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HUM 48

Rawls, John, 1921-2002. Papers of John Rawls, 1942-2003 and undated : an inventory

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Descriptive Summary

Call No.: HUM 48
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Creator: Rawls, John, 1921-2002
Title: Papers of John Rawls
Date(s): 1942-2003 and undated.
Quantity: 20 cubic feet (60 document boxes, 2 card boxes)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: John Rawls (1921-2002), James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, was one of the most significant political and moral philosophers of the twentieth century and is credited with reviving the social contract tradition in social and moral philosophy. Widely cited by scholars, Rawls's theories on justice and fairness in a modern society greatly influenced the fields of political science, economics, sociology, theology, and the law. The papers encompass lectures and teaching materials, writings, correspondence, offprints and manuscripts by other scholars, subject files, research notes, and a small amount of biographical material, offering insight into the evolution of Rawls's ideas.

Acquisition Information:

The Papers of John Rawls were acquired through donation from Professor Rawls and his family. Whenever possible the archivist noted the terms of acquisition in the descriptions and item lists.
The acquisitions are as follows:
  • Accession number: 14990; 2004 March 4
  • Accession number: 15085; 2004 July 14
  • Accession number: 17313; 2006 March 21
  • Accession number: 17818; 2008 June 29
  • Accession number: 18116; 2010 March 12
  • Processing Information:

    Processed August-September 2010 by Dominic P. Grandinetti.
    This collection consists of several accessions which have been maintained in their original order as received by the Harvard University Archives. Much of the material in accession 14990 was arranged by John Rawls and by his wife, Margaret, subsequent to his death. Wherever possible, the archivist attempted to retain and preserve the original arrangement and existing relationships of the documents in these papers.
    Notes written on the front flap of the original folders by John Rawls or by his wife, (i.e. lists of correspondents, lectures titles, or subjects considered within the folders) were transcribed by the archivist and incorporated into the folder lists below. Additions to these transcribed notes by the archivist appear in brackets.
    In a few cases, series titles were changed and new ones assigned by the archivist in this finding aid. Changes are noted in the folder list below. Dates and titles assigned by the archivist appear in brackets.
    Processing included rehousing materials in appropriate containers, establishment of series and subseries hierarchy, photocopying of news clippings and fragile documents, and the creation of this finding aid.

    Conditions on Use and Access:

    The Papers of John Rawls are open for research. Access to folders containing personal or personnel information is restricted for 80 years. These restrictions are noted in the collection folder list.

    Related Material in the Harvard University Archives

    Introduction

    John Rawls (1921-2002), James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, was one of the most significant political and moral philosophers of the twentieth century and is credited with reviving the social contract tradition in social and moral philosophy. Widely cited by scholars, Rawls's theories on justice and fairness in a modern society greatly influenced the fields of political science, economics, sociology, theology, and the law.

    Early Life and Career

    John Bordley Rawls was born on February 21, 1921 in Baltimore, Maryland, to William Lee Rawls (1883-1946) and Anna Abel (Stump) Rawls (1892-1954). The second of five sons, Rawls's interest in philosophy began at the Episcopalian Kent School in Connecticut and matured as an undergraduate at Princeton University. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1943, Rawls enlisted in the United States Army during World War II, trained as a radio operator, and served as an infantry platoon sergeant in the Pacific, in New Guinea, the Philippines, and Japan. Following his discharge from the military, Rawls attended the Princeton University Graduate School (1946-1950), spending the year 1947-1948 at Cornell University. From 1952 to 1953, Rawls studied at Christ Church College at Oxford University. After returning from England, Rawls was appointed an Assistant and then an Associate Professor at Cornell University.

    Harvard University

    Rawls first came to Harvard University in 1959 as a Visiting Professor. While at Harvard, Rawls accepted a full professorship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he helped to develop the Institute's Humanities Department. In 1962, Rawls left MIT to join the Harvard Philosophy Department, where he stayed until his retirement in 1991. Rawls taught moral, social, and political philosophy, focusing on discussions of justice as fairness in society, with examinations of earlier philosopher's works on the subject. He taught a variety of graduate and undergraduate courses at Harvard, but his most influential course was on ethics or moral philosophy in which he reviewed the works of some of the major philosophers of Western Civilization including Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, David Hume, John Locke, Henry Sidgwick, and W.D. Ross. In Rawls's view, studying the greatest minds of philosophy offered the best hope of understanding some of the important questions asked by individuals during their lifetimes, including what makes a human life worthwhile.

    Justice as Fairness

    Rawls's research and teaching focused on justice in society, a topic which he studied for over fifty years. He began researching and collecting notes on justice and fairness as a graduate student at Princeton University. In 1971, he published his seminal work, A Theory of Justice, which proposed an alternative to utilitarianism, which in Rawls's view led to injustice. For Rawls, the utilitarian doctrine lacked any principle of justice and could quite easily be turned into a system where the welfare of the few was sacrificed for the welfare of the many. Rawls revived the seventeenth century idea of the social contract, a doctrine popularized by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rawls postulated that a just and fair society was one in which each person had equal opportunities and freedom and that government had a responsibility to address economic and social disparities in order to assist and uplift the disadvantaged. Rawls's theory of justice was received favorably by philosophers, lawyers, economists, political scientists, sociologists, students, and other academicians, and led to an outpouring of journal literature and papers.
    After the publication of A Theory of Justice, Rawls spent the next several years developing and expanding his ideas of justice and fairness by exploring ways in which different approaches to morality could co-exist in a democratic society holding diverse world views. In Political Liberalism (1993), he addressed how a concept of justice influences the lives of citizens in a democracy, specifically addressing the relationship and compatibility between religion and democracy. In The Law of Peoples (1999), Rawls extended his conception of justice to foreign affairs, describing what a peaceful and tolerant international order would look like. Finally, Rawls summarized his conceptions of justice in Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (2001), providing revisions to his original ideas on justice and fairness, reworked over a period of almost thirty years. Rawls's writings had a profound effect on philosophical discussion and discourse in the second half of the twentieth century and greatly influenced a generation of moral and social philosophers.

    Family

    In 1949 John Rawls married Margaret (Warfield Fox) Rawls. They had four children: Anne Warefield (b. 1950), Robert Lee (b. 1954), Alexander Emory (b. 1955), and Elizabeth Fox (b. 1957).
    John Rawls died on November 24, 2002.

    References:

    Chronology

    Chronology

    Chronology

    Series and Subseries in the Collection

    Scope of the Collection

    The papers of John Rawls document the origins and development of Rawls's theory of a just and liberal society known as justice as fairness. The papers encompass lecture and teaching materials, writings, correspondence, offprints and manuscripts by other scholars, subject files, research notes, and a small amount of biographical material.
    These papers are a valuable resource that shed light on Rawls's development of his concept of a just and liberal society and reveal the progression of his philosophical viewpoints. They also illustrate the important philosophical and political discussions taking place between philosophers during the second half of the twentieth century about moral, social, and political philosophy. Moreover, Rawls's reaction to the critical analysis and evaluations by other scholars assessing the strengths and weaknesses of his theories demonstrate how these authors helped inform his own studies.
    Present in these papers are Rawls's analyses of works by some of the major figures of economics, philosophy, and social theory such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, Gottfried Leibniz, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Karl Marx, as well as many other eighteenth-century philosophers.
    These papers document Rawls's interaction with some of the most prominent individuals in the field of philosophy such as Thomas M. Scanlon, Ronald Dworkin, Philippa Foot, Robert Nozick, Thomas Pogge, and Amartaya Sen and highlight the influence Rawls had over the intellectual and professional development of a generation of philosophers.

    Inventory update

    This document last updated 2017 April 24.

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