One classic way to think about justice is to think about it in terms of utopia. On this picture, political theorising is about outlining the best possible society we could live in. While this way of thinking about justice sometimes gains and sometimes loses in popularity, I don’t believe it ever has quite lost its intuitive attraction. Appeals to some desirable end state for society play an important role for many contemporary anarcho-capitalists, socialists, and conservatives. (For the latter, the utopia is usually in the past.)
Many philosophers nowadays claim that this chiliastic way of thinking about justice is problematic, as it gives us little guidance for our actual societies. In particular, it’s become common to object that this fruitless type of “ideal” theorising characterises much of modern political philosophy, in particular Rawls’s theory of justice. There are different types of objections here, but I wish to focus on one particular line of objection advanced by Amartya Sen (in The Idea of Justice, Harvard University Press, 2009) and Gerald Gaus (in The Tyranny of the Ideal, Princeton University Press, 2016).