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Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy Hardcover – December 15, 2000

6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674002968 ISBN-10: 0674002962

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Rawls\\rquote philosophical approach has had an impact, not simply through his classic works like \}\{\A Theory of Justice\}\{ (1971) but also through the generations of Harvard students who wrestled with classic works of philosophy with his assistance from 1962 to 1991. This volume draws together the final version of Rawls\\rquote lecture notes on the history of modern moral philosophy; it offers probing discussions of Hume, Leibniz, Kant, and Hegel and of the four basic types of moral reasoning--perfectionism, utilitarianism, intuitionism, and Kantian constructivism. Readers could hardly find a more enlightening (if sometimes challenging) companion in exploring key historical approaches to life\\rquote s most fundamental moral and philosophical questions.\plain\f0\fs17 Mary Carroll
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Review

Rawls is, of course, one of the major moral and political philosophers of the 20th-century. These essays center on Kant's moral philosophy as influenced by Hume's and Leibniz's and as it influenced Hegel. Throughout, Rawls tries to understand the distinctive questions each philosopher posed to himself and the specific answers he gave...Rawls's deep, tightly argued, and lucidly presented analyses warrant close attention by students on the subject. (Robert Hoffman Library Journal)

Rawls's 'Kant Lectures' have enjoyed a cult status so great that it has propelled dog-eared copies of his notes across campuses and generations. After being guided by Rawls's able hand through the rigors of such texts as Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and Hume's Treatise on Human Nature, readers will appreciate how Rawls's generosity, both to students and subject, earned these Harvard lectures a place in legend. (Kirkus Reviews)

This volume draws together the final version of Rawls' lecture notes on the history of modern moral philosophy. It offers probing discussions of Hume, Leibniz, Kant, and Hegel and of the four basic types of moral reasoning--perfectionism, utilitarianism, intuitionism, and Kantian constructivism. Readers could hardly find a more enlightening (if sometimes challenging) companion in exploring key historical approaches to life's most fundamental moral and philosophical questions. (Mary Carroll Booklist 2000-10-15)

What names would we want to place next to Wittgenstein and Heidegger? No thinker, I believe, has a greater right to stand alongside them than John Rawls. Rawls's A Theory of Justice, which appeared in 1971, changed forever the landscape of moral and political philosophy. Like Wittgenstein and Heidegger, Rawls has shown a remarkable capacity for self-criticism. Like them, he has gone on to revise in significant ways the doctrines that first established his fame...The publication of the Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy is thus a major event, since here we find the conception of modern ethics as a whole, the understanding of its characteristic themes and problems, that has inspired Rawls's political thought. (Charles Larmore New Republic 2001-02-05)

Rawls has an enormously authoritative and interesting way of thinking and writing about the history of philosophy. His approach and tone is that of a world-class athlete watching old films to analyze the technique of his great predecessors. It is a pleasure to listen in. (Matthew Simpson Journal of the History of Philosophy 2008-04-01)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (November 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674002962
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674002968
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,161,264 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

John Rawls was James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University. He was recipient of the 1999 National Humanities Medal.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By pjmittal on February 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
One can see why John Rawls rejuvenated interest in moral philosophy -- this book is not only a beautifully written, but also a well organized collection of lectures on moral philosophy. Yes, all the big names are here -- Kant, Hegel, Leibnitz & Hume -- entire sections devoted to each. Utilitarianism, constructivism, intuitionism and perfectionism are all studied carefully as the various moral philosophies produced by these thinkers.
A warning, though: don't leap into this book as a "Moral Philosophy for Dummies" kind of guide. Although you don't have to be a guru, you need to have already read a bit on the subject in order to savour the delights of this book. I myself am taking my first (very wobbly) steps into a field which attempts, as the cover of the book says, to "define the role of a moral conception in human life."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By John R. Holmes, Jr. on April 29, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In his seminal work "A Theory of Justice," philosopher John Rawls developed a "Veil of Ignorance" theory. He postulated that a person can't participate in drawing up a fair social contract unless he or she has no idea what their place will be in the resulting society. This is an elegant barrier to the double standard. For example, a person that believes in having slaves but not in being one might argue for legitimizing slavery in the social contract, but putting him behind a veil of ignorance (where he doesn't know whether he's going to end up being the slave or the slave owner) is a great leveler.

Impressed by his thinking, I wanted to read more of his work. To be fair, my 3-Star review probably only proves I should have started with the Cliff's Notes. These "Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy" may constitute a profound contribution to the subject, but they're too deep for me. To illustrate, here's the author on Immanuel Kant's objections to Leibnitz's conception of freedom (are you already lost?):

"The first and most basic objection derives from Leibnitz's metaphysical perfectionism. As we have seen, this is a form of heteronomy and incompatible with the idea of free constructive practical reason. Kant's idea of the moral law as a law of autonomy should not be thought of as true of a prior and antecedent order of moral values. Rather, the supremacy of reason means that the moral law itself must be a law freedom." page 278

In summary, if you have a sufficiently powerful interest in the history and concepts of Western Moral philosophy (as distinct from Political Philosophy) this is probably a must-have book. In my case it turned out to be home-pregnancy test equivalent of a test of my own intellectual capacity. Sadly, I didn't pass.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ed Morgan on May 27, 2014
Format: Paperback
With thirty years of lecturing at Harvard University behind him, John Rawls was, and still is, the man you want to go when it comes to learning more about the philosophy or morals and ethics. Written in first person and collected from years of actual lectures, Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy truly does read like an engaging class lecture; this style makes a very weighty topic easily accessible to all levels of students, whether they are students of philosophy or students of life.

Rawls covers everything from the power of choice to rational intuitionism to justice as an artificial virtue and uses classic philosophers like Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, David Hume, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and Immanuel Kant to enforce his examination of moral philosophy. It is clear why he is considered to be the best when it comes to teaching this subject. Not only does he respect the ideas of past generations, he also contributes a great deal to the contemporary dialogue.

If you are interested in moral philosophy on any level, this is a must-read work. The tone and subject matter will draw you in, the questions posed by Rawls throughout will make you think, and you will finish the book with a greater understanding of how the world works. Would you have the interest in more readings on morality and don't mind something on the longer side, I recommend Beyond Morality by philosopher Richard Garner.
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