The Feasibility Issue

Geoffrey Brennan and Philip Pettit

in The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy

Published in print November 2007 | ISBN: 9780199234769
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:


The Feasibility Issue


Much political philosophy seeks to identify those institutions that would be more desirable than alternatives under the ideal-theory assumption that whatever alternative is in place will command general compliance. This assumption means that the question of how likely it is that such institutions will engage prevailing incentives and command high levels of compliance is effectively assumed away. The failure to engage this question represents a potentially serious limitation on the relevance of political philosophy for real-world policy. It suggests that philosophy ought to seek something beyond the purely ideal sort of theory that is fashionable in many circles. This article provides an overview of the case for such ‘non-ideal’ theory and of its prospects. It looks at ideal theory in philosophy and at the problems it faces. It also considers the emphasis on incentive-compatibility found among economists and sketches the possibility of developing that perspective within philosophy.

Keywords: political philosophy; real-world policy; ideal theory; incentive-compatibility; compliance; incentives

Article.  10923 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Social and Political Philosophy

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