Public Reason: Vol. 11, No. 2, 2019
Inconsistencies in Raymond Geuss’ Realist Theory
Andreea Neagu

Contemporary debates in political philosophy have been dominated by the accounts of realism. As one of the most prominent figures in political realism, Raymond Geuss addresses the critical need for an action-guiding theory that could actually be of use in political practice. The Cambridge-based philosopher firmly rejects the idealistic account of politics (which he refers to as the “ethics-first” approach) that derives from Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals, arguing that it sets a wrong starting point in political theory and therefore succumbs to unrealism. Geuss holds that political theory should strive to understand the “real motivations” of political actors and thus take into account features such as human finitude, the inevitability of conflict and the unequal distribution of power. The present paper points to certain inconsistencies in Geuss’ theory, arguing that a plausible conception of political legitimacy cannot be justified in the absence of certain moral norms and principles: How can we define reasonableness in action? To what extent is coercive power acceptable? When should political authority be sanctioned? etc. Moreover, the dismissal of normative standards makes political realism impossible in praxis, ignoring the strong tendency towards international cooperation of the last decades.

Key words: Raymond Geuss, critique, political theory, political realism, ideology, rights, justice, power.


Neagu, Andreea. 2019. Inconsistencies in Raymond Geuss’ Realist Theory. Public Reason 11 (2): 55-63.