Public Philosophy

A.Y. 2019/2020
Overall hours
Learning objectives
Making available appropriate theoretical and applied tools the course favours the acquisition of the argumentative language and the autonomous judgement needed to reason appropriately on individual and public decisions.
Expected learning outcomes
Devoting one of the three modules of the course to students' presentations and general discussion in class a more active involvement in the learning process is promoted, furthering participation and ability to speak publicly. The entire course is indeed aimed to favour not just knowledge and comprehension, but the practical application of the notions acquired
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
Second trimester
Course syllabus
First Module (20 hours)
The trolley problem and the Doctrine of Double Effect
After the introduction of some basic notions and concepts of Normative Ethics a well-known mental experiment will be examined, the so-called Trolley problem. The original form of the experiment is the following:There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options:
Do nothing and allow the trolley to kill the five people on the main track.
Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.
What is the right thing to do?
The Doctrine of Double Effect proposed by Thomas of Aquinas to justify the difference between killing and killing with the intention to kill is a basic theoretical tool of this debate. Is it a resolving tool?
Second module (20 hours)
The Lesser Evil as a political morality
Is the lesser evil a necessary and desirable criterion of political morality (especially in emergency situations) or we should not forget that a lesser evil is still an evil?
Third Module (20 hours)
Seminal contributions in the field will be presented and discussed in class.
Prerequisites for admission
No previous knowledge is required.
Teaching methods
Discussion of cases
Students' presentations
Teaching Resources
D.Edmonds,Would You Kill the Fat Man?The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us about Right and Wrong, Princeton UP.
M.Ignatieff, The lesser evil. Political Ethics in an Age of Terror, Princeton UP

J.J. Thompson, The trolley problem
J.J. Thompson, Turning the Trolley
J.J. Thompson, A defence of abortion
P.Foot, Abortion and the Doctrine of Double Effect
M.Walzer, Political Action: the problem of Dirty Hands
H. Arendt, Personal responsibility under dictatorship
H.Arendt, The eggs speak up
J.Waldron, Security and Liberty. The Image of Balance
T. Meisels, How terrorism upsets liberty

*available on the Ariel site of the course
Assessment methods and Criteria
Attendant students
a written test aimed to verify the basic knowledge acquired;
a presentation in class aimed to verify the acquirement of the required argumentative skills;
a paper(4000 words length) about a subject proposed by the teacher aimed to verify conceptual clarity and autonomous evaluation.
SPS/01 - POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY - University credits: 9
Lessons: 60 hours
Professor: Besussi Antonella
Educational website(s)
Office 209 - II floor - Via Passione 13