The Most Difficult Question of Any: Political Obligation in 18th-century British Political Thought
James A. Harris (University of St. Andrews)

November 30, 2018, 4:00am - 6:00am
Boston University

Barrister's Hall
765 Commonwealth Ave
United States

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities

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The Boston University Departments of Philosophy and Political Science are pleased to present the 2018-2019 Robert P. Benedict Lectures in the History of Political Philosophy, to be presented by James A. Harris of the University of St. Andrews.

The lecture series will take place over the course of three days:

  • 11/30 - Locke vs. Filmer Revisited (4:00pm-6:00pm)
  • 12/03 - Between Locke and Filmer (1): Hume on Political Obligation (4:00pm-6:00pm)
  • 12/05 - Between Locke and Filmer (2): Smith on Political Obligation (4:00pm-6:00pm)
  • 12/05 Reception (6:00pm-7:30pm)

In late 17th and 18th-century Britain the basis and limits of political obligation were matters of pressing practical importance. In the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution, during the period of the Jacobite rebellions, and then as a result of the discontent in America, there was a series of sophisticated and urgent debates about the character of political legitimacy, and about how to distinguish properly de jure and merely de facto governmental authority. These lectures describe some key moments in that debate. According to an influential interpretation of political thought in 18th-century Britain, Locke's Two Treatises of Government marked the end to a tradition of political philosophy. The following century, on this account, saw a shift in the examination of the political consequences of commerce and, especially, of an ever-increasing national debt. Dr. Harris will argue that this amounts to a misreprsentation of post-Lockean political thought.

Please feel free to visit the Benedict Lectures online at

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