My Philosopher: John Rawls


John Rawls is considered one of the most influential Philosophers of the 20th century. He was declared this by President Bill Clinton. He is known for being a philosopher that dealt with moral and politics. He was born on February 21, 1921 in Baltimore Maryland to William Rawls and Anna Abell Stump Rawls. He was also raised in Baltimore, Maryland. He was the 2nd of 5 sons to the couple. John had probably one of the worst tragedies anyone can ever experience. Not one but two of his brothers had died during their childhood because they contracted fatal illnesses from John. John had gotten diphtheria and when his younger brother Booby, visited him and got infected with the illness and passed away. The following year, he got pneumonia and his other younger brother caught it and also died. So within the first 8 years of living he had essentially witnessed two deaths of his siblings all because of the illnesses he had contracted.

John’s father was a well-known lawyer in the Maryland area. His father had studied law from the young age of 14. By age 22 he actually passed the bar exam and joined a very notable law form. With all of this law exposure John never wanted to pursue a career in law by any means. He stayed in Maryland to pursue his college education by attending Ivy League school, Princeton University. He also got his PH.D from Princeton after a short time in the army. He wasn’t sure about his major right away, after testing the waters he then decided on philosophy. At one point during his later years at Princeton, he really started like religion. He considered being a priest. He was so interested in religion that his thesis was, “A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith, which was later published in 2009. After he was in the war, he really started to question faith because “he wondered how a benevolent God could have allowed such evil to take place” (Foss, 2014).

“After the war, he returned to Princeton to pursue a doctorate in philosophy. His dissertation was an attempt to formulate a method for judging moral arguments. In that work, Rawls was reacting to the relativistic claim that morals cannot be judged because they are merely subjective values. Rawls denied this, but he also denied that any one moral claim, including any of those grounded in religion, could be used as a standard for judging other moral claims” (Foss, 2014).

Rawls greatest influences came from his time at Princeton and his time aboard at Oxford. At Princeton he was influenced by Norman Malcolm, then at his time at Oxford worked alongside H. L. A. Hart, Isaiah Berlin, and Stuart Hampshire. These were his major influences. According to Richardson, “He wrote a series of highly influential articles in the 1950s and ’60s that helped refocus Anglo-American moral and political philosophy on substantive problems about what we ought to do. His first book, A Theory of Justice (1971), revitalized the social-contract tradition, using it to articulate and defend a detailed vision of egalitarian liberalism.” (Richardson, n.d.)

According to Foss, In today’s world Rawl’s Theory which looks at the principles of egalitarianism, toleration, consensus politics and societal fairness informs much of contemporary liberalism’s aspirations, constitutional interpretations, domestic policies, and public rhetoric. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the principles behind such laws as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, are most thoroughly argued by John Rawls. Much the same can be said of the Supreme Court’s reference to the “evolving understanding of the meaning of equality” in the 2013 same-sex marriage case, U.S. v. Windsor. Rawls’s silent influence has been immense. (Foss, 2014)

Rawls died in 2002 at the age of 81. He had a life of a lot of great successes. He was a Professor at Harvard for 30 plus years. He had so many accolades such as the Schock Prize for Logic and Philosophy (1999), National Humanities Medal (1999), Asteroid 16561 Rawls was also named in his memory.  In closing Wenar says, “Nevertheless, while Rawls’s vision is realistic it is also utopian. To believe that Rawls’s vision is possible is to believe that individuals are not merely selfish or amoral, and that international relations can be more than a contest for power, wealth, and glory. Affirming the possibility of a just and peaceful future can inoculate against a resignation or cynicism that might otherwise seem inevitable. “By showing how the social world may realize the features of a realistic utopia, political philosophy provides a long-term goal of political endeavor, and in working toward it gives meaning to what we can do today” (LP, 128).” (Wenar, 2008)


Reference Page

Duignan, B. (2014). John Rawls | biography – American philosopher. Retrieved  from

Foss, J.C. (2014,). John Rawls: Theorist of Modern Liberalism. Retrieved from\

Richardson, H. (n.d.). Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from

Wenar, Leif. (2008). John Rawls. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from



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