Where Should We Expect Social Change in Non-Ideal Theory?

Political Theory 41 (1):116-143 (2013)
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This essay considers the relationship between ideal theory and non-ideal theory. It begins with Rawls’s conception of ideal theory and A. John Simmons’s articulation of non-ideal theory. Both defend the priority of ideal theory over non-ideal theory. The essay then considers three different conceptions of the social barriers standing in the way of an ideal society, taken broadly from Mill, Marx, and Foucault. Each conception of power suggests a divergent strategy for pursuing non-ideal theory. The Foucauldian conception also suggests reasons to mistrust our own political and moral judgments. The essay advocates a more limited view of the relationship between ideal and non-ideal theory than is commonly described, in which ideal theory retains its logical priority but not its temporal priority. In other words, the essay argues that we will fare best when we focus first on reducing specific injustices while setting aside further speculation about the character of an ideal society



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Burke Hendrix
Cornell University

Citations of this work

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References found in this work

Ideal and nonideal theory.A. John Simmons - 2010 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 38 (1):5-36.
Political Liberalism and Social Epistemology.Allen Buchanan - 2004 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 32 (2):95-130.
Social moral epistemology.Allen Buchanan - 2002 - Social Philosophy and Policy 19 (2):126-152.
Social Moral Epistemology.Allen Buchanan - 2002 - Social Philosophy and Policy 19 (2):126-152.
Political theorists as dangerous social actors.Burke A. Hendrix - 2012 - Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 15 (1):41-61.

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