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Stemplowska, Zofia. What’s Ideal about Ideal Theory?
2008, Social Theory and Practice 34(3): 319-340.
Added by: Carl Fox

Introduction: One of the main tasks that occupies political theorists, and arouses intense debate among them, is the construction of theories—so-called ideal theories—that share a common characteristic: much of what they say offers no immediate or workable solutions to any of the problems our societies face. This feature is not one that theorists strive to achieve but nor can it be described as an accidental one: these theories are constructed in the full knowledge that, whatever else they may offer, much of what they say will not be immediately applicable to the urgent problems of policy and institutional design. Since this may seem puzzling, and has been subjected to severe criticism, the main task of this paper is to ask what is the point of ideal theory and to show the nature of its value. I will also argue that, while the debate over the point of ideal theory can be productive, it will only be so if we avoid treating ideal and nonideal theories as rival approaches to political theory.

Comment: Does a good job of defending ideal theory from prominent criticisms and setting out an account of ideal and non-ideal theory in which they complement one another. Would work as a main text for a lecture or seminar developing the ideal/non-ideal theme, or as further reading for anyone writing about it.

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