An examination of the philosophies of Hume, Leibniz, Kant, and Hegel—all nicely burnished by contemporary great Rawls (A Theory of Justice, 1971) over three decades at Harvard.
Rawls’s “Kant Lectures” have enjoyed a cult status so great that it has propelled dog-eared copies of his notes across campuses and generations. After being guided by Rawls’s able hand through the rigors of such texts as Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature, readers will appreciate how Rawls’s generosity, both to student and subject, earned these Harvard lectures a place in legend. Compiled in 1991 after the final of four major revisions, they’re examples of thoughtful, conscientious pedagogy, reflecting years of careful editing and rewriting. More interested in thorough exploration than critique, the author teaches from the position of a kind of “master” student, always acknowledging the difficulty of the text under consideration, but never talking down. He is careful to present problems of philosophy in the context of each author’s historical experience (to “see how philosophical questions can take on a different cast from, and are indeed shaped by, the scheme of thought from within which they are asked”) and to present ideas in their “strongest form.” Although the lectures are expressions of reverence for great thinkers, they also reflect the vibrancy of Rawls’s own scholarship. Readers interested in his ideas on social and economic equality, liberalism, and the possibility of justice in modern society should be particularly glad for the lectures focusing on G.W.F. Hegel’s critique of Kant.
An important companion to Rawls’s recently published Collected Papers (not reviewed) and a testament to the lasting beneficence of great teachers.