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CODE 104270
SEMESTER 1° Semester
MODULES Questo insegnamento è un modulo di:


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 course will be delivered in presence. The first section will consist of lectures in order to introduce the basic conceptual apparatus. The other section will also include 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.



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.

The first part 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). The second part of the course will be run in a text-based approach, by reading and collectively commenting on major authors who have dealt with the following themes concerning the relation between normative theory and practice:

  • Evaluation (the Sen – Gaus debate)
  • Critique (critical theories of justice)
  • Reconciliation (Hegelian themes and Rawlsian debates)
  • Activism (agents of change and avant-garde) 

At the end of all sub-sections there will be a student seminar. 


Parts of the following texts (to be discussed during the course): 

Besussi, A., Biale, E. (a cura di) (2010), Fatti e principi. Una disputa sulla giustizia, Roma, Aracne, 2010.

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

Cohen, G.A. “Facts and principles” o estratti da Per la giustizia e l’eguaglianza

Elster, J. (2011), “How outlandish can imaginary cases be?”, The Journal of applied philosophy 28(3)

Forst, R (2021) Normatività e potere. Per l’analisi degli ordini sociali di giustificazione, Milano, Mimesis. (passi scelti)

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

Gaus, G. (2016), Tyranny of the ideal: justice in a diverse society, Princeton & Oxford, Princeton University Press  

Gilabert, P., Lawford-Smith, H. (2012), “Political feasibility: A conceptual exploration”, Political studies 60.

Honneth, A. (2016) L’idea di socialismo, Milano, Feltrinelli.

Laurence, B. (2021), Agents of change, Harvard University Press 

Lawford-Smith, H. (2013), “Understanding political feasibility”, The journal of political philosophy 21(3)

Olin Wright, E. (2010) Envisioning real utopias, London, Verso, trad. it. Utopie reali.

Raekstad, R. e Saio Gradin, S. (2019) Prefigurative Politics: Building Tomorrow Today, Polity, Londra.

Rawls, J. (2002) Giustizia come equità, Feltrinelli, Milano.

Sen, A. (2006), “What do we want from a theory of justice?”, The journal of philosophy 103(5)

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

Southwood, N., Wiens, D. (2016), “Actual does not imply feasible”, Philosophical studies 173

Wiens, D. (2015), “Political ideals and the feasibility frontier”, Economics and philosophy 31

Ypi, L. (2016) Stato e avanguardie cosmopolitiche, Roma-Bari, Laterza


Possible topics for the short essay: 

  • Must political realism be conservative?
  • Compare the diverse types of realism: 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? 


The reading list might change before the course begins. 




25 september 2023



Attending students

- Short essay (3500words, to be handed in at least 1 week before) or student seminar during the course

+ oral examination discussing the essay or seminar and other course's themes

Non-attending students:

Oral examination on the following titles from the reading list:

- Cohen, "Facts and Principles"

- Elster, "How outlandish can imaginary cases be?"

- Lawford-Smith, "Understanding political feasibility"

- Ypi, Stato e avanguardie cosmopolitiche

- Raekstad-Saio Gradin, Prefigurative politics


 PRO3 - Soft skills - Alfabetica base 1 - A
PRO3 - Soft skills - Alfabetica base 1 - A