Modern disciplinary distinctions between 'political science', 'political theory' and 'political philosophy' are relatively new developments in the long history of political thought. Much excellent work exists on their emergence and on the implications these divisions had on the study of politics in the West, from the late eighteenth century to the present. But the idea that there might be a ‘science of politics’ is an old one. From 1500 to 1800, as ideas of what it meant to do science changed so rapidly, so too did what it mean to investigate the science of politics. We know far less about the forms ‘scientia civilis’ took, or the debates it prompted in this period. I will focus on this period and upon the debates about the nature of political science that occurred within it. In so doing I would aim to recover more clearly a central episode in the intellectual history of civil philosophy in Europe.
Dr Sophie Smith will be giving the Quentin Skinner lecture on Friday 9 June.