Our History

Political theory at the University of Edinburgh has a distinguished history.  David Hume, one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy, and a key protagonist of the Scottish Enlightenment, was a student in the early 1700's and retained connections with this university throughout his life. His influence on the development of political philosophy is felt to this day. James Mill, the influential economist and utilitarian political theorist distinguished himself as a scholar at the University of Edinburgh in the late 1700's. (His son, John Stuart Mill, was to become the most influential English-speaking political philosopher of the 19th Century.)

In more recent times, the late Sir Neil MacCormick, who held the Regius Chair of Public Law and the Law of Nature and Nations from 1972-2008, was an internationally renowned legal and political philosopher who inspired generations of political theorists at this University.

The Department of Politics, established by the University in the 1960s, was to appoint now internationally esteemed political theorists including Jeremy Waldron (1983-7), Richard Bellamy (1990-93) and Kimberly Hutchings (1994-2001).  In 1993 the University established the Chair of Political Theory.  Its first holder, Russell Keat, now professor emeritus, is still an active participant in the Political Theory Research Group.  His successor to the Chair was Cecile Fabre (2006-2010), now at Oxford.  (The Chair of Political Theory is currently vacant.)

Over the years, Edinburgh University has also nurtured students who have gone on to make a name for themselves as political theorists. Those in the UK and Ireland who've studied at Edinburgh include Keith Breen (Queen's, Belfast), Katherine Eddy (Oxford), Allyn Fives (NUI, Galway), Thomas Moore (Westminster), Rebecca Reilly-Cooper (Oxford), Andrew Schaap (Exeter).

Today, the political theory community at Edinburgh is as vibrant as ever.  While it has never been exceptionally large in numbers, it has maintained an international reputation for excellence.  It is well-supported across the University, with colleagues spanning the disciplinary divides of Political Science, Philosophy and Law. (See the list of current members of the Political Theory Research Group.)