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JOHN RAWLS IN HISTORICAL CONTEXT

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The secondary literature on Rawls is vast, but little of it is historical. Relying on the archival materials he left to Harvard after his death, we look at the historical contexts that informed Rawls's understanding of political philosophy and the changes in his thinking up to A Theory of Justice. We argue that Rawls's classic work reveals positivist aspirations that were altered and frayed by various encounters with postanalytic naturalism. So, we begin in the 1940s, showing the influence of other positivist projects, such as those of Popper and Ducasse. Thereafter, we explore how Rawls's encounter with Wittgenstein and Quine in the 1950s and 1960s led him to introduce the post-analytic features evident in A Theory of Justice. Our historical narrative challenges commonplace folk-understandings that portray Rawls as either wholly committed to positivism or as its principal slayer.
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Keywords: John Rawls; Ludwig Wittgenstein; W.V.O. Quine; analytic philosophy; ethics; justification; linguistic philosophy; logical empiricism; logical positivism; modernism; post-analytic philosophy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Email: [email protected]

Publication date: January 1, 2012

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