Quentin Skinner – What is the State? The question that “will not go away” — Videos

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Quentin Skinner – What is the State? The question that “will not go away”

A Genealogy of the State: Quentin Skinner

Hobbes and the Person of the State | Professor Quentin Skinner

Quentin Skinner. On the Liberty of Republics.

Quentin Skinner: “A Genealogy of Liberty”

Interview of Professor Quentin Skinner – part 1

Interview of Professor Quentin Skinner – part 2

Quentin Skinner

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Quentin Robert Duthie Skinner (born 26 November 1940, Oldham, Lancashire)[1] is the Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary University of London and an intellectual historian.


Quentin Skinner was born the second son of Alexander Skinner, CBE (died 1979), and Winifred Rose Margaret, née Duthie (died 1982). Educated at Bedford School andGonville and Caius College, Cambridge, he was elected into a Fellowship there in 1962 upon obtaining a double-starred First in History, but immediately gained a teaching Fellowship at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he remained until moving to the University of London in 2008. He is now an Honorary Fellow of both Christ’s College and Gonville and Caius College.

In the middle 1970s he spent four formative years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. It was there that he met Raymond Geuss, later a colleague at Cambridge. Together with John Dunn and J. G. A. Pocock, Skinner has been said to have founded the “Cambridge School” of the history of political thought. In 1978 he was appointed to the chair of Political Science at the University of Cambridge, and in 1996 he was appointed Regius Professor of History. He was pro-vice-chancellor of Cambridge in 1999. In 1979 he married Susan James, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College London; they have a daughter and a son. He was previously married to Patricia Law Skinner, who was later married to Bernard Williams.

Skinner has delivered lectures at the Christian Gauss Seminars in Criticism at Princeton (1980), the Carlyle Lectures at Oxford (1980), the Messenger Lectures at Cornell (1983), the Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Harvard (1984), the T. S. Eliot Memorial Lectures at Kent (1995), the Ford Lectures at Oxford (2003), the Clarendon Lectures at Oxford (2011), the Clark Lectures at Cambridge (2012), the Academia Sinica Lectures in Taiwan (2013) and the Spinoza Lectures at University of Amsterdam (2014).

Skinner was Distinguished Visiting Professor at Queen Mary, University of London for the 2007–2008 academic year, and has been Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary since October 2008.[2] In 2014 he held the Spinoza Chair of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam[3]

Skinner is a fellow at the British Academy, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Academia Europaea, the American Philosophical Society and the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. He has won the Wolfson History Prize (1979); the Sir Isaiah Berlin Prize of the British Political Studies Association (2006); the Benjamin Lippincott Award (2001) and the David Easton Award (2007) of the American Political Science Association; the Bielefelder Wissenschaftspreis (2008); and a Balzan Prize (2006). He holds honorary degrees from Aberdeen, Athens, Copenhagen, East Anglia, Chicago, Harvard, Helsinki, Leuven, Oslo, Oxford, Santiago and St Andrews. Since 2009 he has been a member of the Balzan Prize Committee.


Skinner’s historical writings have been characterised by an interest in recovering the ideas of Early Modern and previous political writers. This has been spread over Renaissance republican authors (see in Principal publications below, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought [1978]), the ‘pre-Humanist’ dictatores of later medieval Italy, Niccolò Machiavelli, and more recently (in Liberty before Liberalism [1998]) the English republicans of the mid-seventeenth century (including John Milton, James Harrington, and Algernon Sidney). The work of the 1970s and 1980s was in good part directed towards writing an account of the history of the modern idea of the state. In more recent publications he has preferred the more capacious term ‘neo-Roman’ to ‘republican’.

Skinner is influenced by historian J.G.A. Pocock’s The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law (1957), the work of Peter Laslett, and by Laslett’s edition of John Locke‘s Two Treatises of Government (1960) which Skinner read as an undergraduate in his second year at Cambridge.

Skinner and J.G.A. Pocock are principal members of the ‘Cambridge School‘ of the study of the history of political thought, best known for its attention to the ‘languages’ of political thought and the contextual focus.[4]Skinner’s contribution was to articulate a theory of interpretation which concentrated on recovering the ‘speech acts’ embedded in the ‘illocutionary’ statements of specific individuals in writing works of political theory, particularly in Machiavelli, Thomas More, and Thomas Hobbes. This work was based on Skinner’s study of the philosophical preoccupations of J. L. Austin and the later Wittgenstein. One of the consequences of this account of interpretation is an emphasis on the necessity of studying less well-known political writers as a means of shedding light on the classic authors—although it also consciously questions the extent to which it is possible to distinguish ‘classic’ texts from the contexts, and particularly the arguments, in which they originally occurred and as such it is an attack on the uncritical assumption that political classics are monolithic and free-standing. In its earlier versions this added up to what many have seen as a persuasive critique on the approach of an older generation, particularly on that of Leo Strauss. The methodology of Skinner is also applicable to various textual studies domains that are informed by the procedures of historiography and philology, including an approach to classical and medieval texts.

Skinner’s longstanding concern with the speech acts of political writing helps explain his turn at the beginning of the 1990s towards the role of neo-classical rhetoric in early modern political theory, which resulted in his study of Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes (1996). Skinner has since returned to what has often been seen as an enduring interest to the Regius Professors of History at the University of Cambridge (not least Lord Acton), the history of liberty and particular developing what he has articulated as a ‘third form of liberty’. This can most effectively be described as a form of ‘negative’ liberty (or neo-Roman) which is characterised however by the active participation in government to remain free from interference and the slavery caused by succumbing to an arbitrary power.[5] Recently (2008) he published an analysis of the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes as a polemical retort to those who, in the English civil war, espoused precisely such a ‘neo-Roman’ concept of human freedom.[6] Currently he is working on a monograph on Shakespeare and Rhetorical Invention for Oxford University Press to be published in 2014 which develops his lectures of the same name presented at Oxford and Cambridge in 2011 and 2012.[7]


In an interview with Professor Alan Macfarlane of King’s College, Skinner revealed that he was a member of the Cambridge Apostles, a secret society of Cambridge University. He also revealed that Amartya Sen was a fellow member at this time. He commented they were both ‘outed’ some time ago.[citation needed]

On 6 October 1995, Skinner’s two-volume The Foundations of Modern Political Thought (1978) appeared on The Times Literary Supplement “100 Most Influential Books Since World War II”.[8]

Principal publications


Books edited

  • (Co-editor and contributor), Philosophy, Politics and Society: Fourth Series (Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1972) ISBN 978-0-631-14410-6
  • (Co-editor and contributor), Philosophy in History (Cambridge University Press, 1984) ISBN 978-0-521-27330-5
  • (Editor and contributor), The Return of Grand Theory in the Human Sciences (Cambridge University Press, 1985) ISBN 978-0-521-39833-6
  • (Co-editor and contributor), The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1988) ISBN 978-0-521-25104-4
  • (Co-editor), Machiavelli, The Prince (trans. Russell Price) (Cambridge University Press, 1988) ISBN 978-0-521-34993-2
  • (Co-editor and contributor), Machiavelli and Republicanism (Cambridge University Press, 1990) ISBN 978-0-521-43589-5
  • (Co-editor and contributor), Political Discourse in Early-modern Britain (Cambridge University Press, 1993) ISBN 978-0-521-39242-6
  • (Co-editor) Milton and Republicanism (Cambridge University Press, 1995) ISBN 978-0-521-64648-2
  • (Co-editor and contributor), Republicanism: A Shared European Heritage, Volume I: Republicanism and Constitutionalism in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2002) ISBN 978-0-521-67235-1
  • (Co-editor and contributor), Republicanism: A Shared European Heritage, Volume II: The Values of Republicanism in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2002) ISBN 978-0-521-67234-4
  • (Co-editor and contributor), States and Citizens: History, Theory, Prospects (Cambridge University Press, 2003) ISBN 978-0-521-53926-5
  • (Co-editor), Thomas Hobbes: Writings on Common Law and Hereditary Right (The Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes, Volume XI) (The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2005) ISBN 978-0-19-923623-7
  • (Co-editor and contributor), Sovereignty in Fragments: The Past, Present and Future of a Contested Concept (Cambridge University Press, 2010) ISBN 978-1-107-00004-9
  • (Editor) Families and States in Western Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2011) ISBN 978-0-521-12801-8
  • (Co-editor and contributor), Freedom and the Construction of Europe, Volume I: Religious Freedom and Civil Liberty (Cambridge University Press, 2013) ISBN 978-1-107-03306-1
  • (Co-editor and contributor), Freedom and the Construction of Europe, Volume II: Free Persons and Free States (Cambridge University Press, 2013) ISBN 978-1-107-03307-8


  • 1997: Staff writer. “An interview with Quentin Skinner”. Cogito (Nefeli Publications) 11: 69–78. doi:10.5840/cogito19971122.
  • 2000a: ‘Intervista a Quentin Skinner: Conseguire la libertà promuovere l’uguaglianza’, Il pensiero mazziniano 3, pp. 118–22
  • 2000b: ‘Entrevista: Quentin Skinner’ in As muitas faces da história, ed. Maria Lúcia Pallares-Burke, Brazilia, pp. 307–39 ISBN 978-85-7139-307-3 [Trans. in The New History: Confessions and Conversations, ed. Maria Lúcia Pallares-Burke, Cambridge, 2003 ISBN 978-0-7456-3021-2]
  • 2001: ‘Quentin Skinnerin haastattelu’, Niin & Näin 31, pp. 8–23
  • 2002: ‘Encountering the Past: An Interview with Quentin Skinner’ Finnish Yearbook of Political Thought [Redesciptions Yearbook of Political Thought, Conceptual History and Feminist Theory] 6, pp. 32–63
  • 2003: ‘La Libertà Politica ed il Mestiere dello Storico: Intervista a Quentin Skinner’, Teoria Politica 19, pp. 177–85
  • 2006: ‘Historia intellectual y acción política: Una entrevista con Quentin Skinner’, Historia y Política 16, pp. 237–58
  • 2007a: ‘Neither text, nor context: An interview with Quentin Skinner’, Groniek: Historisch Tijdschrift 174, pp. 117–33 ISBN 978-90-72918-66-6
  • 2007b: ‘La Historia de mi Historia: Una Entrevista con Quentin Skinner’, El giro contextual: Cinco ensayos de Quentin Skinner y seis comentarios, ed. Enrique Bocardo Crespo, Madrid, pp. 45–60.
  • 2007c: Sebastián, Javier Fernández. “Intellectual history, liberty and Republicanism: an interview with Quentin Skinner”. Contributions to the History of Concepts (Springer) 3 (1): 102–123.
  • 2008: ‘Concepts only have histories’, interview with Quentin Skinner by Emmanuelle Tricoire and Jacques Levy, EspacesTemps, document 3692
  • 2009a: ‘Making History; The Discipline in Perspective: Interview with Professor Quentin Skinner’, Storia e Politica, 1, pp. 113–34.
  • 2009b: ‘Wie frei sind wir wirklich?’ Fragen an Quentin Skinner’, Zeitschrift fűr Ideengeschichte 3, pp. 5–21.
  • 2011 Prokhovnik, Raia. “An interview with Quentin Skinner”. Contemporary Political Theory (Palgrave Macmillan) 10 (2): 273–285. doi:10.1057/cpt.2010.26.
  • 2012a: Prokhovnik, Raia, “Approaching political theory historically: an interview with Quentin Skinner”, in Browning, Gary; Dimova-Cookson, Maria; Prokhovnik, Raia, Dialogues with contemporary political theorists, Houndsmill, Basingstoke, Hampshire New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 181–196, ISBN 9780230303058.
  • 2012b: Giannakopoulos, Georgios; Quijano, Francisco. “On politics and history: a discussion with Quentin Skinner” (PDF). Journal of Intellectual History and Political Thought (SAXO Institute) 1 (1): 7–31. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 September 2014.
Giannakopoulos, Georgios; Quijano, Francisco (June 2013). “Historia y política en perspectiva: entrevista a Quentin Skinner”. Signos Filosóficos (in Spanish) 15 (29): 167–191. ISSN 1665-1324
  • 2013: ‘An Interview with Professor Quentin Skinner’ conducted by Jeng-Guo Chen and Carl Shaw, Intellectual History 2, pp. 239–62



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