The Conversation

By Woojin Lim and Daniel Shin

Spherical Sheep

You may have come across something like the following phrase in a physics textbook: “Assume the flying sheep is perfectly spherical.” Though this is an unrealistic stipulation — for sheep don’t fly nor are they spherical — this hypothetical helps us develop a clearer understanding of the physical laws of motion while keeping all other variables constant.

Beyond the confines of a physics textbook, ideal theorizing manifests itself in all realms of public discourse. A historical chain of thinkers — from Plato to Rawls — have sided with idealism over realism in thinking hard about philosophical questions. Their inquiries begin to sound like something along the lines of: “What best principles would fully informed, impartial, and rational agents in an ideal society reach when deliberating about matters of morality or justice?”

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