This entry focuses on the Renaissance philosophy scholarship of English historian of political thought Quentin Skinner. The work of Skinner’s Renaissance political philosophy is highlighted. An effort is made to identify Skinner’s key themes in Renaissance philosophy scholarship, including the leading philosophers he studies from the time period and the tradition that he departs from in the historical reception of scholarship in the field. All of Skinner’s major book-length contributions to Renaissance philosophy are noted, including his edited works in this area.
Quentin Skinner (born 1940) is an English historian. His most noted work has been in intellectual history and the history of political thought. He was one of the founding figures of the Cambridge school of the history of political thought, while he was a professor at Cambridge University. He served as Cambridge University’s Faculty of History’s Regius Professor of Modern History. He was educated at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. Immediately after becoming a fellow there in 1962, he was made a fellow at Christ’s College, Cambridge. Skinner is currently Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary, University of London. He moved there from Cambridge in 2008.
Works and Themes
Skinner is a leading historian of Renaissance philosophy, especially political thought from the Renaissance. Skinner has published work on early Renaissance political painting. His notable contributions to Renaissance political philosophy include Visions of Politics (Skinner 2004) and the The Foundations of Modern Political Thought (Skinner 1978). He edits the book series Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought for the Cambridge University Press and has edited a volume containing Machiavelli’s The Prince (Skinner 1981) in that book series. Among Renaissance philosophy, Skinner has in fact been most interested in researching Machiavelli, namely his notion of republicanism. He coedited the The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy (Schmitt, Skinner et al. 2008) with other Renaissance philosophy scholars, in which he focused his scholarship for the volume on Renaissance political philosophy. Volume two of Visions of Politics: Renaissance Virtues (Skinner 2004) features Skinner’s research essays on Machiavelli, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Thomas More’s Utopia, Renaissance constitutional thought, humanism, scholasticism, popular sovereignty, virtuous government, republican values and virtues, liberty, and translation. Volume one of The Foundations of Modern Political Thought (Skinner 1978) features Skinner’s scholarship on liberty, rhetoric, scholasticism, the Florentine (Italian) Renaissance, and the Northern Renaissance. In Skinner’s writing on liberty, he studies the various city republics of Renaissance Italy. These city republics are juxtaposed with the Empire from the period, and with the Papacy. In the rise of rhetoric and liberty in the Renaissance, Skinner focuses on the emergence of the despots from the era. Skinner has been interested in Republican liberty throughout his various works on the history of political thought, and traces the Republican liberty of early modern political philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes back to Renaissance philosophy.
Heritage and Rupture with the Tradition
Skinner finds a diminished sense of Republican liberty in Renaissance philosophy beginning in the thirteenth century, due to the class divisions that started to develop then in Renaissance Italy and its various city-states. Accordingly, Skinner studies Republican civic life from this period and location and has built on the work of Renaissance historian Hans Baron in this regard. Italian universities are studied by Skinner in an effort to demonstrate how the study of rhetoric from the period gave rise to political ideology. He identifies the humanism that emerged from such study of rhetoric and builds on the work of Renaissance philosopher Paul Oskar Kristeller in making that identification. At this juncture, Skinner seeks a connection between the humanism of Renaissance Italy and that of French academic culture. In his work on the Italian portion of this divide, Skinner focuses on the work of Dante, including his The Divine Comedy. Skinner then moves to identify the reception of Scholasticism there and emphasizes that before Scholasticism there was humanism. On such a matter, Skinner emphasizes humanism’s role in the larger educational tradition of the liberal arts, including the trivium. He finds that the sources of scholasticism from the time period were traced mainly to the rediscovery of Aristotle’s philosophical works, including his Nicomachean Ethics and his Politics, and that in time these texts of his appeared increasingly less threatening to the political and moral theory of Augustinian commentators.
- Bock, Gisela, Quentin Skinner, and Maurizio Viroli (eds.). 1990. Machiavelli and republicanism. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Schmitt, Charles B., Quentin Skinner, and Eckhard Kessler (eds.). 2008. The Cambridge history of renaissance philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Skinner, Quentin. 1981. Machiavelli. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Skinner, Quentin. 1992. The Italian city-republics. In Democracy after 2,500 years, ed. John Dunn, 57–69. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Skinner, Quentin. 1995. The vocabulary of renaissance republicanism: A cultural longue-durée? In Language and images of renaissance Italy, ed. Alison Brown, 87–110. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Skinner, Qunetin. 1999. Sanatçinin Bir Siyaset Dusunuru olarak portresi: Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Ankara: Dost Kitabevi Yayinlari.Google Scholar
- Skinner, Quentin. 2003. L’artiste en philosophie politique: Ambrogio Lorenzetti et le Bon Gouvernement. Paris: Editions de Seuil.Google Scholar
- Skinner, Quentin. 2004. Visions of politics, volume 2: Renaissance virtues. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar