☆ 1995年までのある程度網羅的な文献表[Eddie Yeghiayan さんによる]
◆Rawls, John 1963 "Constitutional Liberty and the Concept of Justice", Nomos IV, Justice (New York)
◆1971 A Theory of Justice. Harvard University Press.
＝1979 矢島鈞次・篠塚慎吾・渡辺茂訳，『正義論』，紀伊國屋書店，482p. <281-284,313> ※
◆1979 田中成明・深田三徳・岩倉正博・守屋明・平野仁彦訳，『公正としての正義』，木鐸社，338p. <281>
◆1993 Political Liberalism. Columbia University Press.
◆1996 Political Liberalism. Paperback Edition. Columbia University Press.
[1993年版に、Paperback版への序文と、Lecture IX: Reply to Habermas が追加]
◆1999a A Theory of Justice Revised Edition. Harvard University Press.
◆1999b The Law of Peoples: with "The Idea of Public Reason Revisited", Harverd University Press. ＝20060714 中山 竜一 訳，『万民の法』，岩波書店，345p. ISBN-10: 4000244337 ISBN-13: 9784000244336 \3300 [amazon]／[kinokuniya] ※
◆1999c Collected Papers. Samuel Richard Freeman Ed. Harvard University Press.
◆2000 Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, Harvard University Press.
＝ 20050223 / 20050325 坂部 恵監訳 『ロールズ哲学史講義』， みすず書房， 318+319p. ISBN-10: 4622071118(上)； 4622071126(下) 4830円(上)； 4620円(下)
◆2001 Justice as Fairness: A Restatement. Erin Kelly Ed. Harvard University Press.
＝200408 田中 成明・亀本 洋・平井 亮輔 訳，『公正としての正義再説』，岩波書店，402+24p. ISBN：4-00-022846-3 3570 ［amazon］／［bk1］ ※
◆Rawls, John; ed. by Freeman, Samuel 200703 Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy， Harvard University Press， 476p. ISBN-10: 0674024923 ISBN-13: 978-0674024922 US$ 35.00 ［amazon］
「◆10 ロールズ［1971＝1979］が「原初状態」から導かれるとしたのは「自由」である。だが原初状態で自由が他に優先して選択される必然性はない。Hart［1983＝1987］が、ロールズは原初状態の人間にある種の仮定をおいていると、このことを指摘する。これは当たっている。ロールズにおける自由についてPaul［1984］、「無知のヴェイル」については井上達夫［1986:136,222-223］、Kukathas ; Pettit［1990＝1996］、笹澤豊［1993:202ff］。本文に記したのと別の理解もある。岩田靖夫は、「人間が様々の自然的差異をもって生まれついてくることが偶然（contingent）であるという認識は、少なくともロールズの言う意味においては、事実認識であるかに見えて実は倫理的決断である…。すなわち、天与の才能に居直って、それを当然の事実とうけとめるか、それともそれは当然ではない（換言すれば、自分には本来それが与えられる理由がないから自分はそれに居直れない）とうけとめるかは、単なる所与から出てくることではなく、その人の人生観に由来することがらである…」とし、「全くの偶然事（contingency）」を「まったく理由のない出来事…、したがって自分がそれを受けるに値しない（undeserved）出来事」とするところに「ロールズの全思想の核心」を見る（岩田靖夫［1994:37-38］）。その後のロールズの思想について川本隆史［1995］。」
第２章 正義の諸原理 §17平等への傾向 より
●基本（的）財・社会的基本財（social primary goods）
＊Mouffe, Chantal 1993 The Return of the Political Verso＝19980420 千葉眞・土井美徳・田中智彦・山田竜作訳，『政治的なるものの再興』，日本経済評論社、327p. 2800 ※
第９章 正義の善 §80羨望の問題
第９章 正義の善 §81羨望と平等
「あらゆる人は、正常範囲内の肉体的必要性や心理的力量をもっている、と私は仮定する。そこで、特別のヘルスケアや精神障害者の取り扱い方に関する問題は生じない。こうした困難な問題を考察することは……、われわれと隔たりのある人々を考えざるをえなくするために、われわれの道徳的な知覚を混乱させてしまう」（Rawls, "A Kantian Consept of Equality", J. Ranjchman & C. West eds. Post-Analytic Philosophy, Columbia ninversity Press, 1985, p206，竹内章郎『現代平等論ガイド』（1999，青木書店）pp.194-195に引用）
「私はまた、全ての人々が正常な範囲内にある身体的ニーズと精神的能力をもっていると想定しているために、特別なヘルスケアの問題やthe mentally defectiveをどのように扱うかについての問題は生じない。正義論をこえたところへ我々をつれていくような困難な問題を早まって導入することに加えて、これらの困難なケースについて考えることは、しばしばそうした人の運命が同情と不安を引き起こすような、我々とかけ離れた人々について我々に考えさせようとすることで、我々の道徳的知覚（moral perception）を混乱させてしまう。しかるに正義についての第一の問題が関与しているのは次のような人々である。正常な道をたどる社会における十分に活動的な参加者であり、生まれてから死ぬまでに直接的あるいは間接的に結びついているような人々との関係に正義の問題が関与しているのである。」（田中紗織「障害と道徳──身体環境への配慮」に引用）
「人（person）とは市民であることのできる誰かである。［…］私はここで、生涯にわたって身体的な障害――とても深刻なもので正常であることができずまた普通の意味で社会で協働してやっていく成員であることができないような障害――を有する人を脇においてくことにする。」（Rawls［1985:233］、Silvers et al.［1998］冒頭で引用）
◆藤川 吉美 19891220 『公正としての正義の研究──ロールズの正義概念に対する批判的考察』 成文堂，464p. 3495 ※
◆藤川 吉美 19950325 『ロールズ哲学の全体像──公正な社会の新しい像』 成文堂，282p. 2500 ※
◆福間 聡 20070223 『ロールズのカント的構成主義』，勁草書房，312p. ISBN-10: 4326101687 ISBN-13: 978-4326101689 3675 ［amazon］／［kinokuniya］ ※ ri01.
◆後藤 玲子 20020629 『正義の経済哲学──ロールズとセン』，東洋経済新報社，466p.，4200円
◆Habermas, Jurgen 1994＝1996 「民主的立憲国家における承認への闘争」，Gutmann ed.［1994＝1996:155-210］
◆Hart, Herbert Lionel Adolphus 1983 「ロールズにおける自由とその優先性」 ＝1987 小林公訳，Hart［＝1987:221-259］
（Hart, Herbert Lionel Adolphus 1987 『権利・功利・自由』 小林公・森村進訳，木鐸社，302p.）
◆伊藤 恭彦 20000320 「現代リベラリズム」，有賀・伊藤・松井編［2000:003-021］＊
＊有賀 誠・伊藤 恭彦・松井 暁 編 20000320 『ポスト・リベラリズム──社会的規範理論への招待』，ナカニシヤ出版，267p. 3000円 ※
◆岩田 靖夫 19940426 『倫理の復権──ロールズ・ソクラテス・レヴィナス』，岩波書店，294p. 5500 <313>
◆川本 隆史 19970410 『ロールズ』，講談社，310p. 2524 ※
◆Kukathas, Chandran ; Pettit, Philip 1990 Rawls : A Theory of Justice and its Critics Polity Press＝1996 山田八千子・嶋津格訳，『ロールズ――『正義論』とその批判者たち』，勁草書房，260+19p. ※
◆Mouffe, Chantal 1993 The Return of the Political Verso＝19980420 千葉眞・土井美徳・田中智彦・山田竜作訳，『政治的なるものの再興』，日本経済評論社、327p. 2800 ※
◆Paul, Jeffrey 1984 ＝1987 佐藤正志訳，「ロールズ」 Pelczynski ; Gray eds.［1984＝1987:461-483］
◆Pakaluk, Michael 1994 ＝1999 「ジョン・ロールズの自由主義──その簡潔な説明」 Wolfe ; Hittinger eds.［1994＝1999:016-045］
◆塩野谷 祐一 1984 『価値理論の構造』，東洋経済新報社，480p. <64>
◆渡辺 幹雄 19980325 『ロールズ正義の行方』 春秋社
◇Daniels, Norman；Kennedy, Bruce；Kawachi, Ichiro, 2000 Is Inequality Bad for Our Health?, Beacon Press.
＝20080720，児玉 聡 訳 『健康格差と正義―公衆衛生に挑むロールズ哲学』，勁草書房，153p.
ISBN-10: 4326153962 ISBN-13: 978-4326153961 ［amazon］
◆渡辺 幹雄 20000415 『ロールズ正義の行方 増補新装版』 春秋社，464+14p. 5300 ※
◆渡辺 幹雄 20011225 『ロールズ正義論再説――その問題と変遷の各論的考察』 春秋社，413+10p. 5000 ※
◆――――― 20020925 「「財産所有民主主義」と福祉国家──ロールズによるその理論的分析」，『季刊社会保障研究』38-2:146-156
◆立岩 真也 2003/02/01 「二〇〇二年読書アンケート」
◆立岩 真也 2004 『自由の平等』，岩波書店
November 25, 2002
John Rawls (Staff photo by Jane
John Rawls, influential political philosopher, dead at 81:
Author of "A Theory of Justice" was James Bryant Conant University Professor Emeritus
By Ken Gewertz
Updated 4 p.m. 11/26/02
John Rawls, the James Bryant Conant
University Professor Emeritus, whose 1971 book, "A Theory of Justice" argued persuasively for a society based on equality and individual rights, died Sunday (Nov. 24) at the age of 81.
Rawls is considered by many to be the most important political philosopher of the 20th century and a powerful advocate of the liberal perspective. His work continues to be a major influence in the fields of ethics, law, political science, and economics, and has been translated into 27 languages.
Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers said, "I am deeply saddened by the death of John Rawls. He combined profound wisdom with equally profound humanity. Few if any modern philosophers have had as decisive an impact on how we think about justice. Scholars in many different fields will continue to learn from him for generations to come."
William Kirby, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said, "John Rawls' consideration of questions of social justice has marked him as one of the greatest political theorists of our time. His analyses of the conditions, present and wished for, under which we pursue the great questions of right living in a pluralistic society reveal his probity and his searching quality of mind. We are very sad to know of his passing. This is a grave loss for Harvard, and for philosophy."
Philosophy Department Chairman Thomas Scanlon, the Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Policy, said that "John Rawls was widely recognized as the greatest political philosopher of the 20th century. His work revived and reshaped the entire field, and its profound influence on the way justice is understood and argued about will last long into the future. He was also a remarkable teacher, who inspired countless students, and an unfailingly generous and devoted colleague. We will miss him greatly and are all deeply grateful to have had the privilege of being around when he was here."
Stanley Hoffmann, the Paul and Catherine Buttenwieser University Professor, said of Rawls: "This gentle, modest and thoughtful man has revived the philosophy of liberalism that had been for so long mired in its glorious past and ridiculed by its enemies. His colossal attempt to adapt it to the circumstances of the 20th century, to the age of democracy, but also totalitarianism, world wars and mass poverty, his emphasis both on diversity and on consensus, his scrutiny of democratic citizenship and of the requirements of justice, his influence on disciples he treated as his equals, will continue to inspire us and to deserve our gratitude. He was a great thinker and a good man, and many of us feel orphaned."
Charles Fried, the Beneficial Professor of Law at Harvard, said of Rawls, "He was the dominant figure in political and moral philosophy in the second half of the 20th century. He developed an approach to the questions of moral and political philosophy which was substantive and analytic at the same time, proposing concrete answers to many questions."
Dennis Thompson, the Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy and director of the University Center for Ethics and the Professions, stated that in his view Rawls "will be in the canon for centuries, along with Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Mill, etc." Rawls was a senior fellow in the Center for Ethics and the Professions from its beginning in 1986 and was personally engaged in the work of the center until his illness made active participation impossible.
In "A Theory of Justice," Rawls sets forth the proposition that "Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. Therefore, in a just society the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests."
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Rawls attended the Kent School in Kent, Conn., and earned a B.A. degree from Princeton in 1943. From 1943 to 1945 he served in New Guinea, the Philippines, and Japan as an enlisted man in the U.S. infantry, later describing his military career as "singularly undistinguished." He returned to Princeton in 1946 to take up graduate studies, receiving his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1950.
Before joining the Harvard Philosophy Department in 1962, he was an instructor at Princeton (1950-52), assistant and associate professor of philosophy at Cornell (1953-59), and professor of philosophy at M.I.T. (1960-62). He was appointed the Conant University Professor at Harvard in 1979.
University professors hold Harvard’s highest professorial posts. These special endowed positions were established in 1935 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for "individuals of distinction ... working on the frontiers of knowledge, and in such a way as to cross the conventional boundaries of the specialties."
In addition to "A Theory of Justice," nominated for a National Book Award, his publications include "Political Liberalism" (1993), "The Law of Peoples" (1999), "Collected Papers" (1999), "Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy" (2000), and "Justice as Fairness: A Restatement" (2001).
He was a member of the American Philosophical Association (president, 1974), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association of Political and Legal Philosophy (president, 1970-72), the American Philosophical Society, the British Academy, and the Norwegian Academy of Sciences. In 1999, he received the National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Rawls died of heart failure at his home in Lexington, Mass. He had suffered a series of debilitating strokes that eventually left him unable to work. He leaves his wife, Margaret Warfield Fox Rawls, four children ? Anne Warfield, Robert Lee, Alexander Emory, and Elizabeth Fox ? and four grandchildren.
A memorial service is scheduled for Dec. 3 at 9:30 a.m. at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Lexington.
Author of 'A Theory of Justice'
28 November 2002
John Bordley Rawls, philosopher: born Baltimore, Maryland 21 February 1921; instructor, Princeton University 1950-52; Fulbright Fellow, Oxford University 1952-52; Assistant then Associate Professor, Cornell University 1953-59; Visiting Professor, Harvard University 1959-60, Professor 1962-79, James Bryant Conant University Professor 1979-91 (Emeritus); Professor MIT 1960-62; President, American Association of Political and Legal Philosophy 1970-72; President, American Philosophical Association 1974; married 1949 Margaret Warfield Fox (two sons, two daughters); died Lexington, Massachusetts 24 November 2002.
John Rawls was the most influential political philosopher since the Second World War; in the view of many of his admirers, he may well have been the greatest writer on issues of justice, rights and equality since Immanuel Kant two centuries ago. He was also an exemplary figure, whose patience and modesty were as astonishing as his imagination and intelligence, and much rarer among professional philosophers. Attempting to praise him to his face was uphill work, and prizes, medals and offers of honorary degrees were usually rejected, courteously but firmly.
Indeed, he accepted honorary degrees only from Princeton, Oxford and Harvard 窶 he did his undergraduate and graduate work at Princeton, and taught at Oxford before spending almost all his working life at Harvard. He was awarded a National Humanities Medal in 1999 for his success in bringing women into the world of academic philosophy, and it may not be fanciful to think that he was happy to accept it out of filial piety. His mother had campaigned for women's voting rights, and he greatly admired her efforts.
His fame rests on his 1971 book A Theory of Justice. Statistics are no guide to intellectual excellence, but most works of an academic philosopher sell something in the region of 1,000 copies. This sober, careful, difficult and very substantial (550-page) work sold 200,000; and to date has provoked something in the region of 5,000 discussions and ripostes. These responses vary from substantial best-selling works such as Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974) to notes in obscure journals. The prehistory of the book tells one almost more about its importance than its later history, however.
In the 1950s, political philosophy was at a low ebb. Logical positivism had before the war held that moral and political judgements expressed and aroused emotion, but were otherwise meaningless; even when that extreme view lost favour, philosophers were slow to regain an interest in the issues that had exercised Kant and John Stuart Mill 窶 human rights, justice, the basis of political authority, equality and inequality, and the possibility of getting sovereign states to form a law-abiding international society of nations. In 1957, Rawls published a short essay in The Journal of Philosophy, "Justice as Fairness". A longer version of the same essay appeared the next year in The Philosophical Review, and the effect was electric.
In retrospect, it is not easy to see why. But that is largely because we have become so used to framing questions the way Rawls taught us to. For philosophers under the age of 60, it is almost as hard to remember what it was like before "Justice as Fairness" as it is to remember what it was like to learn one's native language.
Rawls had two deep insights. The first was that utilitarianism was fundamentally flawed; utilitarianism, that is, trying to maximise the welfare of a whole society, failed to recognise what Rawls called "the separateness of persons". Aiming at the greatest happiness in the way Jeremy Bentham recommended allowed a benevolent government to sacrifice the welfare, freedom, human rights of one individual in order to foster the welfare of others.
In the 1950s, many defenders of the Soviet Union and of newly independent developing countries were perfectly happy about the sacrifices involved in their supposed economic development and argued along just these lines. Rawls tightened the argument by insisting that the winners' gains did not outweigh the losers' losses; nobody experienced the greatest happiness of the society. What there were were separate persons 窶 winners and losers.
Once this is established, it becomes clear that the question of justice is whether the gains and losses have been allocated fairly. The second deep insight is thus that we need an account of justice as fairness. What is the crucial question that we must be able to answer if we are to say that social arrangements meet the test of fairness? Rawls reached back to a tradition that all respectable opinion derided as antiquated, the social-contract tradition of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau and, above all, Kant. To know if social arrangements are fair, we must know if people would have signed up for them.
That solution needs refinement. With a gun at your head, you might sign up for almost anything. If you are in great need, you may sell yourself into slavery. On the other hand, if you are clever you may induce other people to sign up for arrangements that disadvantage them. Rawls's stroke of genius was to invent the idea of a "veil of ignorance", shrouding the folk who make this social contract so that they do not know who they will be, what abilities they will possess, what faith they will adopt, and so on. If they do not know whether they will be winners or losers, smart or dumb, Christians, Jews, Muslims or atheists, they will sign up only for arrangements that protect them whatever happens.
One reason why Rawls's audience was so receptive was that these ideas evidently suited the morality that underpinned the post-war welfare state. They rationalised the sense that there were rights we very much did not wish to give up 窶 freedom of religion, political self-expression, for example 窶 but that the sanctity of these rights did not spill over to private ownership of the means of production. Some private-property rights seemed to follow from the right to self-expression; the fortune of the Rockefellers did not. Class war was not called for, but redistributive taxation was.
In a more narrowly intellectual perspective, new ideas from the theory of games made the social contract respectable. Drawing on a well-known theorem, Rawls argued that anyone asked to sign up for a set of social arrangements that was going to govern their political and civil rights, and establish the outline of their economic arrangements, would vote for "maximin", that is they would maximise the minimum payoff from the agreement by voting for arrangements that made the worst-off person as well-off as possible. Fairness required two principles, first that everyone should enjoy as much freedom as was consistent with everyone having as much as anyone else, and second, that inequalities are arranged for the benefit of the least favoured.
This was a striking thought. It was also highly contentious. It implied that rational people would be very averse to risk, but it is not obvious that they would be. If you very much wanted to own slaves and thought you could put up with being a slave if that is how things turned out, why would you not vote for slavery? Less dramatically, if you thought that it would be fun to be rich, why not vote for a welfare safety net so that the worst-off did not do intolerably, but otherwise allow a free-for-all?
Rawls upset both egalitarians and anti-egalitarians. Rawls said that it did not matter how much better-off than the poor the best-off were, so long as their gains produced the best possible outcome for the worst-off; on the other hand, all that the best-off were entitled to was what it took to make the worst-off as well-off as possible. Egalitarians complained that this slighted the independent moral value of closing the gap between rich and poor, and anti-egalitarians complained that it slighted the right of individuals to enrich themselves.
By the time A Theory of Justice appeared, philosophers everywhere were more than ready to engage with it. The time that had elapsed since the first essays reflected Rawls's contempt for self-promotion. The book had for years circulated in successive typescripts; Rawls took on board criticisms and questions; some were incorporated, some rebutted, some deflected, and the end-result was a far cry from the nine-page essay from which it had sprung. The greatest change was in the final third of the book, which few students 窶 and not very many of their teachers 窶 engage with; there Rawls said more than ever before or after about the ways in which a society might foster the egalitarian frame of mind in which we would take justice seriously.
But the book also broke new ground in providing a careful justification of civil disobedience 窶 something provoked by but also much needed at the time of the Vietnam War. Rawls's ideal citizen was morally committed to her or his society. Only such a citizen could engage in civil disobedience, that is in forms of disobedience aimed at reminding everyone else of the shared standards of justice that the dissenter thinks they are violating. Disobedience is a form of emphatic speech; but only the conscientious citizen can rely on their neighbours' disliking the thought of throwing them in jail and get their serious moral attention. The philosophical technique was 20th-century, but the voice was Henry Thoreau's, and the voice of New England puritanism. It was easy to believe that before he went off to the Second World War, where he fought in the South Pacific as an infantryman in the US Army, Rawls, the son of a tax lawyer in Baltimore, had had it in mind to become a minister. It is one of many ways in which A Theory of Justice is not only a work of its own time but also a work of its country.
While the world settled down to write the 5,000 books and articles he had provoked, Rawls continued to clarify the theory. He rarely took on critics head-on, not because he was hostile to criticism 窶 he much preferred criticism to praise 窶 but because he liked to revise his thoughts with his critics' assistance, trying always to get clearer and more precise about just what the theory of justice implied. Almost anyone else would have thought of this account of social justice and political duty as their theory; Rawls gave the slightly unnerving impression that the relationship was the other way about, that he was the theory's servant, obliged to discover what it implied and to tell his audience in as plain and clear a style as he could contrive.
By the time he published Political Liberalism in 1993, his account of the theory had changed a good deal. Responding to complaints that he had produced a bleakly individualistic liberalism resting on a picture of the isolated human self answerable to its own conscience and nothing much else, he insisted that he was writing a political theory, not a metaphysical or psychological one. It held no particular view of the self beyond crediting us with an ability to think morally, and it was not a "comprehensive" theory, that is, not an account of the good life or the route to salvation. Liberalism was essentially a political rather than a moral or a cultural creed, the operating doctrine of pluralistic societies, and will work only if we all keep our deepest moral and metaphysical convictions out of the public realm. It spoke to an age in which fundamentalist religious belief, inside the United States as much as anywhere else, had suddenly become a threat to individual rights.
It was followed by The Law of Peoples in 1999, where Rawls held at bay those of his critics who thought that A Theory of Justice had been insufficiently ambitious about the possibility of correcting the hideous inequalities of the wider world. The upshot of his position was eminently reasonable: it might be obligatory to rescue the citizens of other countries from systematic violation of their human rights, but a liberal had no right to invade other nations to enforce upon them the standards of A Theory of Justice, let alone Mill's 1859 essay On Liberty. These were timely thoughts during the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and even more so today; the spare severity of these essays was more than ever reminiscent of Kant's Perpetual Peace (Zum ewigen Frieden, 1795).
Rawls was more admired than criticised, but he was relentlessly criticised even by his admirers and from all points of the political compass. Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia provided perhaps the deftest assault on Rawls's egalitarian theory of justice from a libertarian capitalist perspective, while Brian Barry has been an effective critic from the left. Communitarians of the stripe of Charles Taylor and Michael Sandel performed a valuable service in provoking Rawls to say more about who the participants in the social contract are supposed to be and what moral baggage they bring with them. They are, of course, ourselves, and the baggage is minimal. Anyone capable of seeing that the well-off owe the worse-off some account of the justice of the disparity in their fortunes is well on the way to understanding Rawls.
The austerity of his intellectual style did not characterise the rest of John Rawls's life. He was not a cloistered scholar but an enthusiastic sailor and an energetic hill walker; he had a notably happy marriage, and was devoted to his four children; and he was the sort of teacher that intelligent students pray to encounter. He was not just well liked by friends and colleagues, he was much loved.
◆Financial Times; Nov 28, 2002
COMMENT & ANALYSIS: The philosopher who transformed his subject
By Brian Barry
John Rawls, the most gifted and influential political philosopher of the 20th century, has died at the age of 82. Educated at Princeton University, he had been a professor of philosophy at Harvard University since 1982.
For many years, Rawls lived in Lexington, Massachusetts, where he died of a heart attack after having been weakened by a series of strokes. Thomas Nagel, one of the few of us still writing who can remember the world of political philosophy before Rawls, dedicated a book: "To John Rawls who changed the subject".
A Theory of Justice, published in 1971, changed the subject in both of the ways in which the phrase can be read. Rawls redirected the conversation by insisting that the primary focus of political philosophy should be on the institutions that distribute (not necessarily as a result of anybody's deliberate decision) unequal life chances to the members of a society and then transmit those inequalities from one generation to the next.
He also transformed the enterprise by demonstrating that it was possible, after half a century devoted largely to sterile word games, to produce a powerful and coherent piece of theorising that could stand comparison with any of the classics in its ambitions and achievements. Rawls did not waste time making programmatic announcements about the way in which political philosophy should be written - he just sat down and did it.
In 1956, Peter Laslett edited the first in the Philosophy, Politics and Society series. (It was not, of course, called the first and was presumably intended to be the last.) His preface opened: "It is one of the assumptions of intellectual life in our country that there should be amongst us men whom we think of as political philosophers . . . Today, it would seem, we have them no longer . . . For the moment, anyway, political philosophy is dead."
The contents of Laslett's collection bore out his judgment. Yet the account that Laslett gave of the kind of work expected of a political philosopher in the classic tradition was an almost uncannily precise description of A Theory of Justice. The book was philosophically of its time, it addressed itself to the problems of late industrial societies and it developed an intellectually challenging theory about the nature of distributive justice.
Politically, the significance of Rawls is that, though he never appeared to be much interested in any country except the US, he produced the philosophical basis for European social democracy that it had always lacked. Rawls showed that strong concern for the worst-off class within a market economy was not a half-baked dilution of Marxism but a natural exten-sion of basic liberal commitments.
There is no getting round the fact that A Theory of Justice is a difficult book. The first of its three parts sets out the basic theory and was already substantially completed in 1962. (Rawls gave me a copy, reproduced by a technology involving purple jelly and hence long gone; I am, however, confident of the similarity.) At just under 200 pages, it remains the crucial text for anyone who wishes to get to grips with Rawls's ideas. The other two parts are not so well organised. Perhaps if Rawls had not written much of it while he chaired the Harvard philosophy department, it would have got the final push that would have so increased its readability.
This misplaced (as one might think) sense of priorities was typical of his genuine modesty. Unlike those academics whose platform performances feature quick answers that dissolve when thought about, Rawls would typically reply that he needed to think about the question more - and meant it. Indeed, a number of his greatest admirers (including myself) felt that he was rather too ready to take on board criticisms that he should have dismissed.
A touching illustration of his self-effacing character emerged several years ago when it somehow came up in a conversation with an administrator at Harvard that he was a vegetarian. "But you've gone to all those dinners without ever telling anyone," she exclaimed. Rawls's response was that he was not that interested in food and preferred not to make a fuss - he simply left the meat on the plate.
Rawls's lack of pretentiousness survived an annotated bibliography that already ran to 2,512 items in 1982. It would be pointless to repeat the exercise now, because Rawls's influence is pervasive even when he is not mentioned by name - the ultimate proof that he changed the subject.
He is survived by his wife Margaret (Mard), two sons, two daughters and four grandchildren.
The writer is professor of philosophy and political science at Columbia University
◆John Rawls: A leading political philosopher in the tradition of Locke, Rousseau and Kant, he put individual rights ahead of the common good
Wednesday November 27, 2002
With the death of John Rawls, from heart failure at the age of 81, the English-speaking world lost its leading political philosopher. An exceptionally modest and retiring man, with a bat-like horror of the limelight, he consistently refused the honours he was offered, and declined to pursue the career as public commentator or media guru opened to him by his achievements.
Nevertheless, after its appearance in 1971, his most important book, A Theory Of Justice - written during the Vietnam war - became required reading for students of philosophy, politics and law, and, in that way, Rawls has influenced several generations. Indeed, the book, which sold more than 300,000 copies in the US alone, more or less singlehandedly rejuvenated and transformed the study of political philosophy.
Rawls never wrote about himself, and virtually never gave interviews. But when, in the mid-1990s, I set out to write a profile of him, many of his friends and colleagues agreed to speak to me. Their tributes were universally fulsome. Friends described him as a complex and, in some sense, a troubled man, who, although not a believer, had retained an essentially religious outlook - he had a profound sense of "there but for the grace of God go I".
They also stressed his genuine modesty and remarkable manners. "I find it very hard to express what I feel about Jack," said one of his colleagues. "He had a much more developed moral and social instinct than most people - much more tact." It is notable that in a field dominated by men, many of Rawls's most eminent students were women - among them Christine Korsgaard at Harvard, and Onora O'Neill, principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, and this year's Reith lecturer.
At heart, A Theory Of Justice is concerned with what its author called the classical problems of modern political theory - problems about the grounds of basic civil liberties, the limits of political obligation, and the justice of economic and other inequalities. But where the dominant tradition of liberal thought in the first three quarters of the last century was utilitarian, taking his cue from Hume, Mill and Sidgwick, Rawls sought to rehabilitate the social contract tradition - the tradition of Locke, Rousseau and, above all, Kant.
If there is a single principle at the centre of his system, it is that basic civil and political rights are inviolable. Rawls believed, following Kant, that from the moral point of view, the most distinctive feature of human nature is our ability freely to choose our own ends. It follows, on his account, that the state's first duty with its citizens is to respect this capacity for autonomy - to let them live life according to their own lights, and to treat them, in Kant's phrase, "as means not as ends".
A leading feature of Rawls's theory, then, is the the priority it gives to the right over the good - to claims based on the rights of individuals, over claims based on the good that would result to them, or to others, from violating those rights. Put another way, he argued, in opposition to utilitarian, perfectionist and communitarian principles, that the first duty of the liberal state was to safeguard the individual's basic civil liberties, and that "the loss of freedom for some" can never be "made right by a greater good shared by others".
As Rawls understood, however, it was not enough simply to affirm the priority of the right over the good; he had to come up with an adequate account of how basic freedoms were to be reconciled with one another, and how wealth and opportunity were to be distributed. In order to clarify our thinking on these issues, he introduced the concept of the "original position".
He asked us to imagine a situation in which a group of individuals are brought together to agree the basic constitution of a society they are about to enter, but in which, to ensure their impartiality, they are placed behind a veil of ignorance. The veil denies them any knowledge of their race, gender, social class, talents and abilities, religious beliefs or conception of the good life.
Rawls contended that with the banishment of this sort of bias-inducing knowledge, the participants in the original position are forced, even if self-centred, into the moral point of view - or, as he called it in the last rousing chapters of A Theory Of Justice, "the perspective of eternity". It follows that any principles issuing from it are bound to be fair.
If we think of the first part of Rawls's theory as being taken up with the construction of the original position, then the second part is devoted to establishing the principles that would be agreed upon in it. He argued that the participants in an original position would pursue a low-risk strategy, and agree to principles that are fundamentally egalitarian - principles that would guarantee them the highest possible minimum levels of freedom, wealth and opportunity, even at the cost of lowering average levels.
In particular, Rawls suggests that they would elect to be governed by two principles - his own famous "two principles of justice". The first of these dictates that each person should have the right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a like liberty for others; the second, that social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are to the advantage of the worst off, and should be attached to careers open to all. In other words, he defended a state which remained absolutely neutral between different ways of life, while promoting, in its economic policies, the well-being of the least advantaged.
Rawls was not an especially gifted stylist, and A Theory Of Justice is a long and ungainly book. He was, though, a phrasemaker - as well as an idea-forger - of brilliance, and many of his terms, such as "the original position" and "veil of ignorance", have become part of the language. Moreover, while his writings can seem forbiddingly abstract and technical, the man himself had a firm grasp of the real world. He was exceptionally knowledgeable in a wide range of subjects, from art history to economics, and knew as much as any scholar about his two greatest heroes, Kant and Abraham Lincoln.
Rawls, moreover, always insisted that the abstract principles in which political philosophers dealt had to be tested against pre-theoretical convictions of "common sense" - he suggested that political philosophers had to learn to adjust first principles and moral intuitions until they cohered in what he termed, in another famous phrase, "reflective equilibrium". He understood as well as any conservative that political principles could not simply be conjured out of the air.
Rawls was born, the second of five brothers, to an old and wealthy Baltimore family, and acquired, early on, almost Puritan good manners and moral earnestness. His father, William Lee Rawls, did not attend law school, but built up sufficient expertise through a clerkship to become a highly successful tax lawyer and constitutional expert. He was also a close friend of the Maryland Democratic governor, Albert Ritchie.
Rawls's mother, too, was active in local Democrat politics; her advocacy of voting rights for women, among other things, greatly influenced her second son. As a child, he was traumatised by the deaths of two brothers from infections they had contracted from him; Rawls later admitted that this tragedy had contributed to the development of a severe stutter, which afflicted him for the rest of his life.
He was educated at Kent school, Connecticut, and entered Princeton University, New Jersey, at the outbreak of the second world war - the conflict, he said later, over shadowed everything he did as a student, stimulating his interest in politics in general, and the principles of international justice in particular.
After completing his first degree a semester early, Rawls joined the US army and, as an infantryman, saw action in New Guinea and the Philippines. He was in the Pacific in August 1945, when the US dropped its atomic load on Hiroshima and, 50 years later, wrote a piece condemning the act. This is an almost unique example of Rawls taking a stand on a concrete political issue - for the most part, he kept his strongly held and radical political allegiances to himself.
After the war, Rawls returned to Princeton to do a doctorate on methods of ethical decision-making, and to teach. His thesis, completed in 1950, began the formulation of his concept of "reflective equilibrium", but Princeton failed to recognise his genius. After an extremely fruitful year at Oxford, where he was encouraged by encounters with Herbert Hart, Isaiah Berlin and Stuart Hampshire, among others, he moved, in 1953, to Cornell University, in New York state, working under Max Black and Norman Malcolm in one of the best and most analytically oriented departments in America.
In Oxford, Rawls had began to formulate the concept of the original position, though his real breakthrough appears to have come when he devised the veil of ignorance: the results appeared in a seminal article, Justice As Fairness, in 1957. He was 34, and it was only his third article to date. Within a few years, however, he was using an early draft of A Theory Of Justice as the basis for seminars and lectures, and the next decade was spent revising the book. In 1960, he took up a position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, before returning, two years later, to Harvard, where he spent the rest of his career.
Rawls was surprised by the success of A Theory Of Justice; indeed, nobody could have predicted the book's impact - 10 years after it came out, a specially published Rawls bibliography listed more than 2,000 publications dealing with one aspect of his work or another. Nowadays it is rare to find a work of political philosphy that does not mention his name.
Despite his fame, he continued to do his best to live the life of an anonymous academic, devoting himself to his family, and to writing and teaching. He did not much enjoy lecturing, but, over the years, his genuine modesty and good manners won him a devoted personal following. One story tells how during a viva for a doctorate, Rawls, as an examiner, positioned himself in the room so as to stop the sun shining in the candidate's eyes. Isaiah Berlin was fond of likening him, mischievously, to Christ.
After the publication of A Theory Of Justice, he had hoped to work on a distinct, but related, issue of moral psychology. The enormous interest in the book, however, and the controversy it aroused, obliged him to spend most of the rest of his life defending its arguments. In the process, Rawls's views underwent considerable change.
In 1993, he published his second book, Political Liberalism, which collected, in revised form, some of his main writings since A Theory Of Justice. Its major concern is to draw a distinction between liberalism as a philosophy of life, and as a narrower political creed. Liberals have traditionally based their defence of freedom and equality on certain presuppositions about the nature of the person and of the good life - John Stuart Mill, for instance, argued that only an examined life is worth living, and then justified liberal rights as a means towards ensuring the conditions for such a life. The danger with this type of liberalism, Rawls believed, was that it encouraged those who reject liberal views about the nature of the person and the good life to reject liberal political principles.
In his later writings, then, Rawls set out to do something quite new in the history of liberal thought, by casting liberalism as a strictly political creed - one which appeals not to contentious views about God, morality or the person, but to less contestable values of reciprocity, fairness and mutual respect. In this way, he hoped that a conception of justice, rooted in liberal values of fairness and liberty, could become, even in a society like modern America, where there is little agreement about fundamental moral questions, the basis for what he called "an overlapping consensus".
Like Lincoln, Rawls came to see the task before liberalism as reaching out as widely as it can, to build a consensus around its principles. Though Political Liberalism has had nothing like the impact of it Rawls's earlier work, it had a great deal to say about, among other things, the wrongs and rights of multi-culturalism; this alone ensured that it remained at the centre of political-philosophical debate.
Towards the end of his life, Rawls published a number of essays and lectures. In The Law Of Peoples (1999) he attempted to extend his ideas about justice to the international realm, surprising many of his liberal allies by writing, in respectful terms, about what he called "decent hierarchical peoples", which only respected the minimum of traditional liberties, such as freedom of expression and freedom of religious worship. The book was characterised by a new expressiveness, and Rawls again argued against the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, offering a moving evocation of statesmanship.
This was followed by Justice As Fairness, A Restatement (2001), which provided a brief overview of his main ideas. Based on lecture notes, it did not make for easy reading, but showed that Rawls's thought had moved leftwards. Where, in A Theory Of Justice, he had suggested that just liberal principles might be realised in a "capitalist welfare state", he now contended that they could only be achieved in either "a property-owning democracy" characterised by universally high levels of education and "the widespread ownership of productive assets", or in a market-socialist regime.
Rawls probably placed more hope in the prospects for property-owning democracy than he did for market socialism. He had certainly come to despair of the capitalist welfare state, which acquiesced in a dramatic rise of social inequality in the 1980s and 90s. And, of course, as Rawls shifted leftwards, the Anglo-American left shifted rightwards. That must partly explain why, though Tony Crosland, Roy Hattersley and other old Labour thinkers cited Rawls approvingly, he has not been embraced by New Labour.
Rawls was incapacitated by a stroke in 1995. He is survived by his wife Margaret, two daughters and two sons.
John Borden Rawls, philosopher, born February 21 1921; died November 24 2002
November 27, 2002
Philosopher whose Theory of Justice argues for a social contract that does not disadvantage minorities
John Rawls was the most influential political philosopher in the second half of the 20th century, and his book A Theory of Justice has been described as the most significant work in political philosophy since the writings of John Stuart Mill.
Since its publication in 1971, Rawls窶冱 works have established the main stream of Anglo-American political philosophy. A Theory of Justice has sold more than a quarter million copies in English, and has been translated into more than 20 languages. Only ten years after it was published, a bibliography of articles on Rawls contained more than 2,500 entries. Since then, this number has more than doubled.
Rawls窶冱 lifelong interest in justice developed out of his concern, while a student and soldier during the war, with the basically religious questions of why there is evil in the world and whether human existence is nonetheless redeemable. This led him to inquire whether a just society is realistically possible on earth. His life窶冱 work was directed towards discovering what justice requires of us, and showing that it is within human capacities to realise a just society and a just international order.
John Rawls was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the second of William and Anna Rawls窶冱 five sons, two of whom died in childhood. He grew up in Baltimore, where his father practised law. After high school 窶 the Kent School in western Connecticut 窶 Rawls entered Princeton University in 1939. There he was introduced to political philosophy by Norman Malcolm, a student of Wittgenstein.
On graduating in 1943, Rawls joined the US Army as a private, and after initial training he was sent to fight in the war in the Pacific, in New Guinea, the Philippines, and eventually in Japan.
After his military service he began his graduate studies in philosophy at Princeton in 1946, writing his dissertation on moral knowledge and judgments on the moral worth of character. After teaching for two years, he went to Oxford on a Fulbright scholarship for the academic year 1952-53, and was affiliated to Christ Church. This year at Oxford was one of the most formative of his long career. He was especially influenced by lectures of H. L. A. Hart on the philosophy of law, as well as by seminars held by Isaiah Berlin and Stuart Hampshire.
Rawls returned to America in 1953, going to Cornell University as assistant professor of philosophy. There he joined his former teacher Norman Malcolm on the faculty, as well as his former Princeton classmates and lifelong friends, Rogers Albritton and David Sachs. He stayed at Cornell until 1959, when he visited Harvard for a year before joining the faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Two years later he took a position at Harvard, where he remained a member of the standing faculty until his retirement in 1991 (though he continued teaching until 1995).
Rawls窶冱 lectures on the history of moral philosophy were so popular that in the 1970s, two weeks after the start of one course, he decided to help the undergraduates and graduate students who were frantically taking verbatim notes, and offered to make copies of his lectures available to them. The first batch of handwritten notes cost 40 cents. He continued to update the lectures until 1991, and they were finally edited for publication by Barbara Herman in 2000.
From the outset of his career Rawls窶冱 work was guided by the question, 窶忤hat is the most appropriate moral conception of justice for a democratic society?窶 In A Theory of Justice this question was pursued as part of a general investigation into the nature of social justice. Rawls aimed to redress the predominance of utilitarianism in modern moral and political philosophy.
Utilitarianism had grown out of the work of the British empiricists, starting with David Hume, and has been the most influential moral conception for more than 250 years. Utilitarianism says that laws are just when they promote the greatest overall happiness of the members of society. But issues of just distribution have long been seen as problematic for utilitarianism, which seems to condone sacrifices of individual and minority welfare for the sake of the majority. Yet a compelling alternative conception of justice seemed to be lacking in moral philosophy.
To develop such an alternative, Rawls turned to the liberal and democratic, 窶徭ocial contract窶 traditions of Locke, Rousseau and Kant. According to social contract doctrine, laws are just when they could be agreed to by free persons from a position of equal right. This has the consequence that, to be just, laws must benefit not just a majority, but everyone, so promoting the common good. A further consequence of Rawls窶冱 social contract view is that justice generally requires that basic social goods 窶 liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and the bases of self-respect 窶 be equally distributed, unless an unequal distribution is to everyone窶冱 advantage.
Under the favorable social conditions of modern societies, a special conception, 窶徊ustice as fairness窶 , applies, and this requires that priority be given to certain liberties and fair opportunities via the institutions of a liberal constitutional democracy. Rawls窶冱 principles of justice require that certain liberties (liberty of conscience and freedom of thought, political liberties, freedom of association and so on) be equally provided for and treated as more important than other rights and liberties; that these basic liberties be given priority over aggregate social good and perfectionist values; that 窶彷air窶 opportunities be equally provided for all citizens; and that differences in income and wealth and in social positions be structured so as maximally to benefit the worst-off members of society.
Rawls窶冱 second book appeared in 1993. The leading idea of Political Liberalism is that in any free society, reasonable, fair-minded people are inevitably going to have different and conflicting religious, philosophical and moral views. This poses a problem since ideally a liberal constitutional democracy requires that the laws be justifiable to everyone if they are to be free and accorded due respect. How is this ideal possible if citizens do not share a common moral or religious view? Rawls no longer takes issue directly with utilitarianism or other moral conceptions. Instead he tries to show how democratic citizens with diverse moral and religious views can all affirm the same 窶彷reestanding窶 liberal conception of justice on the basis of 窶徘ublic reason窶 .
Rawls窶冱 third major book, on justice between nations, appeared in 1999. In The Law of Peoples he developed an account of international justice that denies that the sovereignty of nations allows them to persecute their own people. Just and decent nations, he argues, have a right to intervene to protect the persecuted peoples of 窶徙utlaw states窶 . Moreover, all nations have a duty to assist impoverished nations so that they may become self-sufficient. Rawls also condemned the American bombing of Japanese cities, especially the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Allied bombing of German cities during the Second World War, as violations of the human rights of civilians.
In 1999 Rawls窶冱 Collected Papers and a revised edition of A Theory of Justice were published. His Harvard lectures on Kant, Leibniz, Hume and Hegel, and those on his own work, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, have also been published in the past two years.
At Harvard, Rawls occupied the John Cowles Chair in Philosophy until 1979, when he succeeded Kenneth Arrow as James Bryant Conant University Professor. In 1999 he was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Clinton. He was awarded the Rolf Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy the same year, and held honorary degrees from Oxford and Harvard.
A quiet, witty, and modest man, Rawls taught and influenced a great many of America窶冱 best-known contemporary philosophers. He was a private person who spent his time either at his work or with his family and close friends. He regularly declined requests for interviews, and chose not to take an active role in public life. He conscientiously avoided celebrity status, believing that philosophers are usually misunderstood when they address the public, and that while philosophy has a considerable influence on political life, that influ- ence is indirect, taking many years to become a part of a community窶冱 moral consciousness.
In his later years Rawls was increasingly interested in history, particularly books on the Second World War and on Abraham Lincoln, whom he especially admired as a statesman who did not compromise with evil. These interests are evident in Rawls窶冱 late works on justice between nations.
John Rawls married Margaret Warfield Fox of Baltimore on her graduation from Pembroke College (now part of Brown University) in 1949. She survives him, along with their two sons and two daughters
◆The Daily Telegraph
John Rawls(Filed: 27/11/2002)
John Rawls, who died on Sunday aged 81, was one of the most notable and controversial political theorists of his day; in his most important work, A Theory of Justice (1971), he attempted to define an ethical basis for an egalitarian form of liberalism based on the notion of "justice as fairness", by reviving the 18th century idea of a Social Contract.
Rawls had served as an infantryman in the Pacific during the Second World War, and his experiences had left him with a keen awareness of the capacity of human beings - even in supposedly liberal, democratic societies - to offer justifications for acts of terrible cruelty and destruction. He thus took issue with the prevailing utilitarian tradition of liberal thought, arguing that the principle of the "greatest happiness of the greatest number" could be an excuse to ride roughshod over the interests of minorities.
The idea of the Social Contract, the bond of mutual rights and obligations which underpin a just society, had been developed by Enlightenment thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. Rawls revived the idea as a "thought experiment" that, nonetheless, could be used to create concrete guidelines for the way society is ordered.
Rawls envisaged an imaginary "Original Position", akin to the 18th century "State of Nature", in which we exist as self-interested individuals but are unaware of most of the socially significant facts about ourselves - our race, sex, religion, economic class, social standing or natural abilities. Under this so-called "veil of ignorance", each of us must select rules to live by, without knowing whether we will be prosperous or destitute in the society governed by the rules we choose.
Rawls argued that, as a result of not knowing our position in society, we would be driven to an equal concern for the fate of everyone, and would give priority not only to the preservation of personal and political liberty, but also to the amelioration of socio-economic inequality. For fear of finding ourselves at the bottom of the pile, we would reject the utilitarian standard that would maximise average expectations. "Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override," he wrote. "Therefore, in a just society, the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests." From this exercise, Rawls derived two key principles which should govern human relations in a just society: first, that each individual is to have a right to the greatest liberty compatible with a like liberty for all (the "liberty principle"); secondly, that social and economic inequalities are justified only if they benefit the worst off (the "difference principle").
In what became known as the Rawls test, Rawls suggested that policy makers should always ask themselves the question: "Would the best-off accept particular social or economic arrangements if they believed, at any moment, they might find themselves in the position of the worst off?" Slavery, for example, would not pass the test, as slave owners could not say in good faith that they would accept the arrangement if roles were reversed. The same would be true, Rawls believed, of any institution which involved racial, sexual or religious discrimination, political oppression or economic exploitation.
Published at the height of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, Rawls's A Theory of Justice was eagerly seized upon by the American centre-Left as providing the intellectual underpinning for a new definition of democratic liberalism. But its influence soon spread much further. In Britain, when the Social Democratic Party split off from the Labour Party in the early 1980s, it was to A Theory of Justice that they turned when they came to frame their ideas for a new British constitution. In 1989 copies of the work were brandished by Chinese students protesting in Tiananmen Square. The novelist Margaret Drabble even used Rawls's concept of the "veil of ignorance" as the basis for a dinner party game played by exiled intellectuals in The Witch of Exmoor (1996).
In academic circles, Rawls was widely praised, even by those who did not agree with him, for returning philosophy to fundamental questions of ethics and social justice, and the limits of freedom and responsibility, thus rescuing it from a dry preoccupation with questions of logic, linguistics and the philosophy of science that had little relevance to social theory.
Yet, though the importance of Rawls's work was undeniable, its egalitarian message proved highly controversial, for his conception of a just society seemed to imply exceptional social solidarity and high levels of economic redistribution. The view that the more fortunate are entitled to gain from the system only to the extent that this benefits the less fortunate was diametrically opposed to the idea that people have a moral entitlement to what they can earn in a free market.
Rawls's sternest critic was a colleague at Harvard, the libertarian thinker Robert Nozick. In his Anarchy, State and Utopia, Nozick argued that any attempt by an individual to improve his own situation would not be tolerated in a Rawlsian state, since, under the "difference principle", inequality is tolerable only if it can be shown to benefit the worst off. Rawls's two principles ("liberty" and "difference") were in conflict, Nozick argued, because the difference principle requires the very kinds of re-distribution the liberty principle disallows. The Rawlsian state, Nozick concluded, would therefore be both unfair and grossly inefficient.
John Bordley Rawls was born on February 21 1921, the second of five sons in a well-to-do Baltimore family. His father was a Supreme Court lawyer; his mother, a strong advocate of voting rights for women, greatly influenced her son's thinking.
From the Kent School, Connecticut, Rawls went up to Princeton University, where he entertained ideas of entering the church. But his studies were interrupted by the Second World War and he joined the US Army in 1943. For the next two years he was involved in some of the war's bloodiest battles, in New Guinea and the Philippines, and, by the time he returned home, he had given up any idea of the religious life. Instead he returned to Princeton, where he earned a doctorate in Philosophy, then moved to Cornell University. In 1953 he spent a year as a Fulbright Fellow at Oxford, where he came under the influence of Isaiah Berlin and H L A Hart.
The central themes of Rawls's philosophy were established at around this time. In his first publication, Outline of a Decision Procedure for Ethics (1951), Rawls argued that, whatever the difficulties of providing a semantic account of moral language or a metaphysical account of moral truth, morality was a real subject that philosophers should think about and discuss. In 1958, in an article called Justice as Fairness, he presented the basic idea of the contractualist theory that would eventually form the central concept of A Theory of Justice.
After returning to Cornell, Rawls taught for two years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1962 he was appointed Professor of Philosophy at Harvard, where he spent the rest of his academic career. He always accepted criticism of his theories in good part and, where he felt they were justified, was prepared to make adjustments. In his later works, including Political Liberalism (1993), he moved away from questions of redistribution to examine the thorny matter of how basic liberties can be protected in a pluralistic society, something which still forms a central issue of debate between liberals, communitarians, and conservatives.
Rawls argued that ethical pluralism is an inevitable feature of modern society, and argued that attempts to impose a single comprehensive value system inevitably result in oppression. Applying the principles of "justice as fairness", he envisaged the contractors in the "Original Position" being deprived of information about their beliefs so that they must choose principles in the light of the possibility that they might be anything from religious ascetics to atheistic libertines. Such a process, Rawls suggested, would lead to political questions being treated as a sub-set of the total domain of values - a space of attempted mutual justification that implies toleration and pluralism outside it. Like Kant, whom he revered, Rawls believed that, as liberal democracies capable of such reasonableness spread, wars could be avoided.
A modest, unassuming man, Rawls was revered by his colleagues and pupils for his kindness and generosity as much as for the quality of his intellect. It was somewhat ironic that he had such an influence on public political debate, for he seldom sought attention outside the walls of academe. He made an exception in 1997 when he joined five other philosophers in submitting to the American Supreme Court a brief that argued for the right of dying patients to choose to die. The court refused to grant Americans a constitutional "right to die", but did not preclude states from establishing such laws.
John Rawls married, in 1949, Margaret Fox. She and their two sons and two daughters survive him.
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