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This book offers an original and thorough-going defense of ideal theory in political philosophy.

Estlund, David


On the Limits (If Any) of Political Philosophy


    57,95 € / $65.75 / £51.00*

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    Publication Date:
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    December 2019
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    Aims and Scope

    A leading political theorist’s groundbreaking defense of ideal conceptions of justice in political philosophy

    Throughout the history of political philosophy and politics, there has been continual debate about the roles of idealism versus realism. For contemporary political philosophy, this debate manifests in notions of ideal theory versus nonideal theory. Nonideal thinkers shift their focus from theorizing about full social justice, asking instead which feasible institutional and political changes would make a society more just. Ideal thinkers, on the other hand, question whether full justice is a standard that any society is likely ever to satisfy. And, if social justice is unrealistic, are attempts to understand it without value or importance, and merely utopian?

    Utopophobia argues against thinking that justice must be realistic, or that understanding justice is only valuable if it can be realized. David Estlund does not offer a particular theory of justice, nor does he assert that justice is indeed unrealizable—only that it could be, and this possibility upsets common ways of proceeding in political thought. Estlund engages critically with important strands in traditional and contemporary political philosophy that assume a sound theory of justice has the overriding, defining task of contributing practical guidance toward greater social justice. Along the way, he counters several tempting perspectives, including the view that inquiry in political philosophy could have significant value only as a guide to practical political action, and that understanding true justice would necessarily have practical value, at least as an ideal arrangement to be approximated.

    Demonstrating that unrealistic standards of justice can be both sound and valuable to understand, Utopophobia stands as a trenchant defense of ideal theory in political philosophy.


    336 pages
    2 tables
    General/trade;Professional and scholarly;College/higher education;

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    David Estlund is the Lombardo Professor of the Humanities in the Philosophy Department at Brown University. He is the author of Democratic Authority: A Philosophical Framework (Princeton) and the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Political Philosophy.


    "Utopophobia is absolutely top-notch. No other work offers a systematic, comprehensive treatment of issues in the ideal/nonideal theory debate. Original, engaging, cutting-edge, surprising, and creative, this book will be highly influential—agenda setting, in fact—for subsequent research in the areas of normative political philosophy, value theory, theories of justice, and metaethics."—Robert Talisse, Vanderbilt University

    "This is a major, exciting contribution to contemporary debates within political philosophy regarding ideal theory. A leading and influential contributor to these debates, Estlund presents a sustained, powerful argument for the soundness and value of ideal political philosophy, focusing in particular on ideal conceptions of social justice."—Steven Wall, editor of The Cambridge Companion to Liberalism

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