The influence of John Rawls’s work on academic political and moral theorizing, especially on the academic disciplines of political and moral philosophy, would be difficult to overstate. The theoretical ambitions and the clear normative implications of his book A Theory of Justice showed the academy how much could still be accomplished in political philosophy at time when many moral philosophers concentrated almost exclusively on metaethical questions. The book’s systematicity and clarity showed that these accomplishments could be won without loss of rigor. Its obvious connections to Kant and the social contract tradition did much to revive philosophers’ interest in the history of liberal thought. Consequently, the agenda of contemporary political philosophy, and much of the agenda of moral philosophy, has been set by Rawls’s work in at least this sense: even those who disagree with him are bound to respond to him. He is unarguably the greatest political philosopher of the second half of the 20th century and is arguably the greatest of the whole of it.
This seminar will be a careful study of Rawls’s A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism and of some of his later works.