Debate: Ideal Theory—A Reply to Valentini

Journal of Political Philosophy 18 (3):357-368 (2010)
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Abstract

In her ‘On the apparent paradox of ideal theory’, Laura Valentini combines three supposedly plausible premises to derive the paradoxical result that ideal theory is both unable to, and indispensable for, guiding action. Her strategy is to undermine one of the three premises by arguing that there are good and bad kinds of ideal theory, and only the bad kinds are vulnerable to the strongest version of their opponents’ attack. By undermining one of the three premises she releases ideal theorists from the paradox, which is as follows. (1) Any sound theory of justice is action-guiding. (2) Any sound theory of justice is ideal. (3) Any ideal theory fails to be action-guiding. Here I shall respond to Valentini in two ways. First, I shall show that both (1) and (2) are false. The falsity of either is sufficient to release ideal theorists from the paradox. Second, I shall show that Valentini’s response to (3) can be extended, because her bad kinds of ideal theory do not necessarily fail to guide action. The cumulative effect of my arguments further strengthens Valentini’s support of ideal theory. I will deal with premises (1) and (2) in Sections I and II, and (3) in Section III.

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Holly Lawford-Smith
University of Melbourne

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