Assessing Ideal Theories: Lessons from the Theory of Second Best

Politics, Philosophy, and Economics 15 (2):132-149 (2016)
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Abstract

Numerous philosophers allege that the "general theory of second best" (Lipsey and Lancaster, 1956) poses a challenge to the Target View, which asserts that real world reform efforts should aim to establish arrangements that satisfy the constitutive features of ideal just states of affairs. I demonstrate two claims that are relevant in this context. First, I show that the theory of second best fails to present a compelling challenge to the Target View in general. But, second, the theory of second best requires ideal theorists to undertake certain kinds of causal and comparative analyses that are typically thought to lie beyond the borders of conventional ideal theory.

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David Wiens
University of California, San Diego

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