Thinking about Liberty: An Historian’s Approach

Thinking about Liberty: An Historian’s Approach


Published by Leo S. Olschki Editore (Florence)​​​​​​​


Contemporary political theorists frequently say that there is only one coherent way of thinking about liberty, and that it consists in recognizing that an individual is free so long as there is no interference with the exercise of his powers. The author shows that this is highly one-sided by tracing a genealogy that considers different ways of thinking about liberty.


In Thinking About Liberty: An Historian’s Approach, the eminent historian Quentin Skinner traces a path  in the history of ideas that involves  different ways of thinking about liberty – a central concept in social and political thought in today’s Western democracies – that are different from the usual liberal expectation. The definition of freedom as the absence of interference (by external agencies or by the self), though widespread, was by no means the only one prevailing. Skinner discusses two other distinct strands in the genealogy of modern liberty, besides that mentioned, namely freedom as an absence of dependence (as in the freeman or free man vs slave) and freedom as self-realisation. Skinner’s concern is to call attention to these ways of thinking about freedom that are lately in danger of being forgotten. The lecture also presents Skinner’s 2006 Balzan Prize research project, which involved young European scholars in addressing questions about the place of civil, religious and political liberty in the formation of modern Europe.

  • Quentin Skinner

    Thinking about Liberty: An Historian’s Approach

    March 2018 (first published 2016, Italy)
    Published by Leo S. Olschki
    Distributed by Ad Ilissum

    ISBN 978 88 222 6460 2

    Paperback, 240 x 170 mm

    78 pages

  • About the author

    Regarded as one of the founders of the Cambridge School of the history of political thought, between 1996 and 2008 Quentin Skinner was Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge; he is currently the Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities and Co-director of The Centre for the Study of the History of Political Thought at Queen Mary University of London.

  • About Leo S. Olschki Editore

    Leo S. Olschki Editore (Florence) is one of Italy's oldest and most respected publishers of critical works in the humanities.

© 2017 by Paul Holberton publishing