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Thursday Night Philosophy Workshop: Eric Schliesser on " Sophie de Grouchy, The Tradition(s) of Two Liberties, and the Missing Mother(s) of Liberalism"

Thursday, October 19, 2017 at 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

Wolff Conference Room, Room D1103, Albert and Vera List Academic Center 6 East 16th Street, New York, NY 10003, Room D1103

Eric Schliesser (PhD, Philosophy, The University of Chicago 2002) is Professor of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam. He publishes widely on early modern philosophy (especially Spinoza and Hume) and science (including political economy, especially Newton and Smith), philosophy economics, the history of feminism, and so-called meta-philosophy.  He has just published Adam Smith: Systematic Philosopher and Public Thinker (OUP) and edited numerous volumes, including most recently Sympathy: A History of a Concept and Ten Neglected Classics of Philosophy (both with OUP).

In this paper I draw attention to Sophie de Grouchy’s 1798 distinction between negative and positive right, which, upon examination, prefigures the famous distinction between positive and negative liberty. I analyse her treatment, and I argue that she should be accorded a significant place in the discussions of the tradition(s) of reflection on the famous distinction. 

First, I frame my discussion by revisiting Isaiah Berlin’s famous lecture and a recent editorial by Jason Stanley and Vesla Weaver; I note the presence of a paternal liberal tradition going back to Constant which gets invoked alongside the famous distinction between the two concepts of liberty. Insofar as a tradition can be conceived as a lineage or an offspring, it is striking that the matriarchs are absent from it.

Second, I discuss De Grouchy’s neo-Lockean analyses of justice and property rights, which form the context in which she introduces her distinction between positive and negative right. I illuminate her views by way of comparison with the writings of Rousseau and Adam Smith.

Third, I offer evidence and analysis of De Grouchy’s version of the distinction and show how it can be mapped onto the more famous dis- tinction. Fourth, I close by arguing that if there is a liberal tradition worth reviving and extending, De Grouchy ought to have an honoured place in it.

Presented by The New School for Social Research (NSSR) Philosophy Department

Event Type

Lectures and Panel Discussions


General Public


The New School for Social Research, Department of Philosophy




Free; No Registration required

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