Skip to main content
Top
Published in: Society 1/2021

11-04-2021 | Culture and Society

Commentary Celebrating the Centenary of Rawls’s Birth and the 50th Anniversary of A Theory of Justice

Author: Johnny Lyons

Published in: Society | Issue 1/2021

Log in

Activate our intelligent search to find suitable subject content or patents.

search-config
loading …

Abstract

This essay seeks to get a handle on the question of the legacy of John Rawls, one of the most influential political philosophers of the last century. After placing his masterpiece, A Theory of Justice, in its historical and philosophical context, it argues that the enduring significance of Rawls resides more in his demonstration of philosophy’s place in helping us understand politics and less in the particular conception of political morality put forward in his seminal work. The paper concludes by suggesting that, while it is probably still too early to arrive at a reliable verdict about the precise nature of Rawls’s legacy, it is undoubtedly the case that A Theory of Justice remains a landmark in the history of modern political thought.

Dont have a licence yet? Then find out more about our products and how to get one now:

Springer Professional "Wirtschaft+Technik"

Online-Abonnement

Mit Springer Professional "Wirtschaft+Technik" erhalten Sie Zugriff auf:

  • über 102.000 Bücher
  • über 537 Zeitschriften

aus folgenden Fachgebieten:

  • Automobil + Motoren
  • Bauwesen + Immobilien
  • Business IT + Informatik
  • Elektrotechnik + Elektronik
  • Energie + Nachhaltigkeit
  • Finance + Banking
  • Management + Führung
  • Marketing + Vertrieb
  • Maschinenbau + Werkstoffe
  • Versicherung + Risiko

Jetzt Wissensvorsprung sichern!

Springer Professional "Wirtschaft"

Online-Abonnement

Mit Springer Professional "Wirtschaft" erhalten Sie Zugriff auf:

  • über 67.000 Bücher
  • über 340 Zeitschriften

aus folgenden Fachgebieten:

  • Bauwesen + Immobilien
  • Business IT + Informatik
  • Finance + Banking
  • Management + Führung
  • Marketing + Vertrieb
  • Versicherung + Risiko




Jetzt Wissensvorsprung sichern!

Footnotes
1
Peter Laslett, Introduction to Philosophy, Politics and Society, (Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1956), p. vii.
 
2
Robert Dahl ‘Political Theory: Truth and Consequences’, World Politics, vol.11, no.1, 1958, p. 89.
 
3
Stuart Hampshire’s review of A Theory of Justice, in The New York Review of Books, February 24, 1972.
 
4
For a good recent account of the genesis and legacy not just of Rawls’s theory of justice but of the more general rise of liberal egalitarianism in postwar Anglophone political thought, see Katrina Forrester, In the Shadow of Justice (Princeton University Press, 2019).
 
5
Iris Murdoch, ‘Metaphysics and Ethics’ in D. F. Pears ed., The Nature of Metaphysics (Macmillan, 1959), and ‘Against Dryness’ Encounter (1961), Philippa Foot, ‘Moral Arguments’ Mind, vol. 67 (1958), and ‘Moral Beliefs’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 59 (1958–59), and Peter Winch, The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1958).
 
6
F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (Routledge, 1944), Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, 2 vols. (Routledge, 1945), H. L. A. Hart, The Concept of Law (Clarendon Press, 1961), Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays (Methuen, 1962), Isaiah Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty (Oxford, 1969).
 
7
Other notable works of substantive analytic moral and political philosophy that appeared in the aftermath of A Theory of Justice include Alasdair Macintyre’s After Virtue (1981), Hilary Putnam’s, Reason, Truth and History (1981), Michael Sandel’s Liberalism and The Limits of Justice (1982), Judith Shklar’s, Ordinary Vices (1985) Martha Nussbaum’s The Fragility of Goodness (1986), Derek Parfit’s Reasons And Persons (1986), Richard Rorty’s, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (1989), Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self (1990), Iris Murdoch’s, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992), Susan Hurley’s Natural Reasons (1992), Catherine MacKinnon’s Only Words (1996), Thomas Nagel’s, Equality and Partiality ((1995), Tim Scanlon’s What We Owe to Each Other (2000), Gerald Cohen’s, If You’re an Egalitarian How Come You’re So Rich? (Princeton University Press, 2000) Raymond Geuss’s, Public Goods, Private Goods (Princeton University Press, 2002) Bernard Williams’s Truth and Truthfulness (2002), Ronald Dworkin’s, Justice for Hedgehogs (2010), and Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice (2010). This by no means exhaustive list is not intended to suggest some implausible cause and effect between TJ and the works which came after it but merely to acknowledge the multiplicity of major books (and periodicals) of normative moral and political theory that happened to emerge after the publication of Rawls’s masterpiece.
 
8
Bernard Williams’s review of A Theory of Justice in The Spectator 1972, reprinted in Bernard Williams Essays and Reviews 1959–2002, (Princeton University Press, 2014), pp. 86–7.
 
9
This is how Bernard Williams characterised contemporary moral philosophy in 1972. See Bernard Williams, Morality: An Introduction to Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 1993 ed.), p. xvii.
 
10
Richard Rorty “The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy” and “Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism” in his Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers Vol. 1, (Cambridge University Press, 1991).
 
11
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Oxford University Press, 1973 ed.), p. 3.
 
12
Brian Barry, The Liberal Theory of Justice: A Critical Examination of the Principal Doctrines in ‘A Theory of Justice’ By John Rawls, (Clarendon Press, 1973), p. x.
 
13
See, for example, Raymond Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics (Princeton University Press, 2008) and Jeremy Waldron, Political Political Theory (Oxford University Press, 2016).
 
14
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Oxford University Press, 1973 ed.), p. 587.
 
Metadata
Title
Commentary Celebrating the Centenary of Rawls’s Birth and the 50th Anniversary of A Theory of Justice
Author
Johnny Lyons
Publication date
11-04-2021
Publisher
Springer US
Published in
Society / Issue 1/2021
Print ISSN: 0147-2011
Electronic ISSN: 1936-4725
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s12115-021-00564-0

Other articles of this Issue 1/2021

Society 1/2021 Go to the issue