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November 26, 2002
John Rawls Death
Moral Imperative Lives On
By Howard Hobbs PhD, Editor & Publisher

   WASHINGTON -- Dr. John Rawls 82, an American original and erstwhile political theorist died on Sunday at his home in his own bed on Sunday in Lexington, Mass.
     John Rawls PhD, HarvardThe cause was heart failure. Margaret Rawls, his wife told reporters, he had been ill since suffering a stroke in 1995.
     His book "A Theory of Justice" published in 1971 stimulated a revival of attention to moral philosophy.  
     In it, Rawls set out a older concept of justice, based on simple fairness. This is seen as deriving from the centuries old "greatest good of the greatest number of people" social justice imperative.
     Rawls morality began with the principle that each individual has a right to the most extensive basic liberty that is compatible with the same liberty for others.
   His rational also included the concept of "balancing the equities" of social and economic inequalities that are seen as just only to the extent they serve to promote the well-being of the least advantaged.  The foundation of Rawls position was found in the social contract developed earlier by ther 16th Century philosphers, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau.
     Dr. Rawls argued, that the least fortunate should be best protected. The lowest rung of society would be higher. Though inequalities would not be abolished by favoring the neediest, they would be minimized, he argued. In later works, Dr. Rawls expanded his arguments to suggest how a pluralistic society can be just to all its members. His idea was that the public could reason things out, provided comprehensive religious or philosophical doctrines are avoided.
     Dr. Rawls thought that as liberal democracies capable of such reasonableness spread, wars would be avoided. Major works of philosophy in the writings of Hobbes, Hume, and Rousseau are often cited.
     The writings of John Rawls are a reflection of his teaching, and writing about the problem of how human beings whose interests and values put them into potential conflict can inhabit with decency a common world. Dominant concerns, which have always been the injustices associated with race, class, religion, and war.
     Rawls books are widely read by economists, political scientists, and legal academics as well as by philosophers. One of the most important elements of Rawls's outlook, was ethics. His first publication was a reseasrch paper titled "Outline of a Decision Procedure for Ethics."   His main concern had always been social justice in which "...each person's prospects and opportunities in life are strongly influenced by the position into which he is born through no choice of his own: by his place in a political, social, and economic structure defined by the basic institutions of his society."
     The heart of Rawl's conception is the priority given to basic liberties, political and legal equality, decent material conditions of life, and bases of self-respect. Providing these things for everyone, including the least fortunate and the least competitive, takes strict priority in his theory over raising the general prosperity or the average welfare. Inequalities can be justified under such a system, but they cannot be justified because the advantages to the better-off outweigh the disadvantages to the worse-off: they have to be optimal for the worst off.
     Rawls' defense of this view has generated a fundamental debate in moral theory about how conflicts among the interests of different people should be resolved.
     Rawls believes that deep inequalities built into a social and economic structure that is sustained by the power of the state present the greatest potential for unfairness. While people retain some control over their lives through the choices that they make against the background of this structure, the influence of the structure itself dominates Rawls' moral conception.
   It offers people very different possibilities, depending on their sex, their race, their religion, the class of their parents, and their ability or inability to acquire skills that command desirable rewards. People are not responsible for these facts about themselves, and Rawls's ideal of justice would minimize the disadvantage to members of a society caused through the social structure by factors that are not their fault.

    [Editor's Note: In the 1950's Dr. Howard Hobbs (a descendant of English political philosopher,Thomas Hobbes 1588-1679) was just starting his academic career. He had prepared himself with wide reading of Hobbes' works and interpretations. Most university professors at the time, however, were dismissive of the tradition of ethical and political reflection embodied in the works of such thinkers as Aristotle, Hobbes, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel.
     University philosophy professors who followed the influential movement called logical positivism saw only two meaningful types of inquiry: empirical investigations into matters of fact, and conceptual discussions of the meanings and uses of terms.
     There was loose in the world a pervasive notion that since philosophy was not an empirical, fact-finding discipline, it could be relegated to the ash-heap of conceptual analysis and shallow conjecture.  Hobbes was arrogantly dismissed by many learned university leaders who publicly concluded that great thinkers of the past like Thomas Hobbes had made a crude error about how mutually exclusive moral philosophy and political philosophy could co- exist together in the affairs of worldly nation states .
    Hobbes' works were ofen reduced to studying the variant meanings of moral terms and of disputed ethical language.
     Thomas Hobbes is now widely regarded as one of a handful of truly great political philosophers, whose masterwork Leviathan rivals in significance the political writings of Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Rawls.
     Hobbes is famous for his early and elaborate development of what has come to be known as social contract theory, the method of justifying political principles or arrangements by appeal to the agreement that would be made among suitably situated rational, free, and equal persons.
     He is infamous for having used the social contract method  to arrive at the astonishing conclusion that we ought to submit to the authority of an absolute -- undivided and unlimited -- sovereign power.
     Most scholars today see in Hobbes view a type of personal subjectivism, virtue ethics, rule egoism, and some see a form of projectivism which finds support among scholars.
     Because Hobbes held that the true doctrine of the Lawes of Nature is the true Morall philosophie, differences in interpretation of Hobbes's moral philosophy can be traced to differing understandings of the status and operation of Hobbes's laws of human nature. There has been to date no fully systematic study of Hobbes' moral psychology.
   Attesting to Hobbes 20th Century revival, here is short bibliography of recent publications exploring his 16th Century works:


 K.C.Brown, ed., Hobbes Studies (1965), Cambridge, Mass., contains important papers by A.E. Taylor, J.W. N. Watkins, Howard Warrender, and John Plamenatz, among others.

   G.A.J. Rogers and Alan Ryan, eds., Perspectives on Thomas Hobbes (Oxford 1988)

Mary G.Dietz, ed., Thomas Hobbes and Political Theory (Lawrence, Kansas, 1990).

  Tom Sorell, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes (Cambridge 1996).
 S.A. Lloyd, ed., ‘Special Issue on Recent Work on the Moral and Political Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes’, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 82, nos. 3&4 (2001).

Books and Articles

   Ashcraft, Richard (1971). ‘Hobbes's Natural Man: A Study in Ideology     Formation’, Journal of Politics, 33, pp. 1076-171.

   Baumgold, Deborah (1988). Hobbes's Political Thought, Cambridge.
   Boonin-Vail, David (1994). Thomas Hobbes and the Science of Moral Virtue, Cambridge.

   Curley, Edwin (1988). ‘I durst not write so boldly: or how to read Hobbes' theological-political treatise’, E. Giancotti, ed., Proceedings of the Conference on Hobbes and Spinoza, Urbino.
----- (1994). ‘Introduction to Hobbes' Leviathan’, Leviathan with selected variants from the Latin edition of 1668, Edwin Curley ed., Indianapolis, Indiana.
  Darwall, Stephen (1995). The British Moralists and the Internal "Ought", 1640-1740, Cambridge/New York
   ----- (2000). ‘Normativity and Projection in Hobbes's Leviathan’, The Philosophical Review vol. 109 no.3, pp.313-347.
   Ewin, R.E. (1991). Virtues and Rights: The Moral Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, Boulder/Oxford.

   Gauthier, David P. (1969). The Logic of ‘Leviathan’: the Moral and political Theory of Thomas Hobbes, Oxford.

   Gert, Bernard (1967). ‘Hobbes and psychological egoism’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 28, pp. 503-520.
   ----- (1978) ‘Introduction to Man and Citizen’, Man and Citizen, Bernard Gert, ed., Humanities Press.
   ----- (1988). ‘The law of nature and the moral law’, Hobbes Studies, I, pp.26-44.

   Goldsmith, M. M. (1966). Hobbes's Science of Politics, New York

   Hampton, Jean (1986). Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition, Cambridge.

   Hood, E.C. (1964). The Divine Politics of Thomas Hobbes, Oxford.
 Johnston, David (1986). The Rhetoric of ‘Leviathan’: Thomas Hobbes and the Politics of Cultural Transformation, Princeton, N.J.
   Kavka, Gregory S. (1986). Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory, Princeton, N.J.
    Lloyd, S.A. (1992). Ideals as Interests in Hobbes's ‘Leviathan’: the Power of Mind over Matter, Cambridge.

   Macpherson, C. B. (1968). ‘Introduction’, Leviathan, C.B. Macpherson, ed., London.

   Martinich, A.P. (1992). The Two Gods of Leviathan: Thomas Hobbes on Religion and Politics, Cambridge.
   ----- (1999). Hobbes: A Biography, Cambridge.

   Nagel, Thomas (1959). ‘Hobbes's Concept of Obligation’, Philosophical Review, 68.
   Oakeshott, Michael (1975). Hobbes on Civil Association, Oxford.

   Raphael, D. D. (1977). Hobbes: Morals and Politics, London.

   Schneewind, J.B. (1997). The Invention of Autonomy: History of Modern Moral Philosophy, Cambridge/New York.

   Skinner, Quentin (1996). ,em>Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes, Cambridge.

   Sorell, Tom (1986). Hobbes, London.

   Strauss, Leo (1936). The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: its Basis and Genesis, Oxford.

   Tuck, Richard (1989). Hobbes, Oxford.
   ----- (1991). ‘Introduction’, Leviathan, Richard Tuck, ed., Cambridge.
   Warrender, Howard (1957). The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: his Theory of Obligation, Oxford.

   Watkins, J.W.N. (1965). Hobbes' System of Ideas, London. ]

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