A Role For Ideal Theory In Light of The Theory of Second Best
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Political theorists, in increasing frequency, have focused on the application of theories of justice to concrete social issues and policy prescriptions. This so called “policy turn” has made it ever more important to reflect upon the goal of political theory. At the heart of this debate is a concern for action-guidance and a dissatisfaction with what political philosophy has offered in terms of practical relevance. The ideal guidance approach to ideal theory, best exemplified by John Rawls, holds a complementary relation between ideal and non-ideal theory, in which the former provides the goal for the latter to approximate. This approach to ideal theory, however, has been challenged by the Theory of the Second Best which undermines the assumption that simply approximating an ideal will result in the second best available option. Despite this challenge from the TOSB it will be the project of this paper to defend a more indirect role for ideal theory in political theorizing. My thesis is organized as follows. Chapter 2 will introduce the concept of ideal theory and fact sensitivity and provide a brief overview of how philosophers have attempted to define these concepts. I will argue that it is important to distinguish the ideal guidance approach from more epistemological approaches to theorizing about justice. In chapter 3, I will examine a unique challenge to the ideal guidance approach to ideal theory, the Theory of Second Best (TOSB). In chapter 4, I will discuss how comparative approaches to justice attempt to construct a theory of justice in light of the TOSB by rejecting the use of ideal theory for real world reform. Finally, in chapter 5, I will mount a moderate defense for the use of ideal theory in normative political theorizing.