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Paul Scholten Centre Colloquium with Prof. Lucas Swaine (Dartmouth College).

Detail Summary
Date 23 February 2016
Time 13:00 - 14:30
Location Oudemanhuispoort
Room Venue: Oudemanhuispoort, room A0.09


Is freedom of thought a basic liberty? Notable statements in the liberal canon suggest that it is, and the idea that there is something highly important in freedom of thought finds special expression in a variety of notable international declarations and resolutions. But the nature of freedom of thought remains unclear; and it is far from obvious that freedom of thought merits status as a basic liberty, alongside cardinal and established freedoms of expression, religion, conscience, and association.

I examine whether freedom of thought should be considered a basic liberty, in this paper. I begin by noting the importance of thinking in human life, following which I elaborate a set of noteworthy views emphasizing the significance of freedom of thought. I consider subsequently the place of freedom of thought in political and legal theory and in human rights discourse, examining prominent statements within those traditions. I move then to assess whether freedom of thought is distinctive with respect to other key liberties, following which I employ my findings to consider whether freedom of thought merits status as a liberty of the basic kind. In the course of analysis, I give reason to hold that freedom of thought is indeed special and distinctive. I propose that freedom of thought deserves status as a basic liberty, given the significance of thought to human life, the fundamental importance of freedom of thought in establishing and sustaining crucial rights and liberties, and the value of being able to develop and experience one’s thoughts without undue interference from others.


Lucas Swaine is an Associate Professor in the Department of Government, Dartmouth College. He is well known for his book The Liberal Conscience: Politics and Principle in a World of Religious Pluralism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006). He is currently working on a book, entitled Ethical Autonomy: The Rise of Self-Rule.


Room Venue: Oudemanhuispoort, room A0.09

Oudemanhuispoort 4-6
1012 CN Amsterdam

Research colloquium, organised by the Paul Scholten Centre. This colloquium is open to all, no registration required. A copy of the paper can be obtained via

This colloquium is generously sponsored by the Amsterdam Centre for Inequality Studies.