Quentin Skinner
United Kingdom
2006 Balzan Prize for Political Thought; History and Theory

For his formulation of a distinctive methodology for the study of the history of ideas, his major contribution to the history of political thought and his acute reflections on the nature of liberty.

Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary, University of London, Quentin Skinner is one of the most eminent and influential scholars of political thought. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Skinner elaborated a theoretical and philosophical point of view centred on the nature of political discourse understood as a series of linguistic acts, and on the historian’s task of interpreting texts in context.

Thanks to the methodological tools made available by his approach in terms of the theory of linguistic acts, since the second half of the 1970s, Skinner has developed an impressive range of historical research dedicated to a new, original interpretation of the genesis of political categories and points of view during the medieval and early modern periods in Europe, focusing above all on the genesis of the modern idea of the state. His fundamental contribution in this area remains the monumental two-volume study entitled The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, which came out in 1978. The two volumes dedicated to the Renaissance and the Age of Reform have long since become classics in the field of the history of modern political thought.

Skinner published his summa in 2002: Visions of Politics. The first volume, Regarding Method, is a collection of his contributions to the theory of interpretation. The second, Renaissance Virtues, is dedicated to the historical reconstruction of the phenomenon of republicanism as a theory of freedom and good government between the thirteenth and sixteenth century. The third, Hobbes and Civil Science, is an accurate, innovative interpretation of the political thought of this major English philosopher, on whom Skinner wrote a fundamental work in 1996, Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes.

In recent years, following his Liberty before Liberalism (1998), which publishes his inaugural lecture as Regius Professor in 1997, Quentin Skinner has been involved in the defence of a theoretical point of view centred on a “neo-Roman” idea of freedom, understood in the republican sense of freedom from arbitrary domination by others. Against the background of the contemporary revival of republicanism, Skinner re-opens the classic querelle on negative and positive freedom inaugurated in Isaiah Berlin’s famous study by introducing a third concept of freedom as independence, a concept that can help to orient us in some of our contemporary political and social dilemmas.

During the past decades, Quentin Skinner’s untiring efforts in carrying out research and training scholars in the field of the history and theory of political thought have constantly been accompanied by persistent work in publishing, including the two series Ideas in Context and Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, published by the Cambridge University Press, to mention the most significant examples.

Quentin Skinner’s intellectual work has consolidated a truly new paradigm in the field of the history and theory of political thought.

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