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Dipartimento di


Political Normativity: Realism Meets Critics

NASP workshop

10 October 2019, h. 10:00
SPS Seminar Room
(Room 215, 2nd floor, Dept. of Social and Political Sciences)
Via Conservatorio 7 - Milan


10.00 Opening Address
Antonella Besussi (University of Milan)

CHAIR Carlo Burelli (University of Eastern Piedmont)
SPEAKER Eva Erman (Stockholm University)
"Distinctively Political Normativity: Unattractive or Redundant"


CHAIR Ilaria Cozzaglio (Goethe University Frankfurt)
SPEAKER Jonathan Leader Maynard (University of Oxford)
"Political Realism: Method not Metaethics"


CHAIR Chiara Destri (Sciences Po - Paris)
SPEAKER Enzo Rossi (University of Amsterdam)
"Normativity Without Moralism"


CHAIR Greta Favara (Vita-Salute San Raffaele University)
SPEAKER Manon Westphal (University of Münster)
"Context and Critique in Realist Political Theory"

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Political normativity does not equate with moral normativity, or so realists claim. The former, they continue, is better suited to regulate politics than the latter. To maintain this claim, however, realists need to address two related questions. First, they have to identify the distinctive source - if any - of specifically political norms (e.g. actual consent, enlightened self-interest, etc.). Let us call it the grounding question. Second, they need to specify which are the distinctive political values that are included in their normative account (e.g. legitimacy, order, etc.). Let us call this the normative question. Elaborating a consistent normative approach that is able to answer these two questions in a convincing way is the main challenge realists face.

At stake is the stability of their notion of political normativity with respect to other rival accounts, opponents to realism warn. In fact, an approach that insists on the distinctiveness of political standards as opposed to moral ones gains in terms of specificity with respect to the first question, but might lose in terms of normative power. In contrast, a softer realism that makes room for moral considerations maintains its normative power, scoring higher on the second question, while losing in the distinctiveness of the approach. By failing to address either one of such challenges, critics claim, realism would collapse respectively on moralism or descriptivism, thereby ceasing to be a defensible normative position.

In order to get out of this impasse, realists can advocate for different strategies. They could argue that a stable balance between distinctiveness and normativity can be found. For example, Bernard Williams has argued that political normativity ought to be interpreted as a morality “internal” to politics, which is therefore regulated by its own standards. Alternatively, realists could claim that the trade-off between distinctiveness and normativity is a false opposition, resulting from a typically moralist way to conceive of normativity. In this vein, Raymond Geuss argues that normative reasoning ought to be conceived as a form of immanent criticism of existing practices.

There might be more than one viable strategy and in this workshop we invite advocates and critics of contemporary political realism to discuss whether such a thing as political normativity exists and, if it does, what it looks like. Naturally, this question still involves methodological reflections, from which many realist approaches have originated, but it also brings in substantive issues concerning the nature of politics, what ought to be required from political agents and the role of political theorists.

30 settembre 2019
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