Jacob Barrett


Our world is complex—it is composed of many interacting parts—and this complexity poses a serious difficulty for theorists of social reform. On the one hand, we cannot merely work out ways of ameliorating immediate problems of injustice, because the solutions we generate may interact to set back the achievement of overall long-term justice. On the other, we cannot supplement such problem solving with theorizing about how to make progress towards a long-term goal of ideal justice, because the very interactions that render problem solving unsatisfactory raise insurmountable epistemic difficulties for this latter approach. To accommodate complexity, we must therefore give up on ideal theory, and instead supplement problem solving with a new sort of theorizing that aims to work out how to make our institutional arrangements more progressive: more conducive to further improvements in general, though not necessarily to the achievement of any antecedently specified goal. More concretely, we must identify ways of improving our capacity to flexibly experiment with many promising solutions to problems as they arise, to select for those solutions that prove successful while eliminating those that do not, and to learn from both our successes and our inevitable failures.