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Ideal Theory as Democratic Theory

Laurence, Ben (2009) Ideal Theory as Democratic Theory. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation is a defense of the claim that ideal theory is democratic theory. I begin with an interpretation of Plato's famous critique of democracy. One is properly equipped, Plato argues, to exercise authority in politics in virtue of the possession of knowledge. Therefore, sane political arrangements involve distributing political authority to experts. But democracy does just the opposite: by putting political authority in the hands of the majority, it substitutes ignorance for knowledge where we can least afford it. I turn to Aristotle for help in answering this challenge. Aristotle argues that the political art belongs to an important category of rational but non-technical capacities, the exercise of which is essential to leading a good life. The Platonic argument in favor of rule by experts is objectionable because one is equipped to participate in the government of the affairs of one's community as a result of ones upbringing and life experience as a member of that community, and because it is wrong to deprive someone of the opportunity to exercise the capacity for self-government, even if this capacity is flawed. In the second half of my dissertation I explore the consequences of this argument for ideal theory. I argue against "value pluralism": the doctrine that political values, like freedom, equality, and justice, conflict with one another. In order to be practicable, a conception of the ideal must consist of values that are compatible rather than incompatible. I also argue against "the thesis of moderate scarcity": the claim that for ideal theory to be practicable we must assume that the polity lacks, to a moderate degree, the material resources it needs. On the contrary, for the political ideal to be practicable it must require only limited material resources. For the purposes of ideal theory we must assume that material resources are sufficient rather than moderately scarce. The conclusion of my argument is that ideal theory is the theory of a democratically self-organized society, governing itself in accordance with a set of compatible values, in conditions of sufficient material resources.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairThompson,
Committee MemberMcDowell, Johnjmcdowel@pitt.eduJMCDOWEL
Committee MemberSetiya, Kierankis23@pitt.eduKIS23
Committee MemberOtsuka,
Date: 28 January 2009
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 5 November 2008
Approval Date: 28 January 2009
Submission Date: 10 December 2008
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: democracy; ideal theory; isaiah berlin; moderate scarcity; phronesis; politike; value pluralism
Other ID:, etd-12102008-191515
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 20:10
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:54


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