When is Non-Ideal Theory Too Ideal? Adaptive Preferences, Children, and Ideal Theory

In Kevin Vallier & Michael Weber (eds.), Political Utopias: Contemporary Debates. New York, USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 233-252 (2017)
Authors
Rosa Terlazzo
Kansas State University
Abstract
Political philosophers working on ideal and non-ideal theory sometimes seem to be stuck in a bind: while ideal theory risks being too ideal to be useful in the real world, non-ideal theory risks being so non-ideal that it stops far short of justice. In this paper, I highlight a third – and equally unappealing – possibility: that non-ideal theory, precisely because of its obvious engagement with real-world problems, might fail to recognize the unacceptable ways in which it is itself problematically idealized. I highlight this problem through the case-study of adaptive preferences. Although work in adaptive preferences obviously fits into non-ideal theory, the actual work being done in the literature is idealized in that it takes only the circumstances and needs of adults into account. In the best case, this means that the needs of one of our most vulnerable populations – that is, children – are ignored. In the worst case, where the needs of children and adults conflict, the needs of children will be actively frustrated. In this way, non-ideal theory can fail to approximate justice precisely because it fails to recognize the idealizations that it itself employs.
Keywords adaptive preference  ideal theory  children
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