By Julian Culp

The paper clarifies the basic conceptual framework of the ideal/nonideal theory of justice distinction. It juxtaposes two alternative conceptions of a complementary understanding of the relation between ideal and nonideal theory. The first is John Rawls’s “double-level” conception that employs two distinct normative yardsticks. The second type is a “singlelevel” conception that operates with only one evaluative standard that is grounded on the level of ideal theory and translates into distinct action-guiding norms on the level of both ideal and nonideal theory. The paper points out that while – as G.A. Cohen puts it – “factsensitive” theorists will not necessarily be disinclined to endorse a double-level conception of a complementary relation between ideal and nonideal theory, “fact-insensitive” theorists will. Hence the endorsement of either a single-level or double-level conception hinges upon one’s view on the significance of facts in grounding principles of justice.


Online available: