Fact-sensitive political theory

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The purpose of this paper is to argue for the importance of attention to facts in normative theorising. I discuss the problems that arise from both not displaying such attention (as some idealists do) and from doing so in the wrong way (as, for example, realists do). I propose a different brand of theorising – fact-sensitive political theory, which aims to avoid these two problems by paying attention to key facts while retaining a solid normative anchoring in abstract normative principles. The merit of abstract vs. non-abstract reasoning is that the normative debate is not torn between two distinct ends of a spectrum in the way the idealist–realist debate is. By contrast, the locus of the investigations is vertical in the sense that abstract and concrete normative discussions are given equal status and can co-exist compatibly. One of the main differences between abstract and concrete normative principles is whether abstract or concrete facts are considered necessary for the determination of the normative principles. The fact-sensitive account of normativity is neither realist nor non-ideal: it is an ambitious and demanding normative theory that contains both abstract and concrete normative reasoning. The fact-sensitive account of political theory meets the two criteria set out in this article: to integrate concrete and empirical facts about the subject matter and to subject the selection of facts to theoretical and methodological discussion and justification
Original languageEnglish
JournalCritical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)5-17
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2019


  • Political theory
  • facts
  • idealism
  • norms
  • realism


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