John Rawls

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Western Philosophers
20th-century philosophy <tr><td colspan="2" style="text-align: center;">
John Rawls in 1990 (photo by Jane Reed)
Name: John Rawls
Birth: February 21, 1921

<tr><th style="text-align: right;">Death:</th> <td>November 24, 2002</td></tr>

School/tradition: Analytic

<tr><th style="text-align: right;">Main interests:</th> <td>Political philosophy, Liberalism, Justice, Politics</td></tr><tr><th style="text-align: right;">Notable ideas:</th> <td>Justice as Fairness, The original position, Reflective equilibrium, Overlapping consensus, Public reason.</td></tr><tr><th style="text-align: right;">Influences:</th> <td>Immanuel Kant, Abraham Lincoln, H. L. A. Hart</td></tr><tr><th style="text-align: right;">Influenced:</th> <td>Thomas Nagel, Thomas Pogge, Thomas Scanlon, Christine Korsgaard</td></tr>

John Rawls (February 21, 1921November 24, 2002) was an American philosopher, a professor of political philosophy at Harvard University and author of A Theory of Justice (1971), Political Liberalism, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, and The Law of Peoples. He was an important political philosopher of the 20th century in the English-speaking world.


[edit] Biographical sketch

John Borden (Bordley) Rawls was born in Baltimore, Maryland on February 21, 1921. He was the second of five sons to William Lee Rawls and Anna Abell Stump. Rawls attended school in Baltimore only for a short time before transferring to Kent School, an Episcopalian preparatory school in Connecticut. Upon graduation in 1939, Rawls went on to Princeton University, where he became interested in philosophy, and was elected to join the membership of The Ivy Club. In 1943, he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree and joined the Army. During this time (World War II), Rawls served as an infantryman in the Pacific where he toured New Guinea, the Philippines, and Japan and witnessed the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima. After this experience, Rawls turned down the offer of becoming an officer and left the army as a private in 1946. Shortly thereafter, he returned to Princeton to pursue a doctorate in moral philosophy. Rawls then married Margaret Fox, a Brown graduate, in 1949. Margaret and John had a shared interest in indexing - they spent their first holiday together writing the index for a book on Nietzsche, and Rawls wrote the index for A Theory of Justice himself. After earning his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1950, Rawls decided to teach there until 1952 when he received a Fulbright Fellowship to Oxford University (Christ Church), where he was influenced by the liberal political theorist and historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin and, more strongly, the legal theorist H.L.A. Hart. Next, he returned to the United States, serving first as an assistant and then associate professor at Cornell University. In 1962, he became a full professor of philosophy at Cornell, and soon achieved a tenured position at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1964 he moved to Harvard University, where he taught for almost forty years. Rawls suffered the first of several strokes in 1995, which severely impeded his ability to continue working. Nonetheless, he was still able to complete a work entitled The Law of Peoples, which contains the most complete statement of his views on international justice, before dying in November 2002. His nephew, William Lee Rawls, was former Chief of Staff to Senate Majority Leader William H. Frist, and is currently the Chief of Staff to FBI Director Robert Mueller.

[edit] Rawls's contribution to political and moral philosophy

Rawls is noted for his contributions to liberal political philosophy. Among the ideas from Rawls's work that have received wide attention are:

Many academic philosophers believe that Rawls made an important and lasting contribution to political philosophy. There is general agreement that the publication of A Theory of Justice in 1971 led to a revival in the academic study of political philosophy. Rawls's work has crossed disciplinary lines, receiving serious attention from economists, legal scholars, political scientists, sociologists, and theologians. Rawls has the unique distinction among contemporary political philosophers of being frequently cited by the courts of law in the United States and referred to by practicing politicians in the United Kingdom.

[edit] A Theory of Justice

Main article: A Theory of Justice

In A Theory of Justice, Rawls attempts to solve the intractable problem of distributive justice by utilizing a version of the familiar device of the social contract. The resultant theory is known as "Justice as Fairness", from which Rawls derives his two famous principles of justice: the liberty principle and the difference principle.

[edit] Political Liberalism

Main article: Political Liberalism

Rawls's later work focused on the question of stability: could a society ordered by the two principles of justice endure? His answer to this question is contained in a collection of lectures titled Political Liberalism. In Political Liberalism, Rawls introduced the idea of an overlapping consensus—or agreement on justice as fairness between citizens who hold different religious and philosophical views (or conceptions of the good). Political Liberalism also introduced the idea of public reason—the common reason of all citizens.

In Political Liberalism Rawls addressed the most common criticism levelled at Theory—the criticism that the principles of justice were simply an alternative systematic conception of justice that was superior to utilitarianism or any other comprehensive theory. This meant that justice as fairness turned out to be simply another reasonable comprehensive doctrine that was incompatible with other reasonable doctrines. It failed to distinguish between a comprehensive moral theory which addressed the problem of justice and that of a political conception of justice that was independent of any comprehensive theory.

The political conception of justice that Rawls introduces in Political Liberalism is the view of justice that people with conflicting, but reasonable views, would agree on to regulate the basic structure of society (note the new limits on the scope of justice as fairness). As such the political conception of justice would be the overlapping consensus about justice.

Rawls also modified the principles of justice to become the following (with the first having priority over the second):

  1. Each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of basic rights and liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme for all; and in this scheme the equal political liberties, and only those liberties, are to be guaranteed their fair value.
  2. Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: first they are to be attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and second they are to be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society.

These principles are subtly modified from the principles in Theory. The first principle now reads 'equal claim' instead of 'equal right', and he also replaces the phrase 'system of basic liberties' with 'a fully adequate scheme of equal basic rights and liberties.'

[edit] The Law of Peoples

Main article: The Law of Peoples

Although there were passing comments on international affairs in A Theory of Justice, it wasn't until late in his career that Rawls formulated a comprehensive theory of international politics with the publication of The Law of Peoples. This work shocked many of his liberal allies. He claimed that "well-ordered" peoples could be either "liberal" or "decent hierarchical." The tolerance of the latter by the former was needed to ensure that a liberal foreign policy was not "unreasonable" to the rest of the world. Decent hierarchies could have state religions and deny adherents of minority faiths to hold positions of power within the nation. They could organise participation via corporatism rather than via elections. However, they were not allowed to violate human rights, or else would be amongst the other categories of "outlaw states," "societies burdened by unfavourable conditions" and "benevolent absolutisms."

Charles Beitz had previously written a study that applied Rawls's second principle of justice to international relations. He believed that redistribution could be justified by the inequality of natural resources amongst countries. Rawls, to the amazement of many, refuted this application and claimed that nations were self-sufficient, unlike the cooperative enterprises that domestic societies are. Although Rawls recognised that aid should be given to governments who must suspend human rights in times of great trouble, he claimed that there must be a cut-off point for such aid. Continuing to give aid indefinitely would see nations with industrious populations subsidise those with idle populations and would create a moral hazard problem where governments could spend irresponsibly in the knowledge that they will be bailed out by those nations who had spent responsibly. These arguments seemed to parallel those offered by Nozick against domestic welfare and were widely considered to be inconsistent with Rawls's domestic theory. Rawls claimed that natural resources do not determine a country's wealth, but that it is determined by human capital and the political culture of a country. His theory seems not to account for nations like Botswana whose affluence has been gained mostly through natural resources or of the tendency of human capital to migrate towards nations that are already affluent and cause a brain drain.

More predictable comments included a condemnation of bombing civilians and of the American firebombing of Japanese cities in World War II. A near-mythical picture of a "Statesman" is detailed, who looks to the next generation, promotes international harmony and rises above the jingoism of the electorate. Every country had to respect human rights, or face the prospect of intervention by the international community. This may seem reminiscent of neo-conservativism, but Rawls was optimistic in believing that non-liberal nations would eventually see the benefits of liberalism for themselves and come to respect human rights.

[edit] Publications

[edit] Bibliography

  • A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971. The revised edition of 1999 incorporates changes that Rawls made for translated editions of A Theory of Justice. Some Rawls scholars use the abbreviation TJ to refer to this work.
  • Political Liberalism. The John Dewey Essays in Philosophy, 4. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. The hardback edition published in 1993 is not identical. The paperback adds a valuable new introduction and an essay titled "Reply to Habermas.”
  • The Law of Peoples: with "The Idea of Public Reason Revisited.” Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1999. This slim book includes two works; a further developement of his essay entitled "The Law of Peoples” and another entitled "Public Reason Revisited”, both published earlier in his carreer.
  • Collected Papers. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1999. This collection of shorter papers was edited by Samuel Freeman. Two of the papers in this collection, "The Law of Peoples” and "Public Reason Revisited,” are available separately in the Law of Peoples monograph published the same year. One other essay, "Reply to Habermas,” was added to the paperback edition of Political Liberalism. Otherwise, this collection is comprehensive. However, one important unpublished work, Rawls's dissertation, is not included.
  • Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2000. This collection of lectures was edited by Barbara Herman. It has an introduction on modern moral philosophy from 1600–1800 and then lectures on Hume, Leibniz, Kant, and Hegel.
  • Justice as Fairness: A Restatement. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 2001. This shorter summary of the main arguments of Rawls's political philosophy was edited by Erin Kelly. Many versions of this were circulated in typescript and much of the material was delivered by Rawls in lectures when he taught courses covering his own work at Harvard University.
  • Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, forthcomming (2006 or 2007). Collection of lectures on Hobbes, Locke, Butler, Rousseau, Hume, Mill, and Marx, edited by Samuel Freeman.

[edit] Articles

  • "A Study in the Grounds of Ethical Knowledge: Considered with Reference to Judgments on the Moral Worth of Character.” Ph.D. Dissertation, Princeton University, 1950.
  • "Outline of a Decision Procedure for Ethics.” Philosophical Review (April 1951), 60 (2): 177-197.
  • "Two Concepts of Rules.” Philosophical Review (January 1955), 64 (1):3-32.
  • "Justice as Fairness.” Journal of Philosophy (October 24, 1957), 54 (22): 653-662.
  • "Justice as Fairness.” Philosophical Review (April 1958), 67 (2): 164-194.
  • "The Sense of Justice.” Philosophical Review (July 1963), 72 (3): 281-305.
  • "Constitutional Liberty and the Concept of Justice" Nomos VI (1963) (Hayek refers to this article to show that Rawls agrees with his opinion)
  • "Distributive Justice: Some Addenda.” Natural Law Forum (1968), 13: 51-71.
  • "Reply to Lyons and Teitelman.” Journal of Philosophy (October 5, 1972), 69 (18): 556-557.
  • "Reply to Alexander and Musgrave.” Quarterly Journal of Economics (November 1974), 88 (4): 633-655.
  • "Some Reasons for the Maximin Criterion.” American Economic Review (May 1974), 64 (2): 141-146.
  • "Fairness to Goodness.” Philosophical Review (October 1975), 84 (4): 536-554.
  • "The Independence of Moral Theory.” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association (November 1975), 48: 5-22.
  • "A Kantian Conception of Equality.” Cambridge Review (February 1975), 96 (2225): 94-99.
  • "The Basic Structure as Subject.” American Philosophical Quarterly (April 1977), 14 (2): 159-165.
  • "Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory.” Journal of Philosophy (September 1980), 77 (9): 515-572.
  • "Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical.” Philosophy & Public Affairs (Summer 1985), 14 (3): 223-251.
  • "The Idea of an Overlapping Consensus.” Oxford Journal for Legal Studies (Spring 1987), 7 (1): 1-25.
  • "The Priority of Right and Ideas of the Good.” Philosophy & Public Affairs (Fall 1988), 17 (4): 251-276.
  • "The Domain of the Political and Overlapping Consensus.” New York University Law Review (May 1989), 64 (2): 233-255.
  • "Roderick Firth: His Life and Work.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (March 1991), 51 (1): 109-118.
  • "The Law of Peoples.” Critical Inquiry (Fall 1993), 20 (1): 36-68.
  • "Reconciliation through the Public Use of Reason.” Journal of Philosophy (March 1995), 92 (3):132-180.

[edit] Book chapters

  • "Constitutional Liberty and the Concept of Justice.” In Carl J. Friedrich and John W. Chapman, eds., Nomos, VI: Justice, pp. 98-125. Yearbook of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy. New York: Atherton Press, 1963.
  • "Legal Obligation and the Duty of Fair Play.” In Sidney Hook, ed., Law and Philosophy: A Symposium, pp. 3-18. New York: New York University Press, 1964. Proceedings of the 6th Annual New York University Institute of Philosophy.
  • "Distributive Justice.” In Peter Laslett and W. G. Runciman, eds., Philosophy, Politics, and Society. Third Series, pp. 58-82. London: Blackwell; New York: Barnes & Noble, 1967.
  • "The Justification of Civil Disobedience.” In Hugo A. Bedau, ed., Civil Disobedience: Theory and Practice, pp. 240-255. New York: Pegasus Books, 1969.
  • "Justice as Reciprocity.” In Samuel Gorovitz, ed., Utilitarianism: John Stuart Mill: With Critical Essays, pp. 242-268. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971.
  • "Author's Note.” In Thomas Schwartz, ed., Freedom and Authority: An Introduction to Social and Political Philosophy, p. 260. Encino & Belmont, California: Dickenson, 1973.
  • "Distributive Justice." In Edmund S. Phelps, ed., Economic Justice: Selected Readings, pp. 319-362. Penguin Modern Economics Readings. Harmondsworth & Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1973.
  • "Personal Communication, January 31, 1976." In Thomas Nagel's "The Justification of Equality." Critica (April 1978), 10 (28): 9n4.
  • "The Basic Liberties and Their Priority." In Sterling M. McMurrin, ed., The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, III (1982), pp. 1-87. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
  • "Social Unity and Primary Goods." In Amartya Sen and Bernard Williams, eds., Utilitarianism and Beyond, pp. 159-185. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Paris: Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, 1982.
  • "Themes in Kant's Moral Philosophy." In Eckhart Forster, ed., Kant's Transcendental Deductions: The Three Critiques and the Opus postumum, pp. 81-113, 253-256. Stanford Series in Philosophy. Studies in Kant and German Idealism. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1989.

[edit] Reviews

  • Review of Axel Hägerstrom's Inquiries into the Nature of Law and Morals (C.D. Broad, tr.). Mind (July 1955), 64 (255):421-422.
  • Review of Stephen Toulmin's An Examination of the Place of Reason in Ethics (1950). Philosophical Review (October 1951), 60 (4): 572-580.
  • Review of A. Vilhelm Lundstedt's Legal Thinking Revised. Cornell Law Quarterly (1959), 44: 169.
  • Review of Raymond Klibansky, ed., Philosophy in Mid-Century: A Survey. Philosophical Review (January 1961), 70 (1): 131-132.
  • Review of Richard B. Brandt, ed., Social Justice (1962). Philosophical Review (July 1965), 74(3): 406-409.

[edit] Selected secondary literature

  • Norman Daniels ed., Reading Rawls: Critical Studies of A Theory of Justice. New York: Basic Books, 1974. This anthology collects many of the important early reactions to A Theory of Justice, including a famous essay by H. L. A. Hart.
  • Chandran Kukathas & Philip Pettit, Rawls: A Theory of Justice and its Critics. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990. This is a short study of Rawls's work and critical reactions. Philip Pettit is a prominent political philosopher in his own right.
  • Samuel Freeman ed., Cambridge Companion to Rawls. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. This anthology includes essays by prominent philosophers, including Thomas Nagel, T.M. Scanlon, Onora O'Neill, and Martha Nussbaum.

[edit] Awards

  • Schock Prize for Logic and Philosophy (1999)
  • National Humanities Medal (1999)

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • Robinson, Dave & Groves, Judy (2003). Introducing Political Philosophy. Icon Books. ISBN 1-84046-450-X.

[edit] External links

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Preceded by:
Dana S. Scott
Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy
Succeeded by:
Saul A. Kripke
John Rawls
A Theory of Justice - Political Liberalism - The Law of Peoples - Justice as Fairness: A Restatement
See also: Liberalism - Political philosophy - Original position - Justice
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John Rawls

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