Constitutions and Capabilities: History of an Idea




7:30 PM - 7:30 PM


Chemistry 122


What are people able to do and to be? And are they really able to do or be these things, or are there impediments, evident or hidden, to their real and substantial freedom? What about their environment, material, social, and political? How has it supported or failed to support their capacities? In particular, how have the basic constitutional principles of a nation, together with their interpretation, promoted or impeded people's abilities to function, in some central areas of human life? Does the interpretation of constitutional entitlements yield real abilities to choose and to act, or are the document's promises more like hollow verbal gestures? This lecture investigates the roots of this idea in Aristotle and the Stoics, maps its influence on eighteenth-century thinkers such as Smith and Paine, and, thence, on the American Founding and the U.S. tradition of constitutional law.