Estlund, David, Princeton University Press, 2019.
A Defense of Ideal Conceptions of Justice in Political Philosophy
The history of political philosophy and politics has brought about a continual debate about the roles of idealism versus realism. For contemporary political philosophy, this debate is seen in notions of ideal theory versus nonideal theory. Nonideal thinkers move their focus from theorizing about full social justice and instead ask which feasible institutional and political changes would make a society more just. Ideal thinkers question whether full justice is a standard that any society is likely ever to achieve and/or satisfy. If social justice is unrealistic, do attempts to understand it have no value or importance and are they merely utopian?
In “Utopophobia”, David Estlund argues against the idea that justice must be realistic, or that understanding justice can only be valuable if it can be realized. He does not offer a particular theory of justice, nor does he state that justice is unrealizable but only that it could be, and this possibility upsets common ways of understanding political thought. Estlund critically examines important strands in traditional and contemporary political philosophy that assume a sound theory of justice has the overriding and defining task of contributing practical guidance toward greater social justice. He counters several perspectives, including the view that inquiry in political philosophy could be significant if it is a guide to practical political action and that the understanding of true justice would have practical value as an ideal arrangement to be approximated.
The demonstration that unrealistic standards of justice can be both sound and valuable to understand, the book is a strong defense of ideal theory in political philosophy.
Estlund makes a strong and exciting ” contribution to contemporary debates within political philosophy in regard to ideal theory. His powerful argument for the soundness and value of ideal political philosophy, places particular focus on ideal conceptions of social justice. His treatment is a systematic, comprehensive treatment of issues in the ideal/nonideal theory debate and it is original, surprising and creative.