Sunday, March 10, 2019

An Intellectual Biography of John Rawls

John Rawls. The Path to a Theory of Justice

by Andrius Gališanka

(Harvard University Press, 2019)

272 pages


It is hard to overestimate the influence of John Rawls on political philosophy and theory over the last half-century. His books have sold millions of copies worldwide, and he is one of the few philosophers whose work is known in the corridors of power as well as in the halls of academe. Rawls is most famous for the development of his view of “justice as fairness,” articulated most forcefully in his best-known work, A Theory of Justice. In it he develops a liberalism focused on improving the fate of the least advantaged, and attempts to demonstrate that, despite our differences, agreement on basic political institutions is both possible and achievable.

Critics have maintained that Rawls’s view is unrealistic and ultimately undemocratic. In this incisive new intellectual biography, Andrius Gališanka argues that in misunderstanding the origins and development of Rawls’s central argument, previous narratives fail to explain the novelty of his philosophical approach and so misunderstand the political vision he made prevalent. Gališanka draws on newly available archives of Rawls’s unpublished essays and personal papers to clarify the justifications Rawls offered for his assumption of basic moral agreement. Gališanka’s intellectual-historical approach reveals a philosopher struggling toward humbler claims than critics allege.



1. Protestant Beginnings
2. Drawing on Logical Positivism
3. Engagement with Wittgensteinian Philosophy
4. The Fair Games of Autonomous Persons
5. Practices of Reasoning
6. Natural Bases of Justice
7. No Shortcuts in Philosophy
8. Kantian Autonomy
9. A Theory of Justice


Appendix A: John Rawls: Courses Taken and Taught
Appendix B: John Rawls: Publications

Andrius Gališanka is an Assistant Professor at Wake Forest University. He is co-editor (with Mark Bevir) of "Wittgenstein and Normative Inquiry" (Brill, 2016).

See his dissertation: "The Path to A Theory of Justice" (pdf).

See also two papers by Gališanka:

**"John Rawls in Historical Context" (History of Political Thought vol. 33 No. 4, 2012)

**"Just Society as a Fair Game: John Rawls and Game Theory in the 1950s" (Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 78. No. 2, 2017)

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