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The Incompleteness of Ideal Theory

Schaub, Jörg (2014) 'The Incompleteness of Ideal Theory.' Res Publica, 20 (4). pp. 413-439. ISSN 1356-4765

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Can one give an account of a perfectly just society without invoking principles governing our responses to injustice? My claim is that addressing this question puts us in a position to reveal ambiguities and problems with the way in which Rawls draws the ideal/nonideal theory distinction that have so far gone unnoticed. In the first part of my paper, I demonstrate that Rawls’s original definition of the ideal/nonideal theory distinction is ambiguous as it is composed of two different conceptual distinctions, before clarifying the distinctions involved, paying particular attention to the unfamiliar distinction between primary and secondary principles. I then show that we can best account for what Rawls is actually doing at the level of ideal and nonideal theory by invoking this distinction between primary and secondary principles. This result sets the stage for my argument in the second part. I first explain why Rawls does not have access to an understanding of the strict compliance condition that can account for the irrelevance of secondary principles for a complete account of the principles regulating a perfectly just basic structure. I then point out that there is a tension between what Rawls claims to be doing at the level of ideal theory and what he is actually doing at the level of ideal theory. On this basis, I argue that Rawls’s ideal (domestic and international) conceptions of justice are incomplete because they do not encompass secondary principles. The Conclusion unpacks the contributions this article makes to the ideal/nonideal theory debate.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities
Faculty of Humanities > Philosophy and Art History, School of
SWORD Depositor: Elements
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2014 11:10
Last Modified: 15 Jan 2022 00:46

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