STV9028 – The Methodology of Political Theory

Course content

The central aim of normative political theory is to reach justified conclusions on what is morally right and wrong in the political sphere. This encompasses both broad questions about how (domestic and international) society should be organized, including the conditions of legitimacy of political institutions, and moral dimensions of more specific political issues, such as questions related to war, or distributions of social and economic goods.

In recent years, there has been an increased interest in the methodological challenges of political theory, including challenges involved in making political theory relevant in practice: What is the relationship between political theory and political practice? How can one decide what political practices are morally right? What is the proper role or feasibility considerations in normative political theory? And of democracy? This course will give an advanced introduction to some of the most important contemporary debates. In particular, the course will cover:

  • The use of reflective equilibrium in normative reasoning, and methodological challenges involved in the use of cases and intuitions.
  • Ideal and non-ideal theory, and the debates about feasibility in political theory
  • The relation between facts and normative principles
  • The relation between methods in political theory and in other disciplines
  • Public reason
  • The relevance of democracy for the methodology of political theory
  • The relationship between theory and practice


Jakob Elster, associate professor at Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo, Norway

Cathrine Holst, professor at Department of Sociology and Human Geography and research professor at ARENA, Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo, Norway

Robert Huseby, professor at Department of Political Science, University of Oslo, Norway

Annabelle Lever, professeur des universités at SciencesPO and associate at CEVIPOF, France

Learning outcome

The students will acquire:

  • Knowledge of the main current methodological debates in political theory
  • An understanding of the role of different disciplines in normative political arguments and of the methodological challenges raised by this.
  • An ability to apply different methods in one’s own research and to see the relevance of methodological debates for this research.


The course is open for PhD students in philosophy, political science, sociology, law and other related disciplines.

There is no participation fee, and lunches and dinners are provided for registered participants. Travel and accommodation must be covered by the participants.

PhD candidates at the Department of Political Science and the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Oslo: apply for the course in Studentweb from 3 May 2019

Other PhD candidates: Application form

All candidates accepted for admission will be registered as guest students at the University of Oslo.

Application deadline: 8 August 2019

Applicants will be notified about the outcome of their application as quickly as possible after the application deadline.


The teaching will involve a combination of lectures and seminar discussions. The students will also give presentations, which will provide the basis for group discussions.

Obligatory activities:

  • Read the assigned literature in advance
  • Participate actively in discussions during the course
  • In advance of the course, participants will hand in a written draft of the presentation they will give during the course
  • Give a presentation during the course

Deadline for submission of written draft of presentation: 11 September before 12 PM


Submit essay based on the presentation. The essay must be between 7000-9000 words. The essay must be anchored in the course literature, and discuss a methodological issue in political theory, or methodological questions connected to the student’s thesis. Further specifications of the requirements to the essay will be provided to the participants.

Deadline for submission of essay: November 1 before 12 PM. The participants will then receive comments, after which they will have three weeks to submit the final version.

Facts about this course






Autumn 2019


Autumn 2019

Teaching language