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.
After the publication of A 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, carefully edited by [Samuel] Freeman, a former student and teaching assistant from Rawls's courses at Harvard University, is a major event.
--David Gordon (Library Journal
Rawls was a dedicated and remarkably winning teacher, deeply admired by generations of grateful Harvard University pupils. Reading Lectures
you can see why. The tone throughout is unassuming but assured, the purpose consistently to make clear, to get into steady common view what he took to be the key issues in the grand texts that he chose to explore. There is something soothing and encouraging about being guided through the works of Hobbes and Locke, Hume and J. S. Mill, Henry Sidgwick and Bishop Butler--and even Karl Marx--in these calm and measured tones...There is much quiet pleasure to be drawn from these pages, as well as a great deal of instruction about the terms in which Rawls came to frame his own ethical conceptions and the secular liberalism he believed them to imply. Anyone seriously interested in the development of Rawls's thinking and his sense of the relations between his approach and those of major predecessors in the history of Anglophone liberalism will find the insight it provides on numerous points indispensable.
--John Dunn (Times Higher Education Supplement
While many contemporary philosophers have deliberately shunned the history of political philosophy as irrelevant to "doing" philosophy, Rawls shows himself to be a conscientious and painstaking reader of the great works of the philosophical tradition of which he was a part. He regarded his own work as both indebted to and as culminating the great tradition that he interprets for his readers.
--Steven B. Smith (New York Sun
John Rawls is perhaps the most influential Western political philosopher of the twentieth century. The late Harvard philosopher's 1971 A Theory of Justice
is often credited with bestowing that title upon him. In that book he drew on the works of John Locke and Immanuel Kant, among others, to criticize utilitarian theory and defend an egalitarian version of political liberalism. This volume draws together his Harvard lectures on political philosophy and liberalism, providing his insights and interpretations of Locke and Kant, as well as Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and others. In these lectures Rawls reveals how he interpreted these philosophers both in light of their historical circumstances and problems they were trying to address, and also in light of contemporary political debates.
--D. Schultz (Choice
A definitive and magnificent version of Rawls's teachings on the history of political philosophy...The distinction between the rational and the reasonable runs through these lectures, and through all of Rawls's writings. Its importance signals one essential task that political philosophy should assume even in a democratic age: democracies cannot long endure, however high-sounding the principles they profess, unless their citizens learn to love and to practice the civic virtues of fairness and open discussion that alone can make these principles a reality...Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy
shows us a Rawls keenly aware of the historical underpinnings of his own theoretical constructions...His Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy
complement more systematic works such as A Theory of Justice
. They make plain how the careful analysis of the insights and the limitations of his predecessors helped him to fashion many of the elements of his own political thought...Rawls's writing is at its most powerful when he thus casts aside his contractual scaffolding and speaks directly to our political conscience. Then he impels us to see more clearly than before the moral substance of the democratic ideal. He shows us in an exemplary way how philosophy can be democratic.
--Charles Larmore (The New Republic
Rawls has an enormously authoritative and interesting way of thinking and writing about the history of philosophy. His approach and tone is that of a world-class athlete watching old films to analyze the technique of his great predecessors. It is a pleasure to listen in.
--Matthew Simpson (Journal of the History of Philosophy