Bill Curtis

image of Bill CurtisAssociate Professor of Political Science 

“As a scholar, I specialize in political philosophy, history of political thought, and constitutional law. After college I went to law school where I was surprised to find myself interested in legal theory: ‘Why is the law what it is? What legal system is most just?’ This led to my larger interest in political philosophy, and after a short stint at a big law firm, I escaped back to graduate school. Fortunately, my J.D. has served me well as a teacher of constitutional law, as UP’s pre-law advisor, and as an Army National Guard JAG (Judge Advocate General).

I published a book last fall, titled Defending Rorty: Pragmatism and Liberal Virtue. Richard Rorty was one of the most influential academic philosophers of our time; he worked in the American pragmatist tradition, which emphasizes that the import of any theory or idea is how it is put to use through action. He believed that pragmatism fits nicely with liberal democratic politics, that individuals should be free to pursue happiness in any way they want as long as they cause no harm to others. My book argues that citizens of a liberal democracy must possess certain ethical character traits and habits of mind called ‘liberal virtues,’ like toleration of diversity, a practical respect for the rights of others, and even a liberally-educated moral imagination.

I try to challenge my students with different ways of looking at the world, to help them think hard about why they believe what they believe. I want them to understand and appreciate the traditions of thought that have created our civilization and to think critically about those traditions after they have a deeper understanding of them. Whether I’m teaching Plato’s Republic, Machiavelli’s Prince, or the American Constitution, I try to impress upon my students that they are entering into the grand, ongoing conversation about what the best ways of life and forms of government are. At the end of the day, it’s the most important endeavor I can think of.”

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