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Government & Politics   >   Political Ideas – John Rawls


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Political Ideas – John Rawls

This course explores the political philosophy of John Rawls (1921-2002). We begin with some biographical information on Rawls, highlighting his importance and influence. This is encapsulated by Rawls’s conservative contemporary Robert Nozick’s statement that ‘Political philosophers now must either work within Rawls’s theory or explain why not’ – a testament to his enduring relevance today. In the second lecture we outline the key assumptions and basic concepts underpinning Rawls’s theory, including that a democratic society is a necessary precondition for a functional theory of justice, and citizens are by default ‘free and equal’. In the third lecture, we turn to Rawls’s two principles of justice. Here, we encounter some more key concepts, including the famous ‘veil of ignorance’ and the notion of ‘reflective equilibrium’. In the fourth lecture, we reckon with Rawls’s Political Liberalism. We confront for the first time the ‘inescapable’ fact of reasonable pluralism, and the difficulty it presents for citizens attempting to resolve the ‘deeply disputed questions’ of political philosophy. Then, in our fifth and final lecture, we explore some criticisms of Rawls (including those made by Robert Nozick) and his responses. This is an engaging course full of challenging, high-level concepts, explained in an accessible and neatly-structured way by Professor Thom Brooks.


In this module we give context to the life and works of John Rawls, focusing in particular on: (i) his importance and influence; (ii) Robert Nozick's claim that ‘Political philosophers now must either work within Rawls’s theory or explain why not’; (iii) the main works and ideas discussed in this course, including A Theory of Justice (1971), Political Liberalism (1993), and Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (2001); (iv) Rawls's break with utilitarian thought and his offer of a fresh and distinctive perspective for political and moral philosophy; (v) the key terminology necessary for understanding Rawls, as well as some of his basic assumptions and key influences, including Kant and Rousseau; (vi) the ‘deeply disputed questions’, and Rawls’s framework for dealing with them, which will be the subject of our subsequent lectures.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Brooks, T. (2022, January 10). Political Ideas – John Rawls - Introduction [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Brooks, T. "Political Ideas – John Rawls – Introduction." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 10 Jan 2022,

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Prof. Thom Brooks

Prof. Thom Brooks

Durham University