Philip Pettit — 2019 Benjamin E. Lippincott Award Recipient

The American Political Science Association (APSA) will present the Benjamin E. Lippincott Award to Philip Petit at the 2019 APSA Annual Meeting & Exhibition, the world’s largest gathering of political scientists and source for emerging scholarship in the discipline.  The $5,000 award supported by the University of Minnesota recognizes a work of exceptional quality by a living political theorist that is still considered significant after a time span of at least 15 years since the original date of publication. 

Philip Petit is L.S. Rockefeller University Professor of Human Values at Princeton University and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Australian National University.  He works in moral and political theory and on background issues in the philosophy of mind.  He is the single author of a number of books in political philosophy, including Republicanism (1997); On the People’s Terms (CUP 2012); and Just Freedom (Norton 2014), which offers an updated version of his views in political theory.  Among his co-authored books are The Economy of Esteem (with G.Brennan, OUP 2004) and Group Agency (with C.List, OUP 2011).  He gave the Uehiro Lectures in Ethics at Oxford University in 2011, which appeared in 2014 as The Robust Demands of the Good and the Tanner Lectures at the University of California, Berkeley, which appeared in 2018 as The Birth of Ethics.  He is giving the Locke Lectures in Philosophy at Oxford in April-June 2019.  Common Minds: Themes from the Philosophy of Philip Pettit appeared from OUP in 2007, edited by Geoffrey Brennan et al.

Here is what the Award Committee had to say about their decision:

Philip Pettit’s 1997 Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government is an exemplary work in the history of political thought, in normative political theory, and in institutional design.  Pettit demonstrates that the distinction between positive and negative liberty familiar from Hobbes, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, and Constant, and popularized by Isaiah Berlin, oversimplifies and impoverishes the conceptual distinctions available to ancient and early modern thinkers.  In particular, it obscures what Pettit calls “liberty as non-domination,” a political ideal originating in the republican tradition of politics associated with such thinkers as Cicero, Machiavelli, and Milton.  Unlike a positive conception of liberty, this idea does not commit free individuals to a positive set of goods or actions, but neither does it collapse liberty into the mere absence or “negation” of active coercion or interference.  Neoliberals such as Milton Freidman and Friedrich von Hayek define liberty as the absence of coercion in part because this allows them to identify a free society as one with a weak state and a largely unregulated market economy.  But such a society may still be rife with what Pettit calls “domination” – the capacity of one to interfere in the affairs of another on an arbitrary basis – and thus hardly free.  As Pettit demonstrates, one can be dominated in truly oppressive ways even if one is not actually subject to interference, and one can be subject to “coercive” governmental regulation that does not dominate.  Hence, a free society is one in which markets and powerful market actors are constrained by a state dedicated to the liberty of all of its members, including its weakest and less respected members.  Pettit patiently works out the practical implications of this view for political institutions and behavior, producing a book that is politically relevant as well as rigorous and intellectually masterful.  The influence of this work in such diverse areas of scholarship as constitutional theory, democratic theory, international law, global justice, and, more recently, post-colonial theory serves to reinforce the committee’s judgment that Republicanism has become a classic of political theory.

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