L’Imagination au Pouvoir: Comparing John Rawls’s Method of Ideal Theory with Iris Marion Young’s Method of Critical Theory



This chapter compares the philosophical methods used respectively by John Rawls and Iris Marion Young. Rawls’s theory is ideal in several interrelated methodological respects: he emphasizes principle over practice; he relies on a fictional reasoning process; and his theory is designed for an imagined world that lacks many problematic aspects of the real world. Young’s method, which she characterizes as critical theory, is non-ideal in all the respects that Rawls’s method is ideal. Young emphasizes practice; she respects the reasoning of actual people; and she directly addresses existing injustices. If Young has been able to develop philosophical ideals of justice that are more comprehensive, relevant, and substantively acceptable than Rawls’s, I suggest that one reason may be the non-ideal aspects of her methodology. In the end, however, Young’s philosophical contributions cannot be attributed only to her method; they are also the product of her unique political passion and creative imagination.


Non-ideal theory Philosophical method Critical theory Rawls Iris Marion Young 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, UCB 232University of Colorado at BoulderBoulderUSA

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