Ben Laurence
University of Chicago
John Rawls divides this theory into two parts that he calls ideal and nonideal theory. In this essay I argue that Rawls runs together two quite different conceptions of this dyad corresponding to the idea of strict compliance and realistic utopia respectively. These conceptions employ different criteria of classification, are motivated by different concerns, and have different practical upshots. I present a view that combines the two coherently on Rawls’ behalf while remaining true to his intentions. But I argue that even this amended view is unsatisfactory. Although the realistic utopia conception is well motivated, strict compliance is problematic. The upshot is that we can embrace the division of the theory of justice into ideal and nonideal theory, while rejecting the strict compliance understanding of ideal theory.
Keywords Political Philosophy  Constructivism  Ideal Theory  Nonideal Theory  John Rawls  Realistic Utopia
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DOI 10.1111/phpr.12379
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