Political Theory Project

Political Theory Project

An interdisciplinary research center at Brown University


The mission of the Political Theory Project (PTP) is to investigate the ideas and institutions that make societies free, prosperous, and fair. We approach these big questions by combining insights from history, philosophy, politics, and economics. Central to our approach is a commitment to methodological and viewpoint diversity. We believe that quality research in political economy is best conducted by a community of scholars who see the world in diverse ways and whose work spans disciplinary boundaries. 

Bedrock Principles

  1. The PTP is committed to encouraging, and providing venues for, free thinking at Brown. Specifically, the PTP affirms freedom of speech and expression as first principles of education in a free society. We affirm that principle even when (indeed, especially when) the topics or speakers are challenging, controversial, or politically heterodox.
  2. The PTP believes that substantive policy disagreements are best conducted with reference to evidence--for example, findings of mainstream social science. If sides in a discussion deny social facts, or claim that opponents who assert facts are ipso facto committing errors, political discussions threaten to slip into virtue signaling, or mere assertions of power. By contrast, conscientious reference to social scientific facts improves political discourse.
  3. Free thinking takes bravery, especially when one questions widely held beliefs. But a culture of civility can make departures from orthodoxy less costly. We encourage Brown students to respect one another’s opinions, especially when those opinions diverge from campus orthodoxies. The PTP creates spaces for civil discourse through explicit presumptions of good faith and charitable interpretation.
  4. Civic education, especially at an elite university such as Brown, requires that students have regular opportunities to consider the ideas of leading scholars and public figures holding divergent ideological viewpoints. Public lectures and events sponsored by the PTP are crafted so as to showcase political differences (at a minimum, PTP events showcase central ideas from the major political parties in America).

Recent News

News from PTP

PTP professor releases second book

David Skarbek, PTP Associate Professor of Political Science releases his second book, The Puzzle of Prison Order: Why Life Behind Bars Varies Around the World (Oxford University Press).
One semester after Bleeding Heart Libertarianism, four Brown students are working with political scientist John Tomasi to make connections between political philosophy and conditions on the ground in Chile.

We've moved and we're growing

We've come a long way since our humble beginnings in 2003 when we occupied the attic space of Blistein House. This summer the PTP moved our office from its longtime home in the carriage house at 8 Fones Alley to a beautiful historic building, 25 George Street, on the corner of Brown's main green. The move was necessitated by the project's continued organic growth and is a sign of good things to come in the years ahead. 

Upcoming Events

Video Archive

Videos from past lectures are available on our Youtube playlist.