Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy by John Rawls

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The premier political philosopher of his day, John Rawls, in three decades of teaching at Harvard, has had a profound influence on the way philosophical ethics is approached and understood today. This book brings together the lectures that inspired a generation of students--and a regeneration of moral philosophy. It invites readers to learn from the most noted exemplars of modern moral philosophy with the inspired guidance of one of contemporary philosophy's most noteworthy practitioners and teachers.

Central to Rawls's approach is the idea that respectful attention to the great texts of our tradition can lead to a fruitful exchange of ideas across the centuries. In this spirit, his book engages thinkers such as Leibniz, Hume, Kant, and Hegel as they struggle in brilliant and instructive ways to define the role of a moral conception in human life. The lectures delineate four basic types of moral reasoning: perfectionism, utilitarianism, intuitionism, and--the ultimate focus of Rawls's course--Kantian constructivism. Comprising a superb course on the history of moral philosophy, they also afford unique insight into how John Rawls has transformed our view of this history.


About John Rawls

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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.
Published November 15, 2000 by Harvard University Press. 416 pages
Genres: History, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction

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He is careful to present problems of philosophy in the context of each author’s historical experience (to “see how philosophical questions can take on a different cast from, and are indeed shaped by, the scheme of thought from within which they are asked”) and to present ideas in their “strongest...

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Project MUSE

In spite of this expository tick, Rawls develops a reading of the history of political thought that should interest anyone, even those who are hostile or indifferent to “justice as fairness.” To continue with the example above: after framing his discussion of Mill in terms of his own theory of ju...

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United Academics

(Review of the book Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, Barbara Herman & John Rawls, 2000, 067400442) ...

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