Here’s a call for papers for a worskshop a colleague of mine and I are organizing at MANCEPT later this year:
A natural way to theorize about social institutions and rules is to focus on first identifying what the perfect model of such arrangements looks like. After all, if we are interested in determining what justice in our specific situation requires, then it seems sensible to first figure out what justice requires in general. We might label a theory that takes up such an approach ideal theory. Rawls took the function of ideal theory to be the generation of guiding principles for how actual societies and political institutions should be arranged. On his view, ideal theory was to be supplemented with a nonideal theory, which is tasked at least partly with determining the morally justifiable and politically feasible means of moving actual societies closer to the ideal one. Of course, Rawls’s usage of the term “ideal theory” is narrower than how it is employed by contemporary writers on the subject. For Rawls, the term referred to a theory that imagines realistic utopia in which individuals are assumed to be fully compliant and possess an effective sense of justice. More generally, we can take ideal theory to also refer simply to any theory that advances a vision of a perfect society that fully embodies a normative political or moral value such as justice. Such an approach to theorizing is to be contrasted with any other that merely aims to solve moral or justice-related problems in our actual, imperfect world, without reference to a perfect society.