SOPhiA 2021

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Ideal Theory for Feminists
(Political Philosophy, )

Disagreement abounds in philosophy, but it might nonetheless seem puzzling that political philosophers disagree not just about first-order questions about, say, distributive justice or rights in war but also, at the meta-level, about the nature of their discipline. Questions about methodology are fiercely debated in political philosophy. Some political philosophers express frustration with mainstream political philosophy in a broadly Rawlsian vein that -- according to its critics -- is preoccupied with highly abstract questions at the expense of more relevant work. Political philosophy that relies on idealisation and is not primarily concerned with real-world applicability is often referred to as ideal theory. Its critics argue that political philosophers should do non-ideal theory instead, meaning roughly that they should factor existing inequalities and the shortcomings of human beings into their theories to guide real-world political action (Farrelly 2007; Sen 2009). While these debates have grown ever more complex in recent years, it is nonetheless noticeable that non-ideal approaches have become more prominent.

This trend also exists in the subfield of feminist political philosophy. Some feminist political philosophers motivate their rejection of ideal theory by appealing to feminist principles. It is not a coincidence that they are critical of both ideal theory and traditional political philosophy in what they argue is a patriarchal tradition. Certain idealised assumptions, the argument goes, rest on a mistake that contributes to the oppression of women and other disadvantaged minorities (Okin 1989).

Which methodological approach, then, should feminist political philosophers take? My aim is to argue that feminist political philosophers can embrace ideal theory and that while non-ideal theory has an important role to play, the feminist project can also benefit from the more abstract and lofty considerations that are commonly taken to constitute ideal theorising.


Farrelly, Colin. 2007. ``Justice in Ideal Theory: A Refutation.'' Political Studies 55 (4): 844--864.

Okin, Susan Moller. 1989. Justice, Gender, and the Family. New York: Basic Books.

Sen, Amartya. 2009. The Idea of Justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Chair: Marlene Maislinger
Time: 11:20-11:50, 10 September 2021 (Friday)
Location: SR 1.007
Remark: (Online Talk)

Lena Könemann 
(University of Tübingen, Germany)

Lena Könemann is a law student at the University of Tübingen. She previously studied philosophy as an undergraduate at the Humboldt University of Berlin and is especially interested in epistemology and the philosophy of law.

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