Quentin Skinner, Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary University of London, delivers a Neubauer Collegium Director’s Lecture, “How Should We Think about Freedom?” on April 20, 2015, in Breasted Hall of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.
The concept of individual freedom is usually understood in negative terms as absence of interference or constraint. In his lecture, Skinner argues that this orthodoxy is in need of qualification and perhaps abandonment. He begins 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 suggests that both these traditions of thought arguably fail to recognize the centrality of a different element in the idea of personal liberty. He concludes with an attempt to excavate this rival and largely occluded tradition of thinking and with some reflections on its special importance in democratic societies.
Skinner 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 the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. His scholarship has won the Wolfson History Prize and a Balzan Prize, and he has received many honorary degrees. “The Times Literary Supplement” listed his “The Foundations of Modern Political Thought” (1978) 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 “Visions of Politics” (2002). A collection of essays, “From Humanism to Hobbes,” will appear in 2016.
The Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society supports innovative and collaborative research projects led by University of Chicago faculty, hosts visiting fellows from around the world, and pioneers efforts to engage a wider public in humanistic scholarship. Learn more at neubauercollegium.uchicago.edu.