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John Rawls

(1921—2002) American philosopher

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American moral and political philosopher. Born in Baltimore, Rawls was educated at Princeton. After teaching at Princeton, Cornell, and MIT, he joined Harvard in 1962. His major work, A Theory of Justice (1971), injected new life into the study of political thought in Anglo-American philosophy, and has been a landmark for all subsequent discussion. In it Rawls considered the basic institutions of a society that could be chosen by rational people under conditions that ensure impartiality. These conditions are dramatized as an original position, characterized so that it is as if the participants are contracting into a basic social structure from behind a veil of ignorance, leaving them unable to deploy selfish considerations, or ones favouring particular kinds of person. Rawls argued that both a basic framework of liberties and a concern for the least well-off would characterize any society which it would be rational to choose. For further details see difference principle, original position.

In later work Rawls both extended and modified his work. In response to criticisms he downplayed the Kantian framework of Theory, tending to see the construction more in terms of a political solution to the problem of maintaining a democratic society containing groups with disparate conceptions of the good. Later works include Political Liberalism (1993); Collected Papers (2000: this includes the essays also published under the title The Law of Peoples (1999); and Essays in the History of Philosophy (2001). An introduction to Rawls's philosophy (by Martha Nussbaum)

Subjects: Philosophy

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