John Rawls, 1921 - 2002

The guiding idea is that the principles of justice for the basic structure of society are the object of the original agreement. They are the principles that free and rational persons concerned to further their own interests would accept in an initial position of equality as defining the fundamental terms of their association.

— John Rawls

Biography

John Bordley Rawls was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to William Lee Rawls, a prominent lawyer, and Anna Abell Stump. After attending the Kent School in Connecticut, he entered Princeton University in 1939. Although Rawls had intended to pursue a major in the natural sciences, he found himself drawn to philosophy.
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Introduction

Rawls’s undertaking was exceptionally ambitious. In contrast to Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and other modern Enlightenment thinkers—who aimed to uncover the rational presuppositions of morality and natural right—Rawls sought to articulate a “free-standing” conception of justice, one that (he believed) did not depend on controversial metaphysical foundations.
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Featured Video

Professor Ian Shapiro lectures on the Rawlsian social contract.