Brief Histories of Philosophy

Brief Histories of Philosophy provide both academic and general readers with short, engaging narratives for those concepts that have had a profound effect on philosophical development and human understanding. The word ‘history’ is thus meant in its broadest cultural and social sense. Moreover, although the books are meant to provide a rich sense of historical context, they are also grounded in contemporary issues, as contemporary concern with the subject at hand is what will draw most readers. These books are not merely a tour through the history of ideas, but essays of real intellectual range by scholars of vision and distinction.

Already Published

A Brief History of Happiness by Nicholas P. White

A Brief History of Liberty by David Schmidtz and Jason Brennan


A Brief History of Justice by David Johnston

A Brief History of the Soul by Charles Taliaferro and Stewart Goetz



In 1630, a troublemaker from London named Roger Williams fled to Boston, made more trouble there, preaching a radical separation between church and state, then fled again, to the colony that would become the state of Rhode Island. Williams made Rhode Island the first state in the world to be founded upon, and successfully to establish, a principle of freedom of religion. His efforts would inspire the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Some years after Williams settled in Providence, he learned that Joshua Winsor, an indentured servant of Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop, was having the same problems with religious orthodoxy that had driven Williams away. Williams wrote to Winthrop (I have seen a copy of the letter) and offered to pay the governor whatever the governor thought reasonable to take the troublesome Winsor off the governor’s hands. Thus Williams purchased Winsor’s servitude contract. Joshua Winsor moved to Providence. Within a year, he was no longer in debt: he had paid it off, or Williams had forgiven it. Winsor had a son, Samuel, who would one day marry Roger’s daughter, Mercy Williams. I am grateful to Williams and Winsor, partly for their towering measure of devotion in the battle for religious freedom, but mainly for being great, great (11 times great) grandfathers of my wife, Cathleen Johnson. I also thank Cathleen and my mother in law, Sara Winsor, for their suggestions and encouragement.

Thanks to the Earhart Foundation for supporting each of us. Thanks to my colleagues at the University of Arizona for their unfailing trust and support over the years. I will single out my Department Head, Chris Maloney, and my former Dean, Ed Donnerstein, for being the two best administrators I’ve known; but I could name two dozen others who have been pivotal in making life and work in Tucson the joy it is. We thank Ian Carter and Stephen Davies, helpful and encouraging readers for Blackwell. We thank Nick Bellorini for originally proposing the book.

I thank Whitney Ball, Carolyn Cox, Fred Fransen, Steve Haessler, Cathleen Johnson, Randy Kendrick, the Charles Koch Foundation, Gerry Ohrstrom, Gayle Siegel, Menlo Smith, Thomas W. Smith, Elizabeth Volard, and Marty Zupan for helping to transform the Arizona Center for Philosophy of Freedom from an abstract concept into a functioning academic unit. Thanks to research assistants Nathan Ballantyne, Scott Boocher, Ian Evans, and John Thrasher for doing more than their share to make day-to-day operations run as smoothly as they do.

Thanks to Jim Rossi, Fernando Tesón, and Don Weidner at Florida State College of Law; Horacio Spector and Guido Pincione at Torcuato di Tella School of Law; Giancarlo Ibarguen at Francisco Marroquin University in Guatemala City; Bob Goodin, Geoff Brennan, and Jeremy Shearmur at Australian National University; Yoram Hazony and Josh Weinstein at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem; and Claire Morgan at George Mason University for arranging courses or multiple presentations on this material. Thanks for intense, constructive feedback from audiences at the University of Montreal, at McGill University, at Oxford University, at UCLA, at the University of Virginia, at the University of Miami, at the University of Toronto, and at Georgetown, Stanford, Tulane, Bowling Green, UNC-Chapel Hill, Kent State, Georgia State, Arizona State, Florida State, and the University of San Diego.

David Schmidtz

In addition, I would like to thank Sean Aas, Derek Bowman, Corey Brettschneider, Josiah S. Carberry, Katherine Erbeznik, David Estlund, Christopher Freiman, Charles Griswold, Keith Hankins, Daniel Jacobson, Sharon Krause, Charles Larmore, Mark LeBar, Jesse Maddox, Christopher Morris, Emily Nacol, John Nye, Dennis Rasmussen, Douglas Rasmussen, Daniel Silvermint, Jed Silverstein, A. John Simmons, David Sobel, John Tomasi, Joshua Tropp, Steven Wall, Kevin Vallier, and Matt Zwolinski. Thanks also to the students from my first year seminars on freedom at Brown for helping to shape this book. Congratulations to my seminar students from fall 2006, who will graduate the semester this book is published.

Jason Brennan