by & edited by
Email this review


A nearly complete collection of Rawls’s short essays from 1951 through 1998. What is arguably the most widely discussed political theory of the second half of the 20th-century emerged from an evolutionary process. By making available in one volume the papers through which Harvard philosopher Rawls initially tried out his ideas, Freeman provides easy access to the steps taken along the way. This book will be primarily useful as a reference work; few if any intrepid souls will attempt to read it cover-to-cover. Doing so, however, exposes the true nature of Rawls’s achievement. As others have observed regarding A Theory of Justice, Rawls begins with an original, brilliant idea encapsulated in the principles of “justice as fairness,” then builds complexity around it by adding arguments that respond to objections, both anticipated and actually raised by critics. Unlike most scholars who focus on one topic throughout their careers, however, Rawls is not just repackaging the same material. He takes objections seriously and struggles to overcome them, pushing forward his thinking by developing new arguments that add depth to his original ideas rather than simply moving on to new subjects. The result has been the most sustained effort in all of Western philosophy to construct a complete theory of justice. Along the way his originality has been manifested in creations that have become part of the standard lexicon of political philosophy, including the “difference principle,” the “maximin criterion,” and most notably the “veil of ignorance.” What the reader will find in this volume are the starts and stops, the grappling with issues of moral philosophy, and especially later in his career, the confrontation with concerns such as religious belief that threaten the assumptions of rationality and the positive value of reasonableness upon which his vision of justice depends. A convenient and welcome compilation.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-674-13739-6
Page count: 627pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1999