Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy

Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy

Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy

Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy


This last book by the late John Rawls, derived from written lectures and notes for his long-running course on modern political philosophy, offers readers an account of the liberal political tradition from a scholar viewed by many as the greatest contemporary exponent of the philosophy behind that tradition.

Rawls's goal in the lectures was, he wrote, "to identify the more central features of liberalism as expressing a political conception of justice when liberalism is viewed from within the tradition of democratic constitutionalism." He does this by looking at several strands that make up the liberal and democratic constitutional traditions, and at the historical figures who best represent these strands--among them the contractarians Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau; the utilitarians Hume, Sidgwick, and J. S. Mill; and Marx regarded as a critic of liberalism. Rawls's lectures on Bishop Joseph Butler also are included in an appendix. Constantly revised and refined over three decades, Rawls's lectures on these figures reflect his developing and changing views on the history of liberalism and democracy--as well as how he saw his own work in relation to those traditions.

With its clear and careful analyses of the doctrine of the social contract, utilitarianism, and socialism--and of their most influential proponents--this volume has a critical place in the traditions it expounds. Marked by Rawls's characteristic patience and curiosity, and scrupulously edited by his student and teaching assistant, Samuel Freeman, these lectures are a fitting final addition to his oeuvre, and to the history of political philosophy as well.


These lectures derive from John Rawls's written lectures and notes for a course in Modern Political Philosophy (Philosophy 171) that he taught at Harvard University from the mid-1960s until his retirement in 1995. In the late 1960s and 1970s Rawls would teach his own theory of justice, justice as fairness, in conjunction with other contemporary and historical works. For example, in 1971 he taught, in addition to A Theory of Justice, works by Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Berlin, and Hart. Later in the 1970s and early 1980s this course consisted entirely of lectures on most of the major historical political philosophers in this volume. In 1983, the last year he taught historical figures alone without A Theory of Justice, Rawls lectured on Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Mill, and Marx. In earlier years Sidgwick would often be discussed (1976, 1979, 1981), as would Rousseau, but in that case Hobbes and/or Marx would not be discussed. In 1984 Rawls again taught parts of A Theory of Justice in conjunction with Locke, Hume, Mill, Kant, and Marx. Soon thereafter he dropped Kant and Hume from his political philosophy course, and added the lectures on Rousseau. During this period he wrote final versions of the lectures presented here on Locke, Rousseau, Mill, and Marx, along with the lectures that were published in 2000 as Justice as Fairness: A Restatement. (This explains the occasional comparisons with justice as fairness found in the present lectures.) Since they were regularly taught during the last ten to twelve years of Rawls's teaching career, the lectures in this volume on Locke, Rousseau, Mill, and Marx are the most finished and complete. Rawls typed them into computer files and adjusted and refined them over the years, until 1994. As a result, they required very little editing.

Somewhat less finished are the earlier lectures on Hobbes and Hume from 1983. They do not appear to have been written out as a continuous and complete set of lectures (with the exception of most of the first Hume . . .

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