November 26, 2002
John Rawls Death
Moral Imperative Lives On
By Howard Hobbs PhD, Editor & Publisher
WASHINGTON -- Dr. John Rawls
82, an American original and erstwhile political theorist died on
Sunday at his home in his own bed on Sunday in Lexington, Mass.
cause was heart failure. Margaret Rawls, his wife told reporters,
he had been ill since suffering a stroke in 1995.
His book "A
Theory of Justice" published in 1971 stimulated a revival of
attention to moral philosophy.
In it, Rawls set out a older concept of
justice, based on simple fairness. This is seen as deriving from
the centuries old "greatest good of the greatest number of
people" social justice imperative.
Rawls morality began with the principle
that each individual has a right to the most extensive basic liberty
that is compatible with the same liberty for others.
His rational also included the concept of "balancing
the equities" of social and economic inequalities that are
seen as just only to the extent they serve to promote the well-being
of the least advantaged. The foundation of Rawls position
was found in the social contract developed earlier by ther 16th
Century philosphers, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean Jacques
Dr. Rawls argued, that the least fortunate
should be best protected. The lowest rung of society would be higher.
Though inequalities would not be abolished by favoring the neediest,
they would be minimized, he argued. In later works, Dr. Rawls expanded
his arguments to suggest how a pluralistic society can be just to
all its members. His idea was that the public could reason things
out, provided comprehensive religious or philosophical doctrines
Dr. Rawls thought that as liberal democracies
capable of such reasonableness spread, wars would be avoided. Major
works of philosophy in the writings of Hobbes, Hume, and Rousseau
are often cited.
The writings of John Rawls are a reflection
of his teaching, and writing about the problem of how human beings
whose interests and values put them into potential conflict can
inhabit with decency a common world. Dominant concerns, which have
always been the injustices associated with race, class, religion,
Rawls books are widely read by economists,
political scientists, and legal academics as well as by philosophers.
One of the most important elements of Rawls's outlook, was ethics.
His first publication was a reseasrch paper titled "Outline
of a Decision Procedure for Ethics." His main concern
had always been social justice in which "...each person's prospects
and opportunities in life are strongly influenced by the position
into which he is born through no choice of his own: by his place
in a political, social, and economic structure defined by the basic
institutions of his society."
The heart of Rawl's conception is the priority
given to basic liberties, political and legal equality, decent material
conditions of life, and bases of self-respect. Providing these things
for everyone, including the least fortunate and the least competitive,
takes strict priority in his theory over raising the general prosperity
or the average welfare. Inequalities can be justified under such
a system, but they cannot be justified because the advantages to
the better-off outweigh the disadvantages to the worse-off: they
have to be optimal for the worst off.
Rawls' defense of this view has generated
a fundamental debate in moral theory about how conflicts among the
interests of different people should be resolved.
Rawls believes that deep inequalities built
into a social and economic structure that is sustained by the power
of the state present the greatest potential for unfairness. While
people retain some control over their lives through the choices
that they make against the background of this structure, the influence
of the structure itself dominates Rawls' moral conception.
It offers people very different possibilities,
depending on their sex, their race, their religion, the class of
their parents, and their ability or inability to acquire skills
that command desirable rewards. People are not responsible for these
facts about themselves, and Rawls's ideal of justice would minimize
the disadvantage to members of a society caused through the social
structure by factors that are not their fault.
Note: In the 1950's Dr. Howard Hobbs (a descendant of English political
philosopher,Thomas Hobbes 1588-1679) was just starting his academic
career. He had prepared himself with wide reading of Hobbes' works
and interpretations. Most university professors at the time, however,
were dismissive of the tradition of ethical and political reflection
embodied in the works of such thinkers as Aristotle, Hobbes, Hume,
Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel.
University philosophy professors who followed
the influential movement called logical positivism saw only
two meaningful types of inquiry: empirical investigations into
matters of fact, and conceptual discussions of the meanings and
uses of terms.
There was loose in the world a pervasive
notion that since philosophy was not an empirical, fact-finding
discipline, it could be relegated to the ash-heap of conceptual
analysis and shallow conjecture. Hobbes was arrogantly
dismissed by many learned university leaders who publicly concluded
that great thinkers of the past like Thomas Hobbes had made a crude
error about how mutually exclusive moral philosophy and political
philosophy could co- exist together in the affairs of worldly
nation states .
Hobbes' works were ofen reduced to studying
the variant meanings of moral terms and of disputed ethical language.
Thomas Hobbes is now widely regarded as
one of a handful of truly great political philosophers, whose masterwork
Leviathan rivals in significance the political writings of
Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Rawls.
Hobbes is famous for his early and elaborate
development of what has come to be known as social contract theory,
the method of justifying political principles or arrangements by
appeal to the agreement that would be made among suitably situated
rational, free, and equal persons.
He is infamous for having used the social
contract method to arrive at the astonishing conclusion
that we ought to submit to the authority of an absolute -- undivided
and unlimited -- sovereign power.
Most scholars today see in Hobbes view
a type of personal subjectivism, virtue ethics, rule egoism, and
some see a form of projectivism which finds support among
Because Hobbes held that the true doctrine
of the Lawes of Nature is the true Morall philosophie, differences
in interpretation of Hobbes's moral philosophy can be traced to
differing understandings of the status and operation of Hobbes's
laws of human nature. There has been to date no fully systematic
study of Hobbes' moral psychology.
Attesting to Hobbes 20th Century revival, here
is short bibliography of recent publications exploring his 16th
K.C.Brown, ed., Hobbes Studies (1965), Cambridge, Mass., contains
important papers by A.E. Taylor, J.W. N. Watkins, Howard Warrender,
and John Plamenatz, among others.
G.A.J. Rogers and Alan Ryan, eds., Perspectives
on Thomas Hobbes (Oxford 1988)
Mary G.Dietz, ed., Thomas Hobbes and Political Theory (Lawrence,
Tom Sorell, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes (Cambridge
S.A. Lloyd, ed., ‘Special Issue on Recent Work on the Moral
and Political Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes’, Pacific Philosophical
Quarterly, vol. 82, nos. 3&4 (2001).
Books and Articles
Ashcraft, Richard (1971). ‘Hobbes's Natural Man:
A Study in Ideology Formation’, Journal
of Politics, 33, pp. 1076-171.
Baumgold, Deborah (1988). Hobbes's Political Thought,
Boonin-Vail, David (1994). Thomas Hobbes and the
Science of Moral Virtue, Cambridge.
Curley, Edwin (1988). ‘I durst not write so boldly:
or how to read Hobbes' theological-political treatise’, E. Giancotti,
ed., Proceedings of the Conference on Hobbes and Spinoza, Urbino.
----- (1994). ‘Introduction to Hobbes' Leviathan’, Leviathan with
selected variants from the Latin edition of 1668, Edwin Curley ed.,
Darwall, Stephen (1995). The British Moralists and the
Internal "Ought", 1640-1740, Cambridge/New York
----- (2000). ‘Normativity and Projection in Hobbes's
Leviathan’, The Philosophical Review vol. 109 no.3, pp.313-347.
Ewin, R.E. (1991). Virtues and Rights: The Moral
Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, Boulder/Oxford.
Gauthier, David P. (1969). The Logic of ‘Leviathan’:
the Moral and political Theory of Thomas Hobbes, Oxford.
Gert, Bernard (1967). ‘Hobbes and psychological
egoism’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 28, pp. 503-520.
----- (1978) ‘Introduction to Man and Citizen’,
Man and Citizen, Bernard Gert, ed., Humanities Press.
----- (1988). ‘The law of nature and the moral
law’, Hobbes Studies, I, pp.26-44.
Goldsmith, M. M. (1966). Hobbes's Science of Politics,
Hampton, Jean (1986). Hobbes and the Social Contract
Hood, E.C. (1964). The Divine Politics of Thomas
Johnston, David (1986). The Rhetoric of ‘Leviathan’: Thomas
Hobbes and the Politics of Cultural Transformation, Princeton, N.J.
Kavka, Gregory S. (1986). Hobbesian Moral and
Political Theory, Princeton, N.J.
Lloyd, S.A. (1992). Ideals as Interests in Hobbes's
‘Leviathan’: the Power of Mind over Matter, Cambridge.
Macpherson, C. B. (1968). ‘Introduction’, Leviathan,
C.B. Macpherson, ed., London.
Martinich, A.P. (1992). The Two Gods of Leviathan:
Thomas Hobbes on Religion and Politics, Cambridge.
----- (1999). Hobbes: A Biography, Cambridge.
Nagel, Thomas (1959). ‘Hobbes's Concept of Obligation’,
Philosophical Review, 68.
Oakeshott, Michael (1975). Hobbes on Civil Association,
Raphael, D. D. (1977). Hobbes: Morals and Politics,
Schneewind, J.B. (1997). The Invention of Autonomy:
History of Modern Moral Philosophy, Cambridge/New York.
Skinner, Quentin (1996). ,em>Reason and Rhetoric
in the Philosophy of Hobbes, Cambridge.
Sorell, Tom (1986). Hobbes, London.
Strauss, Leo (1936). The Political Philosophy
of Hobbes: its Basis and Genesis, Oxford.
Tuck, Richard (1989). Hobbes, Oxford.
----- (1991). ‘Introduction’, Leviathan, Richard
Tuck, ed., Cambridge.
Warrender, Howard (1957). The Political Philosophy
of Hobbes: his Theory of Obligation, Oxford.
Watkins, J.W.N. (1965). Hobbes' System of Ideas,
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