Quentin Skinner: “How should we think about freedom?”

Monday, April 20
6:30 pm - 8:00 pm

Oriental Institute, Breasted Hall
1155 East 58th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637

The concept of individual freedom is usually understood in negative terms as absence of interference or constraint.  Quentin Skinner argues that this orthodoxy is in need of qualification and perhaps abandonment.  Skinner began his lecture by noting that, because the concept of interference is such a complex one, there has been much dispute even within the liberal tradition about the conditions under which it may be legitimate to claim that freedom has been infringed.  Furthermore, some writers challenge the liberal tradition by insisting that its emphasis on non-interference leaves us without any grasp of the content of human freedom.  Skinner went on to suggest that both these traditions of thought arguably fail to recognise the centrality of a different element in the idea of personal liberty. His lecture concluded with an attempt to excavate this rival and largely occluded tradition of thinking, and with some reflections on its special importance in democratic societies.

Quentin Skinner is Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary University of London, and was previously the Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge.  He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a foreign member of several other national academies, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.  His scholarship, which is available in twenty languages, has won him many awards, including the Wolfson History Prize and a Balzan Prize.  Skinner has been the recipient of honorary degrees from many leading universities, including Chicago, Harvard and Oxford.  His two-volume study, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought (1978), was listed by the Times Literary Supplement in 1996 as one of the hundred most influential books published since World War II.  Skinner’s other books include Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes (1996), Liberty Before Liberalism (1998), Machiavelli (2000), Hobbes and Republican Liberty (2008), Forensic Shakespeare (2014), and a three-volume collection of essays, Visions of Politics (2002).  A further collection of essays, From Humanism to Hobbes, is due to appear next year.  Skinner is a frequent visitor to the United States, and was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton between 1974 and 1979.