Realism in Normative Political Theory

Philosophy Compass, 2014

18 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2014 Last revised: 13 Apr 2014

See all articles by Enzo Rossi

Enzo Rossi

University of Amsterdam

Matthew Sleat

University of Sheffield

Date Written: April 5, 2014


This paper provides a critical overview of the realist current in contemporary political philosophy. We define political realism on the basis of its attempt to give varying degrees of autonomy to politics as a sphere of human activity, in large part through its exploration of the sources of normativity appropriate for the political, and so distinguish sharply between political realism and non-ideal theory. We then identify and discuss four key arguments advanced by political realists: from ideology, from the relationship of ethics to politics, from the priority of legitimacy over justice, and from the nature of political judgment. Next, we ask to what extent realism is a methodological approach as opposed to a substantive political position, and so discuss the relationship between realism and a few such positions. We close by pointing out the links between contemporary realism and the realist strand that runs through much of the history of Western political thought.

Keywords: political realism, method in political theory, Bernard Williams, Raymond Geuss, legitimacy, ideology, ideal and non-ideal theory

Suggested Citation

Rossi, Enzo and Sleat, Matthew, Realism in Normative Political Theory (April 5, 2014). Philosophy Compass, 2014. Available at SSRN: or

Enzo Rossi (Contact Author)

University of Amsterdam ( email )

Department of Political Science
Oudezijds Achterburgwal 237
Amsterdam, 1012 DL


Matthew Sleat

University of Sheffield ( email )

17 Mappin Street
Sheffield, Sheffield S1 4DT
United Kingdom

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics