Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE ( © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 13 June 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This article begins by setting out Rawls's conception and defense of ideal theory as a necessary precursor to the kind of nonideal theory that can guide action in the real world. It then evaluates the critique of those, such as Amartya Sen, who insist that knowing what an ideally just society would look like is simply not helpful for that purpose. Having also addressed the complaint that the Rawlsian approach is ideological, and hence worse than useless, the discussion broadens out to compass the more wide-ranging critique of mainstream contemporary political philosophy leveled by so-called political realists. It then turns to Cohen's very different objection—that Rawls's ideal theory of justice is too tailored to empirical circumstance. It concludes with an attempt to identify the variety of different things that might be conceived as nonideal theory. Ideal theory may be understood in many different ways, but nonideal theory fares little better.

Keywords: social justice, John Rawls, Amartya Sen, political philosophy, Cohen

Access to the complete content on Oxford Handbooks Online requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can''t find the answer there, please contact us.