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John RawlsDebating the Major Questions$
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Jon Mandle and Sarah Roberts-Cady

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780190859213

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190859213.001.0001

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The Value of Ideal Theory

The Value of Ideal Theory

(p.73) 4 The Value of Ideal Theory
John Rawls

Matthew Adams

Oxford University Press

This chapter delineates two types of ideal theory that are found in Rawls’s corpus of work. The first is ideal-method theory, which is theory constructed using idealizing assumptions that do not directly correspond with the actual world. The second is ideal-content theory, namely criteria for assessing whether something is a perfectly justice institution. The chapter provides an independent justification for both types of theory, arguing that ideal-method theory is valuable within certain parameters; for instance, the idealizing assumption of strict compliance helps to clarify the distinction between distributive and retributive justice. The chapter illuminates the value of ideal-content theory by clarifying and defending Rawls’s claim that nonideal theory depends on ideal-content theory. In particular, it argues that in order to gain a systematic grasp of the more pressing problems of nonideal theory it is plausible to argue that ideal-content theory is necessary.

Keywords:   ideal-method theory, ideal-content theory, strict compliance

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