I’m reworking some sections of my sovereignty paper and am stuck trying to think of a case that adequately illustrates a point I’m trying to make. Read on if you’re interested in helping.
David Estlund (2008) makes a distinction between hopelessly realistic and hopefully realistic moral theories, where the first specifies moral standards that could possibly be met but aren’t likely to be realized and the second specifies moral standards that are likely to be met (and thus trivially possible). The point I want to make is that Estlund’s distinction cuts across the conventional ideal/non-ideal theory distinction, where an ideal theory specifies a just state of affairs assuming full compliance with the specified standards and a non-ideal theory specifies a just state of affairs assuming partial compliance. The reason I think these distinctions are cross-cutting is because it seems plausible to have two sorts of hopeless theories, one that specifies moral standards that are possible (but not likely) for every individual to meet together (i.e., a hopelessly ideal theory) and one that specifies moral standards that are equally possible (but not likely) for any individual to meet, but not possible for all individuals to meet together (i.e., a hopelessly non-ideal theory). My full analysis is summarized in the table. I’m looking for an example that illustrates the bottom-left quadrant.
|Ideal||Posits standards that are possible (but not likely) for all individuals to meet together||Posits standards that are likely to be met assuming full compliance is probable|
|Non-ideal||Posits standards that are equally possible (but not likely) for any individual to meet but not for all individuals to meet together||Posits standards that are likely to be met assuming full compliance is improbable|
My first instinct was to go with Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem. But this only shows that it is possible for all individuals to meet the standards of rationality while the choice yielded by the collective decision procedure fails to meet the standards of rationality. This doesn’t illustrate my point because it remains possible for every person to meet the standards of rationality together.
The other sort of case I thought of (with some help from Sam and Jason) was a theory that specifies that all parents have an obligation to bring their children up to some minimal capability threshold. Strictly speaking, it’s possible that any parent meet this standard. But, given moderate assumptions about the adequacy of current resource levels, it could be impossible for all parents to meet this standard together.
But I’m not satisfied with this case because it’s controversial to say that resources are so scarce as to preclude the possibility of everyone reaching a minimal capability threshold. If push comes to shove, I’d be willing to stipulate the required resource scarcity to make my point, but I’d like a case that is as realistic as possible. (A more realistic, or less controversially realistic case would make my argument as strong as possible.) I think it would also be interesting just to collect several of these sorts of cases (for future reference).
So, two questions. First, does it seem plausible that there be realistic cases of the sort I’m looking for? Second, can you think of any off the top of your head?