27 Apr 2018 11:00am - 5:30pm SG1/2 Alison Richard Building, Sidgwick Site


The Quentin Skinner Fellow for 2017-18,  Dr Avi Lifschitz, will give the annual lecture and participate in the related symposium. To register for the event please click here or use the online registration  link on this page. The standard fee is £20 and £10 for students/unwaged. This includes lunch and refreshments.

How should readers approach the philosophical writings of an author who was not only a political thinker – but also, and primarily, a major political agent? Are written works in this case merely tools for public self-fashioning or self-justification?

These issues will stand at the centre of the Quentin Skinner Lecture in summer 2018, focused on the test case of Frederick II of Prussia (‘the Great’, r. 1740-1786). The Prussian monarch was unique in the eighteenth century (and beyond) in composing a large corpus of philosophical works that did not only aim to analyse current affairs; he reflected on the nature of political action and its links to justice, virtue, human reason, and the passions. While the monarch engaged closely with the history of political thought, most historians have accorded little significance to his philosophical works. Accounts of Frederick and his Prussia usually assume that his philosophical writings must have been mere masks in a game of Realpolitik.

The lecture will reassess such assumptions, arguing that Frederick’s philosophical works can be taken seriously beyond their practical or political uses – even if their author was disingenuous at the time of writing. By drawing on a wide range of Frederick’s works, the lecture raises broader methodological questions concerning the study of written work by active political agents in different eras.

Confirmed Symposium Speakers include:

Isaac Nakhimovsky (Yale)
Shiru Lim (UCL)
Jürgen Overhoff (Münster)
Richard Bourke (Queen Mary, London)

For administrative enquiries please email Michelle Maciejewska.

This event is funded by the Faculty of History and CRASSH.


Friday 27 April 201811.00-11.30

Registration and coffee


Keynote Lecture
Avi Lifschitz (Oxford)
Philosophy and political agency in the writings of Frederick II of Prussia
Chair: John Robertson (Cambridge)




Session 1
Isaac Nakhimovsky (Yale)
Frederick II, Voltaire, and the Anti-Machiavel

Shiru Lim (UCL)
Taking tyrants seriously: Frederick II, d’Holbach, Diderot

Chair: Laszlo Kontler (Central European University and Cambridge)


Tea break


Session 2
Jürgen Overhoff (Münster)
Frederick II and the United States of America: an intertwined history and two concepts of Enlightenment

Richard Bourke (Queen Mary, London)
Political thought in theory and in practice
Chair: Christopher Meckstroth (Cambridge)


Wine reception

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