Hypatia 25 (4):797 - 824 (2010)

Lisa Tessman
State University of New York at Binghamton
Implicit in feminist and other critiques of ideal theorizing is a particular view of what normative theory should be like. Although I agree with the rejection of ideal theorizing that oppression theorists (and other theorists of justice) have advocated, the proposed alternative of nonideal theorizing is also problematic. Nonideal theorizing permits one to address oppression by first describing (nonideal) oppressive conditions, and then prescribing the best action that is possible or feasible given the conditions. Borrowing an insight from the "moral dilemmas debate"— namely that moral wrongdoing or failure can be unavoidable—I suggest that offering (only) action-guidance under non-ideal conditions obscures the presence and significance of unavoidable moral failure. An adequate normative theory should be able to issue a further, non-action-guiding evaluative chim, namely that the best that is possible under oppressive conditions is not good enough, and may constitute a moral failure. I find exclusively action-guiding nonideal theory to be both insufficiently nonidealizing (because it idealizes the moral agent by falsely characterizing the agent as always able to avoid moral wrongdoing) and meanwhile too strongly adapted to the nonideal (because normative expectations are lowered and detrimentally adapted to options that, while the best possible, are still unacceptable)
Keywords moral dilemmas  non-ideal theory  feminist ethics  ideal theory  oppression  unavoidable moral wrongdoing
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/j.1527-2001.2010.01125.x
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

 PhilArchive page | Other versions
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Political Liberalism.John Rawls - 1993 - Columbia University Press.
The Idea of Justice.Amartya Kumar Sen - 2009 - Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Justice as Fairness: A Restatement.John Rawls (ed.) - 2001 - Harvard University Press.
Mortal Questions.Thomas Nagel - 1979 - Cambridge University Press.

View all 87 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Non-Ideal Prescriptions for the Morally Uncertain.Amelia Hicks - 2021 - Philosophical Studies 179 (4):1039-1064.
Non-Ideal Theory and Gender Voluntarism in Against Purity.Kathryn J. Norlock - 2018 - Apa Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy 18 (1):1-5.

View all 12 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total views
486 ( #19,510 of 2,533,674 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
35 ( #25,225 of 2,533,674 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes