Alessandro Ferrara (1979)

Professor of Political Philosophy, University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy

I came to Berkeley in 1977 on a Harkness Fellowship. Initially I circled around the Philosophy Department, much too analytical for my European background at the time, and in 1979 I got on the Ph.D. program offered by the Department of Sociology. This has been the best educational experience of my life: I still remember with great nostalgia the passionate climate of discussion in the theory class taught by Michael Burawoy for us incoming graduate students. There I met my friends and companions of my graduate studies: Brian Powers, Chuck Stephen, Neal Aponte, Luciano Costa Neto and many others. And later the intellectual encounters with Neil Smelser, my thesis supervisor, Ken Bock, and J├╝rgen Habermas – who was visiting professor in 1980 – shaped my professional life. On Habermas’s invitation, I finished writing my dissertation on Rousseau’s ethics of authenticity in Frankfurt, in 1984. The same year I returned to Italy and got my first teaching position in Rome. I kept writing my books in English  – Modernity and Authenticity (1993), Reflective Authenticity (1998), Justice and Judgment (1999), The Force of the Example (2008), The Democratic Horizon (2014) – ever since. After a 4 year parenthesis of teaching in Parma, since November 2002 I’m a professor of political philosophy (but I also continue teaching social theory) at the University of Rome Tor Vergata.

Berkeley has nourished my own inclination for theory (where else is sociological theory so much cherished?) but above all has given me a mental habitus and a set of standards that I regard as the most preciousresource for salvaging what one of my friends used to call “a sense of purpose” amidst the less edifying aspects of academic life and professional involvement.

As for the impact of my thoughts, I’m happy enough if my ideas somehow have been shaped by the world around me, as opposed to being totally idyosyncratic. I’m happy to see that in contemporary developments in social and political theory corroboration can be found of the basic idea I got from Berkeley, namely that the source of normativity is ultimately to be located in identity. 

Dissertation Title: 
Autonomy and Authenticity: Rousseau's Contribution to the Development of Western Rationalsim After the Protestant Ethic and to the Rise of Contemporary Modernity
Dissertation Book Title: 
Modernity and authenticity : a study in the social and ethical thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau