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CODE 104270
  • 9 cfu during the 1st year of 8465 METODOLOGIE FILOSOFICHE (LM-78) - GENOVA
  • SEMESTER 1° Semester


    This course aims to analyse and critically discuss the interplay between methodological assumptions and normative implications in contemporary political theories. At the intersection between theory, practice and political methodology, the course aims to assess the plausibility of practical and theoretical implications of the most relevant models in normative political theory.  



    Normative political theory deals with matters of justice that have a distinctively collective nature. At the intersection between different disciplines (political philosophy, political theory and ethics), normative political theory addresses both substantive topics (multiculturalism, pluralism, toleration, animal and environmental ethics, international justice), as well as methodological issues (public justification, realism and idealism in political theory, and so on). Normative political theory seeks to investigate practical problems employing the conceptual resources of political philosophy and/or of other disciplines.


    This course aims to provide students with the necessary conceptual tools to better understand the relation between methodological and normative issues in contemporary political theories. At the end of the course, students

    • will be aware of the relation between theory and practice,
    • will be able to discuss critically the practical implications of normative political theories, and
    • will be able to e balance competing demands of justification and application.


    The first section of the first module will consist of lectures in order to introduce the basic conceptual apparatus. The other sections and the second module will include also seminars. Depending on the students’ availability, each section will be concluded by a seminar in which the students will present and critically discuss a possible solution to the problems raised by the course.


    Lectures will be held in presence, if possible. But students will have the oppurtunity to attend online lectures too (on the Teams platform, code : pzsxfh8 ). 



    The design of this course follows a “Problem Based Learning” (PBL) methodology. Specifically, it seeks to address the practical and theoretical problem of implementing the demands of justice. How could normative theories of justice improve their capacity to be put in practice? And, what can the role of political theories be? These questions inhabit the whole history of political philosophy, in particular the opposition between idealism and realism, and are still present in contemporary debates. These are the questions at the centre of the two modules of the course (40 hours 6CFU the first, 20 hours 3CFU, the second).

    The first module will be organized in different sub-sections, each of which will address the following questions:

    • Is there an inevitable divide between facts and principles? Can facts influence the justification of first principles of justice (see the Rawls-Cohen debate)?
    • Can we employ ideal theory or should we rely on non-ideal theory? What is the admissible level of (non-)ideality? (see the Rawls-Sen debate, Estlund’s “utopophobia”, and the relation between ideal theory and utopia)
    • Do facts constraint what we can morally demand of people?
    • Can feasibility limit the demands of justice? (see the debate between Southwood, Lawford-Smith, Gilabert and Wiens)

    For each sub-section, the students will be provided with a conceptual apparatus (for instance, concerning the merits and limits of realist or idealist approaches). At the end of all sub-sections there will be a student seminar.


    The second module of the course will guide students through the different functions of political theories (prescriptive, evaluative, critical, genealogical). In this way, students will see how some fundamental distinctions (ideal vs. nonideal, realism vs. normativitism, feasibility vs. desirability) are translated into contemporary philosophical debates. Specifically, the comparison between different theories will raise awareness of contemporary disputes about justice between ideal and non-ideal theory (Rawls, Honneth, and Fraser), the problem of political transformation between desirability and feasibility, and debates about truth in politics  between moralism and realism.


    6 CFU 

    Besussi, A., Biale, E. (a cura di) (2010), Fatti e principi. Una disputa sulla giustizia, Roma, Aracne, 2010. (capp. 1-3, pp. 14-90)

    Burelli, C. (2020), Realtà, necessità, conflitto: il realismo in filosofia politica, Roma, Carocci

    Southwood, N. (2018), “The feasibility issue”, Philosophy compass 13, pp. 1-13

    Valentini, L. (2012), “Ideal vs. Non-Ideal Theory: A Conceptual Map”, Philosophy Compass 7/9, pp. 654-664.

    Williams, B. (2005), In the beginning was the deed. Realism and moralism in political argument (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press). (cap. 1)

    Zuolo, F. (2016), “La realizzabilità e l’efficacia nella teoria politica antica”, Ragion pratica 46, pp. 115-135


    Students must also 

    • Give a brief seminar during the course 
    • Or write a short paper (4000-5000) on the following themes


    • Must political realism be conservative?
    • Compare the diverse types of moralism: critical, functionalist, contestualist 
    • Which facts must a normative political theory take into account?
    • Should a theory of justice include a feasibility requirement? And if so, how? 
    • Could factual issue limit what we ought to do?
    • Analyze how Rawls conceives the possibility of realizing his theory of justice
    • Outline and reconstruct Cohen's criticism of Rawls concerning facts and principles
    • What is the appropriate level of (non)ideality of a theory?
    • Do we need utopian political theory? 


    9 CFU 

    Students who do not attend to the course should discuss the following texts at the oral exam.

    Fraser e A. Honneth, Redistribuzione o riconoscimento?: una controversia politico-filosofica, Meltemi, Roma, primo saggio di Fraser e primo saggio di Honneth.  

    J. Rawls, Giustizia come equità, Feltrinelli, Milano, parte I, parte II.  


    The reading list might change before the course begins. 


    Exam Board

    FEDERICO ZUOLO (President)








    Oral examination. In addition, the students will have to either write a paper or give a talk on a theme provided by the teachers. The oral examination will begin from a discussion of the paper or the seminar and then will touch on other course’s themes.  

    Exam schedule

    Date Time Location Type Notes
    14/12/2021 09:00 GENOVA Orale
    17/01/2022 09:00 GENOVA Orale
    01/02/2022 09:00 GENOVA Orale
    09/05/2022 09:00 GENOVA Orale
    23/05/2022 09:00 GENOVA Orale
    06/06/2022 09:00 GENOVA Orale
    04/07/2022 09:00 GENOVA Orale
    06/09/2022 09:00 GENOVA Orale