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John Rawls (John Bordley Rawls) Biography

(1921–2002), (John Bordley Rawls), A Theory of Justice, Anarchy, State and Utopia

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American philosopher and political theorist, born in Baltimore, educated at Princeton and Cornell Universities. Following military service during the Second World War, he began his academic career; in 1960 he became a professor at Harvard, where he was made James Bryant Conant University Professor in 1979. ‘Justice as Fairness’ (1958) and ‘Legal Obligation and the Duty of Fair Play’ (1964) were among the articles preceding the publication of his A Theory of Justice (1971), which gained him pre-eminence among political philosophers of the day. Rawls bases his concepts of political values on individual rights, stating that members of a society should enjoy ‘the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others’; his ‘difference principle’ requires that economic inequalities should be arranged in a manner permitting the greatest possible benefits to accrue to the least advantaged. His argument for the rational necessity of social equality entails a persuasive critique of utilitarian views of justice. A Theory of Justice provoked a general reassessment of political philosophy; Rawls's most notable opponent is Robert Nozick, whose Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974) framed a ‘radical libertarian’ argument defending the individual's rights of acquisition.

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