Nonideal Theory: What It Is and What it Needs to Be

This is my first sustained attempt to describe the point of moral theorizing in terms of ideal and nonideal theory.  In some ways I have gone beyond what is written here, in some ways not.  I am mindful of something Jacob Levy notes in a forthcoming essay in an issue of Social Philosophy and Policy, devoted to the topic of ideal theory, namely that it is hard to say anything without appearing to have overstated one's case.  Plausible statements for or against ideal theory are stated with more caveats in mind than can be crammed into a single article.  When we are looking someone in the eye as we speak, they can see that we are thinking hard and give us the benefit of the doubt.   But when we write it down, we express the gist of what we had in mind, not the entirety that would have come out in a live conversation on the topic. This is a problem that has no solution.  The best we can do is keep thinking, keep writing, and keep talking. 

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Published in: Ethics
2011 121 Pages 772-96