Tully, James (Hamilton) 1946-

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TULLY, James (Hamilton) 1946-


Born April 17, 1946, in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada; son of John Patrick and Ethel Lorraine (maiden name, Hamilton) Tully; married Debra Higgins, 1990; children: Cynthia, Erin. Education: University of British Columbia, B.A., 1974; University of Cambridge, Ph.D., 1977.


Office—University of Victoria, Department of Political Science, P.O. Box 3050 STN CSC, Victoria, British Columbia V8W 3P5, Canada. E-mail—[email protected].


McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, professor of philosophy and political science, 1977-96; University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, professor of political science, chair of the department of political science, 1996-2001, distinguished professor of political science, law, indigenous governance, and philosophy, 2003—; University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Jacman Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Political Science, 2001-03. Australian National University, Canberra, visiting fellow, 1997; lecturer at several international universities. Royal Commission on Aboriginal Rights, member, 1992-96.


University of Cambridge, Sir John Seeley Distinguished Lecturer, 1993-94; Royal Society of Canada, fellow, 2000.


A Discourse on Property: John Locke and His Adversaries, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1980.

(Editor) John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, Hackett Publishing (Indianapolis, IN), 1983.

(Editor) Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and His Critics, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1988.

(Editor) Samuel Pufendorf, On the Duty of Man and Citizen according to Natural Law, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1991.

An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1993.

Philosophy in an Age of Pluralism: The Philosophy of Charles Taylor in Question, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1994.

Strange Multiplicity: Constitutionalism in an Age of Diversity, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

(Editor, with Alain G. Gagnon) Multinational Democracies, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2001.


Long recognized as one of the leading scholars of seventeenth-and eighteenth-century political theorists, particularly the work of John Locke, James Tully has also emerged as an internationally recognized expert on multiculturalism and multinationalism. Tully has also established himself as a respected commentator on two other contemporary theorists, Quentin Skinner and Charles Taylor. Tully's essay collections on both of these political philosophers have brought their works to a new audience and provided new insights into their ideas.

Tully's A Discourse on Property: John Locke and His Adversaries is part of a larger movement to place the classics of political theory in their historical context, rather than simply extracting the useful ideas and discarding the remainder. "James Tully's aim is to recover the meaning Locke intended to convey in his theory of property. He tries to do this by situating Locke's work in two contexts—the natural law philosophy of the seventeenth century and the specific social and political issues with which Locke was concerned in the Second Treatise," explained Thomas Horne in Political Theory. In contrast to C. B. Macpherson, the Canadian Marxist who saw Locke as the theorist of ruthless capitalism, Tully finds a more complicated theory of property, neither capitalist nor socialist. Instead, he traces Locke's ideas to the Levellers, who opposed the aristocratic conception of unrestricted rights to do with their land whatever they saw fit, even if that meant leaving it wild and throwing out the peasants. While Locke certainly acknowledged the right of private property, that was not an absolute, "but a use-right only, strictly limited by the continuing rights to preservation held by the rest of the community. Instead of justifying fixed private property in land, Locke's natural rights theory generated the property relations of a traditional … English common," observed David Lieberman in his Times Literary Supplement review. Spectator reviewer Anthony Quinton had a somewhat mixed reaction to the volume, concluding that "Tully's book is serious and thorough. The comparisons are informative, the critique of Macpherson's ideological jiggery-pokery entirely called-for. But Tully then goes in for a bit of ideologizing of his own and seems insufficiently concerned … with the provisos and qualifications with which Locke … punctures his theorisings." While not entirely convinced by all of Tully's theories, Ethics reviewer Lawrence C. Becker maintained, "This is an excellent piece of scholarship." Becker added that the book "is a gold mine of references, patient context setting, and careful exegesis.… No one who takes Locke's theory seriously can fail to be enlightened by the results."

Tully followed up with another study of John Locke, An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts, a collection of his writings from the previous ten years. As with A Discourse on Property, this book "continues efforts … to highlight the many and varied connections between political philosophy and historical setting, while addressing the relationship between original contexts and contemporary problems," explained W. M. Spellman in his review for Albion. The essays cover Locke's views of the nature of God, his theories of law and justice and property, and other recurring motifs in Locke's work. "There is inevitable and legitimate overlap among an author's articles published on related topics in various venues," noted Peter Shouls in Canadian Philosophical Reviews. "However, the excellence of most of the individual articles and their enhancement of one another through their presence in a single volume easily outweigh whatever shortcomings the work may have," Shouls concluded.

In addition to examining the works of Locke, Tully has also taken a strong interest in the works of two modern pioneers of political thought, Quentin Skinner and Charles Taylor. Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and His Critics brings together thirteen essays that confront five of Skinner's most influential works and explore the objections of Skinner's many critics. "A self-proclaimed admirer of Skinner, [Tully] provides a succinct if rather brief overview of the volume's content that may not succeed in piquing the interest of anyone not familiar with Skinnerania. The selection of articles wisely surveys the spectrum of the debate rather than focusing on a few themes," Jane Arscott pointed out in the Dalhousie Review. The book also includes a reply by Skinner himself. Philosophy in an Age of Pluralism: The Philosophy of Charles Taylor in Question is a similar attempt to confront the work of another modern giant, but these essays are by different authors, each with a different take on Taylor's approach to the good life and the good society. Collections like this "are most successful when their contributors both enable us to read the relevant texts more insightfully and also extend and deepen debate between the philosophers and their critics. By these standards this is a highly successful book, and James Tully is to be complimented on his editing," maintained Philosophical Quarterly contributor Alasdair MacIntyre. The essays, like Taylor's works, range over a wide variety of subjects, including epistemology, linguistics, religion, multiculturalism, and postmodernist theory. The arguments are profound, but the tone is "mostly informal and friendly," noted Ethics reviewer Joseph M. Heath. As in Meaning and Context, Taylor himself provides an essay answering many of his critics' objections.

Tully followed this with a wide-ranging work of his own, Strange Multiplicity: Constitutionalism in an Age of Diversity. Confronting the incredible diversity of our postcolonial, postmodern "global village," Tully concludes that entirely new constitutional structures may be needed if we are to protect rights and honor indigenous cultures. "The book combines analysis and social criticism, proceeding in part by philosophical argument and in part by interpreting what Tully presents as the foundational texts of contemporary constitutionalism to produce a very original theory with much to recommend it," explained Bruce Toombs in Canadian Philosophical Reviews. More recently, Tully has produced Multinational Democracies, coedited with Alain Gagnon, bringing together a number of prominent scholars confronting the issues of constitutionalism, minority rights, and preservation of indigenous cultures. "For theorists and researchers with interests in multinationalism and multiculturalism in Western democracies, this collection genuinely is essential reading," concluded Choice reviewer W. M. Downs.



Albion, spring, 1994, W. M. Spellman, review of An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts, p. 143.

American Political Science Review, March, 1996, William Connolly, review of Philosophy in an Age of Pluralism: The Philosophy of Charles Taylor in Question, pp. 181-182.

Canadian Philosophical Reviews, June, 1994, Peter Shouls, review of An Approach to Political Philosophy, pp. 217-219; June, 1996, Bruce Toombs, review of Strange Multiplicity: Constitutionalism in an Age of Diversity, pp. 213-215.

Choice, July-August, 2000, W. M. Downs, review of Multinational Democracies, p. 2033.

Dalhousie Review, spring, 1989, Jane Arscott, review of Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and His Critics, pp. 149-150.

Ethics, January, 1982, Lawrence Becker, review of A Discourse on Property: John Locke and His Adversaries, pp. 361-362; July, 1996, Joseph M. Heath, review of Philosophy in an Age of Pluralism, p. 892.

Philosophical Quarterly, October, 1996, Alasdair MacIntyre, review of Philosophy in an Age of Pluralism, pp. 522-524.

Political Theory, August, 1981, Thomas Horne, review of A Discourse on Property, pp. 451-454.

Spectator, August 16, 1980, Anthony Quinton, review of A Discourse on Property, p. 18.

Times Literary Supplement, April 24, 1981, David Lieberman, review of A Discourse on Property, p. 463.