Practice-dependent Political Theory and the Boundaries of Political Imagination

WP-LPF 3/16

WP-LPF 2016
Centro Einaudi
Articolo completo/Full text


It is often claimed that in normative political theory political imagination should remain unaffected by real-world contingencies: our idea of how the world “ought to be” should be independent from how the world “actually is”. According to the practice-dependent thesis, instead, “[t]he content, scope, and justification of a conception of justice depends on the structure and form of the practices that the conception is intended to govern” (Sangiovanni 2008). This methodological approach conceives the relationship between theory and practice as an interplay: normative theory applies to practice, but practices are also able to affect the content of normative theory. In this paper, I argue that the interplay between theory and practices that the practice-dependent method generates has not been fully understood. Though it may – at a superficial look – appear as a method compliant with the status quo, I will show that this method implies an idea of political theory as an activity of continuous critical engagement. Given an extended account of the method, political imagination has boundaries but these are not fixed nor easily-definable: the real-world fact that constrains practice-dependent principles is the point and purpose of the practice they are meant to apply to, but this fact in itself is partly shaped and critically assessed by the theorist.