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Black Rights/White WrongsThe Critique of Racial Liberalism$
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Charles W. Mills

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190245412

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190245412.001.0001

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“Ideal Theory” as Ideology

“Ideal Theory” as Ideology

(p.72) Chapter 5 “Ideal Theory” as Ideology
Black Rights/White Wrongs

Charles W. Mills

Oxford University Press

Feminist philosophy—such as in the work of Onora O’Neill—has played a crucial role in the critique of “ideal theory,” Rawlsian and otherwise. This chapter seeks to build on O’Neill’s insights by making a case that ideal theory is in part ideological, serving the group interests of the socially privileged. It begins by differentiating the diverse senses of “ideal” and then laying out the main features of ideal theory in the sense under examination. It then argues that ideal theory has no adequate rationale and that its hegemony in mainstream ethico-political theory must therefore be sought elsewhere. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the virtues of non-ideal theory—for example, its superior capacity to generate descriptive and normative mapping concepts appropriate to the existing non-ideal world, and its greater realism about the obstacles to the realization of a more just society.

Keywords:   ideal theory, Rawlsianism, feminism, non-ideal theory, racism and justice

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