74786 - Political Philosophy

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2017/2018

Learning outcomes

Political Philosophy is conceived as the application of philosophical investigation to politics and thus as a study of the contribution that philosophy may give to political practice. This implies both a clarification of the terms used in our everyday political vocabulary and an attempt at designing models of a just society. The course intends to provide the students with the following abilities: a) notions on methodology in historical investigation; b) ability to analytically read a text while at the same time situating it into the historical and linguistic context of the age; c) knowledge of the perennial tasks of political philosophy; d) an introduction to political realism.

Course contents

The origins of democracy and its current crisis

The course will first of all examine one of the seminal works in the history of Western political thought: Plato's Republic. We will investigate the origins of democracy and Plato's powerful criticism to its main tenets; we will then proceed to study the influence of this work and the current crisis of democracy as seen by such contemporary authors as Leo Strauss, Stuart Hampshire, Michael Oakeshott, Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor and Martha Nussbaum.


Required reading:

Plato, Republic, ed. by C. Rowe (London: Penguin, 2012).

In addition, two works chosen among the following:

S. Hampshire, Innocence and Experience (London: Penguin, 1989).

A. MacIntyre, Dependent Rational Animals (London: Open Court, 2001).

M. Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003): only part I.

M. Nussbaum, Creating Capabilities (Harvard: The Belknap Press, 2013).

M. Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991).

A. Sen, Development as Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

A. Sen, The Idea of Justice (Harvard: The Belknap Press, 2011).

L. Strauss, The City and Man (Chicago-London: University of Chicago Press, 1964).

L. Strauss, Liberalism Ancient and Modern (Chicago-London: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

Teaching methods

30 classes of two hours each for a total of 60 hours.

The course is held in the second semester and classes will start in February 2018.

Assessment methods

The final exam will consist in an oral discussion at the end of the course. During this discussion the instructor will evaluate the student's ability to identify the central notions of a text, to examine them critically and to argue consistently. Students who attend the classes have the option to write a paper on a subject agreed with the instructor. The final exam will be in English; however, students who prefer to take it in Italian are welcome to do so.

Office hours

See the website of Giovanni Giorgini

See the website of Elena Irrera