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JOHN BORDLEY RAWLS (/rɔːlz/ ; February 21, 1921 – November 24,
2002) was an American moral and political philosopher. He held the
James Bryant Conant University Professorship at
His magnum opus , A Theory of
* 1 Biography
* 1.1 Early life * 1.2 Military Service, 1943–46 * 1.3 Academic career * 1.4 Later life
* 2 Contribution to political and moral philosophy
* 3 Philosophical thought
* 3.1 A Theory of
* 3.1.1 Principles of justice
* 4 Awards and honors * 5 In popular culture
* 6 Publications
* 6.1 Bibliography * 6.2 Articles * 6.3 Book chapters * 6.4 Reviews
* 7 See also * 8 Notes * 9 References * 10 External links
Two of his brothers died in childhood because they had contracted fatal illnesses from him.... In 1928, the seven-year-old Rawls contracted diphtheria . His brother Bobby, younger by 20 months, visited him in his room and was fatally infected. The next winter, Rawls contracted pneumonia . Another younger brother, Tommy, caught the illness from him and died.
Rawls's biographer Thomas Pogge calls the loss of the brothers the "most important events in John's childhood".
Rawls attended the
Calvert School in Baltimore for six years, before
transferring to the
He completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1943, and enlisted in the Army in February of that year.
MILITARY SERVICE, 1943–46
World War II
Following the surrender of Japan, Rawls became part of General
MacArthur 's occupying army and was promoted to Sergeant. But he
became disillusioned with the military when he saw the aftermath of
the atomic blast in
In early 1946, Rawls returned to Princeton to pursue a doctorate in moral philosophy.
He married Margaret Fox, a
After earning his PhD from Princeton in 1950, Rawls taught 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
Rawls seldom gave interviews and, having both a stutter and a "bat-like horror of the limelight", did not become a public intellectual despite his fame. He instead remained committed mainly to his academic and family life.
In 1995 he suffered the first of several strokes, severely impeding
his ability to continue to work. He was nevertheless able to complete
a book titled
The Law of Peoples , the most complete statement of his
views on international justice, and shortly before his death in
November 2002 published
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:
There is general agreement in academia that the publication of A
Rawls published three books. The first, A Theory of Justice, focused
on distributive justice and attempted to reconcile the competing
claims of the values of freedom and equality. The second, Political
Liberalism, addressed the question of how citizens divided by
intractable religious and philosophical disagreements could come to
endorse a constitutional democratic regime. The third, The
A THEORY OF JUSTICE
Rawls's first work, published in 1971, aimed to resolve the seemingly competing claims of freedom and equality. The shape Rawls's resolution took, however, was not that of a balancing act that compromised or weakened the moral claim of one value compared with the other. Rather, his intent was to show that notions of freedom and equality could be integrated into a seamless unity he called justice as fairness. By explaining the proper perspective we should take when thinking about justice, Rawls hoped to show the supposed conflict between freedom and equality to be illusory.
Rawls's A Theory of
The original position is Rawls' hypothetical scenario in which a group of persons is set the task of reaching an agreement about the kind of political and economic structure they want for a society, which they will then occupy. Each individual, however, deliberates behind a "veil of ignorance ": each lacks knowledge, for example, of his or her gender, race, age, intelligence, wealth, skills, education and religion. The only thing that a given member knows about themselves is that they are in possession of the basic capacities necessary to fully and willfully participate in an enduring system of mutual cooperation; each knows they can be a member of the society.
Rawls posits two basic capacities that the individuals would know themselves to possess. First, each individual knows that he has the capacity to form, pursue, and revise a conception of the good, or life plan. Exactly what sort of conception of the good this is, however, the individual does not yet know. It may be, for example, religious or secular, but at the start, the individual in the original position does not know which. Second, each individual understands him or herself to have the capacity to develop a sense of justice and a generally effective desire to abide by it. Knowing only these two features of themselves, the group will deliberate in order to design a social structure, during which each person will seek his or her maximal advantage. The idea is that proposals that we would ordinarily think of as unjust – such as that blacks or women should not be allowed to hold public office – will not be proposed, in this Rawls' original position, because it would be irrational to propose them, the reason is simple, one does not know whether he himself would be a woman or a black person. This position is expressed in the Maximin principle, according to which in a system of ignorance about one's status, one would strive to improve the position of the worst off, because he might find himself in that position.
Rawls develops his original position by modeling it, in certain
respects at least, after the "initial situations" of various social
contract thinkers who came before him, including
In social justice processes, each person early on makes decisions about which features of persons to consider and which to ignore. Rawls's aspiration is to have created a thought experiment whereby a version of that process is carried to its completion, illuminating the correct standpoint a person should take in his or her thinking about justice. If he has succeeded, then the original position thought experiment may function as a full specification of the moral standpoint we should attempt to achieve when deliberating about social justice.
Principles Of Justice
Rawls derives two principles of justice from the original position.
The first of these is the Liberty
Rawls argues that a second principle of equality would be agreed upon to guarantee liberties that represent meaningful options for all in society and ensure distributive justice. For example, formal guarantees of political voice and freedom of assembly are of little real worth to the desperately poor and marginalized in society. Demanding that everyone have exactly the same effective opportunities in life would almost certainly offend the very liberties that are supposedly being equalized. Nonetheless, we would want to ensure at least the "fair worth" of our liberties: wherever one ends up in society, one wants life to be worth living, with enough effective freedom to pursue personal goals. Thus participants would be moved to affirm a two-part second principle comprising Fair Equality of Opportunity and the famous (and controversial ) difference principle . This second principle ensures that those with comparable talents and motivation face roughly similar life chances and that inequalities in society work to the benefit of the least advantaged.
Rawls held that these principles of justice apply to the "basic structure" of fundamental social institutions (such as the judiciary, the economic structure and the political constitution), a qualification that has been the source of some controversy and constructive debate (see the work of Gerald Cohen ).
Rawls further argued that these principles were to be 'lexically ordered' to award priority to basic liberties over the more equality-oriented demands of the second principle. This has also been a topic of much debate among moral and political philosophers.
Finally, Rawls took his approach as applying in the first instance to what he called a "well-ordered society ... designed to advance the good of its members and effectively regulated by a public conception of justice". In this respect, he understood justice as fairness as a contribution to "ideal theory", the determination of "principles that characterize a well-ordered society under favorable circumstances". Much recent work in political philosophy has asked what justice as fairness might dictate (or indeed, whether it is very useful at all) for problems of "partial compliance" under "nonideal theory".
Political Liberalism (1993), Rawls turned towards the question of
political legitimacy in the context of intractable philosophical,
religious, and moral disagreement amongst citizens regarding the human
good. Such disagreement, he insisted, was reasonable – the result of
the free exercise of human rationality under the conditions of open
enquiry and free conscience that the liberal state is designed to
safeguard. The question of legitimacy in the face of reasonable
disagreement was urgent for Rawls because his own justification of
The intuition animating this seemingly new concern is actually no
different from the guiding idea of A Theory of Justice, namely that
the fundamental charter of a society must rely only on principles,
arguments and reasons that cannot be reasonably rejected by the
citizens whose lives will be limited by its social, legal, and
political circumscriptions. In other words, the legitimacy of a law is
contingent upon its justification being impossible to reasonably
reject. This old insight took on a new shape, however, when Rawls
realized that its application must extend to the deep justification of
The core of Political Liberalism, accordingly, is its insistence that, in order to retain its legitimacy, the liberal state must commit itself to the "ideal of public reason". This roughly means that citizens in their public capacity must engage one another only in terms of reasons whose status as reasons is shared between them. Political reasoning, then, is to proceed purely in terms of "public reasons". For example: a Supreme Court justice deliberating on whether or not the denial to homosexuals of the ability to marry constitutes a violation of the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause may not advert to his religious convictions on the matter, but he may take into account the argument that a same-sex household provides sub-optimal conditions for a child's development. This is because reasons based upon the interpretation of sacred text are non-public (their force as reasons relies upon faith commitments that can be reasonably rejected), whereas reasons that rely upon the value of providing children with environments in which they may develop optimally are public reasons – their status as reasons draws upon no deep, controversial conception of human flourishing.
Rawls held that the duty of civility – the duty of citizens to offer one another reasons that are mutually understood as reasons – applies within what he called the "public political forum". This forum extends from the upper reaches of government – for example the supreme legislative and judicial bodies of the society – all the way down to the deliberations of a citizen deciding for whom to vote in state legislatures or how to vote in public referenda. Campaigning politicians should also, he believed, refrain from pandering to the non-public religious or moral convictions of their constituencies.
The ideal of public reason secures the dominance of the public
political values – freedom, equality, and fairness – that serve as
the foundation of the liberal state. But what about the justification
of these values? Since any such justification would necessarily draw
upon deep (religious or moral) metaphysical commitments which would be
reasonably rejectable, Rawls held that the public political values may
only be justified privately by individual citizens. The public liberal
political conception and its attendant values may and will be affirmed
publicly (in judicial opinions and presidential addresses, for
example) but its deep justifications will not. The task of
justification falls to what Rawls called the "reasonable comprehensive
doctrines" and the citizens who subscribe to them. A reasonable
Catholic will justify the liberal values one way, a reasonable Muslim
another, and a reasonable secular citizen yet another way. One may
illustrate Rawls's idea using a Venn diagram: the public political
values will be the shared space upon which overlap numerous reasonable
comprehensive doctrines. Rawls's account of stability presented in A
Such a consensus would necessarily exclude some doctrines, namely, those that are "unreasonable", and so one may wonder what Rawls has to say about such doctrines. An unreasonable comprehensive doctrine is unreasonable in the sense that it is incompatible with the duty of civility. This is simply another way of saying that an unreasonable doctrine is incompatible with the fundamental political values a liberal theory of justice is designed to safeguard – freedom, equality and fairness. So one answer to the question of what Rawls has to say about such doctrines is – nothing. For one thing, the liberal state cannot justify itself to individuals (such as religious fundamentalists) who hold to such doctrines, because any such justification would – as has been noted – proceed in terms of controversial moral or religious commitments that are excluded from the public political forum. But, more importantly, the goal of the Rawlsian project is primarily to determine whether or not the liberal conception of political legitimacy is internally coherent, and this project is carried out by the specification of what sorts of reasons persons committed to liberal values are permitted to use in their dialogue, deliberations and arguments with one another about political matters. The Rawlsian project has this goal to the exclusion of concern with justifying liberal values to those not already committed – or at least open – to them. Rawls's concern is with whether or not the idea of political legitimacy fleshed out in terms of the duty of civility and mutual justification can serve as a viable form of public discourse in the face of the religious and moral pluralism of modern democratic society, not with justifying this conception of political legitimacy in the first place.
Rawls also modified the principles of justice as follows (with the first principle having priority over the second, and the first half of the second having priority over the latter half):
* 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. * 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". More notably however he switches the two parts of the second principle, so that the difference principle becomes the latter of the three.
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
Rawls's views on global distributive justice as they were expressed in this work surprised many of his fellow egalitarian liberals. For example, Charles Beitz had previously written a study that argued for the application of Rawls's Difference Principles globally. Rawls denied that his principles should be so applied, partly on the grounds that states, unlike citizens, were self-sufficient in the cooperative enterprises that constitute domestic societies. Although Rawls recognized that aid should be given to governments which are unable to protect human rights for economic reasons, he claimed that the purpose for this aid is not to achieve an eventual state of global equality, but rather only to ensure that these societies could maintain liberal or decent political institutions. He argued, among other things, that continuing to give aid indefinitely would see nations with industrious populations subsidize 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.
Rawls's discussion of "non-ideal" theory, on the other hand, included
a condemnation of bombing civilians and of the American bombing of
German and Japanese cities in
World War II
AWARDS AND HONORS
* Bronze Star for radio work behind enemy lines in World
IN POPULAR CULTURE
* A Theory of
* "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): 177–97.
* "Two Concepts of Rules." Philosophical Review (January 1955), 64
* Review of
Axel Hägerström 's Inquiries into the Nature of Law
and Morals (C.D. Broad, tr.). Mind (July 1955), 64 (255):421–22.
* Review of
Anarchy, State, and Utopia
* ^ "Rawls" entry in
Random House Dictionary , Random House, 2013.
* ^ Martin, Douglas (26 November 2002). "John Rawls, Theorist on
Justice, Is Dead at 82". NY Times.
* ^ "The National Medal Of The Arts And The National Humanities
Medal". Clinton4.nara.gov. 1999-09-29. Retrieved 2010-02-26.
* ^ A B C D E Gordon, David (2008-07-28) Going Off the Rawls, The
* ^ A B C
Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy , "Rawls, John,"
Cambridge University Press, pp. 774–75.
* ^ Kordana, Kevin & Tabachnick, David (2006). "On Belling the Cat:
Rawls and Corrective Justice". Virginia
* Freeman, S. (2007) Rawls (Routledge, Abingdon)
* Freeman, Samuel (2009) "Original Position" (The Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy, )
* Rawls, J. (1993/1996/2005)
Political Liberalism (Columbia
University Press, New York)
* Rawls, John (1971). A Theory of
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* Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Entry