Feasibility constraints for political theories




Lawford-Smith, Holly

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This is a thesis about feasibility constraints for normative political theories. Political theorists talk about theories being 'utopian', 'ideal', 'abstracted', and more obviously pejoratively, 'impractical' and 'unrealistic'. They also talk about theories being 'non-ideal', 'practical' and 'realistic'. What exactly is at the heart of these charges? In the first chapter of this thesis, I discuss the emerging debate over ideal and non-ideal theory. I argue that the criticism of ideal theory is largely unjustified, but that it is important that theories intended to be action-guiding take feasibility constraints seriously. The main question I try to answer in the thesis is what exactly feasibility constraints for normative political theories consist in. I argue that there is a binary sense of feasibility (feasible, or not) that follows traditional discussions over the principle that 'ought implies can'. That is a useful sense, but it does not do all the work that feasibility constraints needs to do. Thus I defend a second, comparative sense of feasibility (more or less feasible). Most of the work of the thesis goes into elaborating these two senses of feasibility, establishing the kinds of facts that count against the feasibility of a proposal, and discussing the way feasibility assessments should be made in practice. In later chapters I consider whether those two senses of feasibility apply as well to collective agents as they do to individual agents. I also ask whether our cognitive and epistemic limitations affect our ability to make reliable feasibility assessments.






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Open Access

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