of civil disobedience, rebellion, and retribution. Substitutive nonideal theory responds to nondeliberate and unavoidable noncompliance and consists mainly of theories of transition and caretaking. I further argue that a special case of substitutive nonideal theory may arise when noncompliance is a result of a lack of motivation among citizens. This situation, I suggest, calls for nonideal theorizing when our aim is to evaluate the political actions undertaken by specific members of a society whose set of feasible options is constrained as a result of others’ lack of motivation and when a situation of mutually reinforcing distrust and noncooperation—sometimes called a “social trap”—constrains the feasible option set of the entire population. The main advantage of the twofold conceptualization of nonideal theory is that it bridges the theoretical gap between actor-oriented and situation-based accounts of justice: It allows us to preserve the term ideal justice for justice under minimal feasibility constraints, while recognizing that a situation where all agents comply with their duties must in some sense be characterized as just.
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DOI 10.1177/1474885114559040
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References found in this work BETA

Philosophy and Real Politics.Raymond Geuss - 2008 - Princeton University Press.
Ideal and Nonideal Theory.A. John Simmons - 2010 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 38 (1):5-36.
Realism in Political Theory.William Galston - 2010 - European Journal of Political Theory 9 (4):385-411.
Human Nature and the Limits (If Any) of Political Philosophy.David Estlund - 2011 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 39 (3):207-237.
What Do We Want From a Theory of Justice?Amartya Sen - 2006 - Journal of Philosophy 103 (5):215-238.

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