John Rawls – The Life and Mind
Timmins High and Vocational School
Mr. Aston Monday, March 3rd, 2014
JOHN RAWLS – THE LIFE AND MIND
ontemporary philosopher John Bordley Rawls provided the liberal world with an ethical theory that placed the concept of justice at its center of concentration. John Rawls was arguably one of the most influential political philosophers of the Twentieth Century following the Second World War. Rawls published his first book, “A Theory of Justice”, in 1971, which was widely considered his best work and the most important work of political philosophy. Rawlsianism, Rawls’ philosophical basis, aimed at challenging utilitarian principles and it therefore received both strong support and strong opposition.2
John Rawls was born into a comfortable family in Baltimore, Maryland where he attended school until graduation.1 Rawls studied at Princeton University and was soon drafted into the United States Army as an infantryman.2 After turning down a position as an officer, Rawls returned to Princeton where he received a doctorate of philosophy in 1949.2 After teaching and studying at Princeton University, Cornell, and MIT, he decided to take a position teaching philosophy at Harvard where he taught until 1990.1 Despite his intellectual fame, Rawls lived a withdrawn life as a family man and academic instead of a public intellectual.2 John Rawls brought the study of political theory back to the headlines of academic institutions around the world.
I. The Basic Structure of Society
The primary social goods proposed by Rawls are (1) rights and liberties, (2) opportunities and powers, and (3) income and wealth, that any reasonable person would want more of rather than less. Rawls believes that we have a right to these goods and it is the collective responsibility of the community to provide these goods to all members of society.3 The capabilities approach deals with the distribution of these goods on an individual level and emphasizes the ability to be whom you want as a measure of well-being.3 Rawls used this approach to promote racial and gender equality. A suggestion was made that we, the world population, should put our efforts into seeing that the ‘rules of the game’ are fair for all.1
II. “A Theory of Justice” & The Original Position
Rawls’ first book “A Theory of Justice” is based on a thought experiment that aims to develop different justice principles. The process begins with an imaginary meeting where reasonable and rational people are brought together to identify principles of society that can be agreed upon by all. These people know they are choosing principles for society, but do not know their place in this hypothetical society. They know nothing about their natural talents, abilities, social class, race, religion, or life plans, but do have basic knowledge of the real world surrounding...