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Political Philosophy – John Rawls

1. Introduction

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About this Lecture


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.


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.


Professor Thom Brooks is an award-winning author, columnist, policy advisor and public speaker. He is Professor of Law and Government at Durham Law School, and has held visiting appointments at Columbia University, Harvard Law School, the University of Oxford, and Yale Law School. He appears frequently on television, radio and in print media with 2,000+ media appearances as a highly sought after commentator and expert. His general research interests are in ethics, law and public policy, and he is the UK’s leading expert on Britain's ‘Life in the UK’ citizenship test. His most recent published works include ‘The Trust Factor: Essays on the Current Political Crisis and Hope for the Future’ and ‘Climate Change Ethics for an Endangered World’.

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

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Brooks, Thom. "Political Philosophy – John Rawls – Introduction." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 10 Jan 2022,

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