John Rawls

John Rawls

John Rawls

John Rawls

Synopsis

John Rawls (1921-2002) is one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century. Contemporary political philosophy has been reshaped by his seminal ideas and most current work in the discipline is a response to them. This book introduces his central ideas and examines their contribution to contemporary political thought. In the first part of the book Catherine Audard focuses on Rawls' conception of political and social justice and its justification as presented in his groundbreaking A Theory of Justice. This includes sustained examination of Rawls' moral philosophy and its core thesis, the primacy of justice, the complex relation between Rawls' views and utilitarianism, and his most famous concept, the Original Position Device. In the second half of the book, Audard explores Rawls' more practical concerns for stability and political consensus, citizenship and international justice, and shows the continuity between these concerns and his earlier work. Throughout, Audard contextualizes Rawls' ideas by giving a sense of their historical development, which underlines the intellectual cohesion of his thought. The move between ethics and politics so characteristic of Rawls' work, and which makes for the richness of his philosophy, is shown to also create for it significant problems. John Rawls combines clear exposition with insightful analysis and provides an interpretative and critical framework that will help shape ongoing debates surrounding Rawls' work.

Excerpt

No book of political philosophy since I read the great classics of
the subject has stirred my thoughts as deeply as John Rawls’ A
Theory of Justice
.

(H. L. A. Hart, 1975: 230)

There is a wide consensus that John Rawls is one of the major thinkers of the twentieth century in the Anglophone world. His work covers and has reshaped most of the major issues of contemporary political philosophy, from constitutional law to distributive justice, from citizenshipto economic efficiency, from global ethics to religious toleration, from cultural pluralism to forms of democratic consensus, etc. Moreover, most of these topics derive from his own analysis of the relation between ethics and politics: they did not exist as such before. Most of contemporary political philosophy has been nurtured by his seminal ideas and can be understood either as a follow-up or a criticism and a reaction against them. Thus, no student or scholar of the discipline can ignore them. Still, for most of his life, Rawls lived the life of a university professor at Harvard. “An exceptionally modest and retiring man”, in the words of Ben Rogers, “he consistently refused the honours he was offered, and declined to pursue the career as public commentator opened to him by his achievements. He never wrote about himself, and virtually never gave interviews. Nevertheless, his most important book, A Theory of Justice – written during the Vietnam war – became required reading for students of philosophy, politics, economics and law all over the world, and, in that way, Rawls has influenced several generations”. Indeed, the book, which sold more than 300,000 copies . . .

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