Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy

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Harvard University Press, 2007 - Philosophy - 476 pages
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.

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Lectures on the history of political philosophy

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After the publication ofA Theory of Justice in 1971, Rawls (1921-2002) became the most influential moral and political philosopher in the Western world. As such, the issuing of this posthumous volume ... Read full review

Contents

LECTURES ON HOBBES
23
LECTURES ON LOCKE
103
LECTURES ON HUME
159
Copyright

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About the author (2007)

John Rawls, professor of philosophy at Harvard University, had published a number of articles on the concept of justice as fairness before the appearance of his magnum opus, A Theory of Justice (1971). While the articles had won for Rawls considerable prestige, the reception of his book thrust him into the front ranks of contemporary moral philosophy. Presenting a Kantian alternative to conventional utilitarianism and intuitionism, Rawls offers a theory of justice that is contractual and that rests on principles that he alleges would be accepted by free, rational persons in a state of nature, that is, of equality. The chorus of praise was loud and clear. Stuart Hampshire acclaimed the book as "the most substantial and interesting contribution to moral philosophy since the war."H. A. Bedau declared: "As a work of close and original scholarship in the service of the dominant moral and political ideology of our civilization, Rawls's treatise is simply without a rival." Rawls historically achieved two important things: (1) He articulated a coherent moral philosophy for the welfare state, and (2) he demonstrated that analytic philosophy was most capable of doing constructive work in moral philosophy. A Theory of Justice has become the most influential work in political, legal, and social philosophy by an American author in the twentieth century.

Samuel Freeman is Professor of Philosophy and Law, University of Pennsylvania.

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