British Journal of Political Science

Research Article

Political Ideals and Political Practice

Robert E. Goodin*

The pursuit of high ideals in politics is often scorned as unrealistic and, therefore, undesirable. This article considers two new ways in which this might be true. One allegation is that ideals might be so highly idealized as to be inaccessible to ordinary agents and hence incapable of guiding their actions. The other notes that the full and simultaneous implementation of all of our ideals is typically unrealistic, and that first-best ideal desiderata may well be imperfect guides to choice among second-best worlds.


* Philosophy Program, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University. I am grateful for comments on earlier versions of this article from Terry Ball, John Braithwaite, Geoff Brennan, Bruce Coram, Peter Jones, Peter McCarthy, Onora O'Neill, Philip Pettit, Alan Ryan, Albert Weale, an audience at La Trobe University and various anonymous readers.