L'imagination au pouvoir: Comparing John Rawls's method of ideal theory with Iris Marion Young's method of critical theory

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


  • Alison M. Jaggar

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University of Colorado at Boulder


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.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFeminist Ethics and Social and Political Philosophy: Theorizing the Non-Ideal
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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