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John Rawls's work on justice has drawn more commentary and aroused wider attention than any other work in moral or political philosophy in the twentieth century. Rawls is the author of two major treatises, A Theory of Justice (1971) and Political Liberalism (1993); it is said that A Theory of Justice revived political philosophy in the English-speaking world. But before and after writing his great treatises Rawls produced a steady stream of essays. Some of these essays articulate views of justice and liberalism distinct from those found in the two books. They are important in and of themselves because of the deep issues about the nature of justice, moral reasoning, and liberalism they raise as well as for the light they shed on the evolution of Rawls's views. Some of the articles tackle issues not addressed in either book. They help identify some of the paths open to liberal theorists of justice and some of the knotty problems which liberal theorists must seek to resolve. A complete collection of John Rawls's essays is long overdue.
This book originated as lectures for a course on political philosophy that Rawls taught regularly at Harvard in the 1980s. In time the lectures became a restatement of his theory of justice as fairness, revised in light of his more recent papers and his treatise Political Liberalism (1993). As Rawls writes in the preface, the restatement presents "e;in one place an account of justice as fairness as I now see it, drawing on all [my previous] works."e; He offers a broad overview of his main lines of thought and also explores specific issues never before addressed in any of his writings. Rawls is well aware that since the publication of A Theory of Justice in 1971, American society has moved farther away from the idea of justice as fairness. Yet his ideas retain their power and relevance to debates in a pluralistic society about the meaning and theoretical viability of liberalism. This book demonstrates that moral clarity can be achieved even when a collective commitment to justice is uncertain.