Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy / Edition 1

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Times Higher Education Supplement - John Dunn
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.
New York Sun - Steven B. Smith
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.
Choice - D. Schultz
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.
The New Republic - Charles Larmore
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.
Journal of the History of Philosophy - Matthew Simpson
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.
Journal of the History of Philosophy
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
Library Journal

After the publication of A Theory of Justicein 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 Freeman (philosophy & law, Univ. of Pennsylvania), a former student and teaching assistant from Rawls's courses at Harvard University, is a major event. Rawls discusses Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, J.S. Mill, and Karl Marx (appendixes treat Henry Sidgwick and Joseph Butler as well). He is especially concerned with how each thinker views the fair terms of social cooperation. He distinguishes between being rational (i.e., efficient in pursuit of one's ends) and being reasonable (i.e., willing to cooperate on fair terms with others)—Hobbes did not make this distinction, but it is useful in explaining Locke and Rousseau. Rawls finds in Rousseau the notion of public reason, the key concept of his Political Liberalism. He devotes much attention to the utilitarian tradition, the principal rival of his own approach. An unexpected feature is a sympathetic discussion of Marx. Highly recommended for all philosophy collections.
—David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH

Journal of the History of Philosophy

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

Times Higher Education Supplement

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

New York Sun

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

Choice

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

The New Republic

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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674024922
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/15/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 6.54 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 1.46 (d)

Meet the Author

John Rawls was James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University. He was recipient of the 1999 National Humanities Medal.

Samuel Freeman is Professor of Philosophy and Law, University of Pennsylvania.

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Table of Contents


Editor's Foreword     ix
Introductory Remarks     xvii
Texts Cited     xix
Introduction: Remarks on Political Philosophy     1
Lectures on Hobbes
Hobbes's Secular Moralism and the Role of His Social Contract     23
Human Nature and the State of Nature     41
Hobbes's Account of Practical Reasoning     54
The Role and Powers of the Sovereign     73
Hobbes Index     94
Lectures on Locke
His Doctrine of Natural Law     103
His Account of a Legitimate Regime     122
Property and the Class State     138
Lectures on Hume
"Of the Original Contract"     159
Utility, Justice, and the Judicious Spectator     174
Lectures on Rousseau
The Social Contract: Its Problem     191
The Social Contract: Assumptions and the General Will (I)     214
The General Will (II) and the Question of Stability     229
Lectures on Mill
His Conception of Utility     251
His Account of Justice     266
The Principle of Liberty     284
His Doctrine as a Whole     297
Remarks on Mill's Social Theory     314
Lectures on Marx
His View of Capitalism as a Social System     319
His Conception of Right and Justice     335
His Ideal: A Society of Freely Associated Producers     354
Appendixes
Four Lectures on Henry Sidgwick
Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics     375
Sidgwick on Justice and on the Classical Principle of Utility     385
Sidgwick's Utilitarianism     392
Summary of Utilitarianism     412
Five Lectures on Joseph Butler
The Moral Constitution of Human Nature     416
The Nature and Authority of Conscience     422
The Economy of the Passions     432
Butler's Argument against Egoism     439
Supposed Conflict between Conscience and Self-Love     446
Additional Notes on Butler     452
Course Outline     458
Index     460
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