POLITICS AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
INTR6015 Philosophy, Methodology and Research Design
Normative theory: ideals and feasibility
1. Normative theory is concerned with the analysis of ideals. But what is the relationship between normative theory and empirical research? Must normative analysis be empirically informed, or can it be conducted successfully without empirical investigation?
One way of focusing these issues is to ask whether ideals must be feasible. Or, more precisely, is it an objection to a set of normative principles that they could not be implemented, or that they are too costly to implement? If feasibility matters, then normative theory will have to be empirically informed, for it will have to make judgements about the prospects of implementing an ideal and the costs of doing so.
2. Note that there are a number of different reasons why it may not be feasible to implement an ideal:
(i) We may not have enough knowledge to implement it
(ii) Human nature might be incompatible with it
(iii) It might be impossible to design institutions to realise it
(iv) The particular historical circumstances in which we live may make it impossible to implement
3. Dunn’s arguments in favour of “realistic” normative theory
(i) Political relevance
John Dunn argues that 'the purpose of political theory is to diagnose practical predicaments and show us how to confront them'. As a result, 'political theory has no choice but to try to tell us how to act, given that this is indeed where we now are' (see J. Dunn, Interpreting Political Responsibility)
(ii) Wishful thinking
Forcing political theorists 'to locate the levels of moral ambition which they espouse within their best causal understanding of the human world as this is...precludes them in consequence from subordinating their understanding of how it really is to the importunities of their own projective desires' (see Dunn, Interpreting Political Responsibility). Unless we begin from an analysis...