Normative behaviourism as a solution to four problems in realism and non-ideal theory

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This article advances the case for ‘normative behaviourism’ – a new way of doing political philosophy that tries to turn facts about observable patterns of behaviour, as produced by different political systems, into grounds for specific political principles. This approach is applied to four distinct problems at the heart of the ideal/non-ideal theory and moralism/realism debates: (1) How to distinguish good from bad idealisations; (2) how to rank options of variable feasibility, cost, and danger; (3) how to distinguish legitimate acceptance of a given political system from acceptance based on coercion or false consciousness; and (4) how to translate abstract principles into concrete institutions. Objections against the general viability of normative behaviourism, and against the types of behaviour it tracks, are also considered.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-162
Number of pages26
JournalCritical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy
Issue number2
Early online date1 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2020


  • Normative behaviourism
  • ideal theory
  • non-ideal theory
  • moralism
  • realism
  • methodology
  • facts and principles
  • Cohen
  • justification


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