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John Rawls
Edited by Thomas Nagel
Joshua Cohen
Thomas Nagel
Robert Merrihew Adams
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    John Rawls never published anything about his own religious beliefs, but after his death two texts were discovered which shed extraordinary light on the subject. A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith is Rawls's undergraduate senior thesis, submitted in December 1942, just before he entered the army. The present volume includes these two texts, together with an Introduction by Joshua Cohen and Thomas Nagel, which discusses their relation to Rawls's published work, and an essay by Robert Merrihew Adams, which places the thesis in its theological context.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-05448-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-23)
    Joshua Cohen and Thomas Nagel

    1. When John Rawls died in 2002, there was found among his files a short statement entitled “On My Religion,” the second of the two texts included in this volume. He had apparently written it in the 1990s,¹ not for publication but perhaps for the interest of family and friends—though he did not distribute it. Rawls describes the history of his religious beliefs and attitudes toward religion, and refers to a period during his last two years as an undergraduate at Princeton (1941–42) when he “became deeply concerned with theology and its doctrines,” and considered attending a seminary...

  4. The Theological Ethics of the Young Rawls and Its Background
    (pp. 24-102)
    Robert Merrihew Adams

    My aim in this essay is to illuminate the content of the senior thesis that John Rawls wrote as an undergraduate at Princeton in the fall of 1942, and his use of the authors to whom he refers. The scope of the thesis is wider than might be suggested by the title,A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith.At the heart of the theory is a contrast between what Rawls calls “naturalism” and a “proper ethics” that is focused on personal relationships and community. In section 2 I will discuss the concepts (notably, those of egoism...


    • A Note on the Text
      (pp. 104-104)
      Thomas Nagel
    • Preface
      (pp. 107-108)
      John Rawls
    • Contents
      (pp. 109-109)
    • chapter one A General Prospectus
      (pp. 110-128)

      1. It seems that every theology and every philosophy proceeds to investigate experience with certain fundamental presuppositions. If the presuppositions appear reasonable, then the basis of the philosophy or theology is sound, but if the presuppositions are invalid, then the view presented would appear to fall to the ground. Therefore, we propose to outline and investigate our fundamental presuppositions, and thereby to suggest what is to follow. This introduction is intended as a background for every thing that follows, and it likewise sums up briefly most every thing that we have to say. Although our argument may seem to be...

    • chapter two Vindication of the Natural Cosmos
      (pp. 129-156)

      1. The world is evil; it is the source of all corruption and sin. The visible universe is a region controlled by fate; in it the spiritual souls are held captive by the planetary aeons. Time continues in unending cycles; worlds and events repeat themselves and man is bound here to suffer in this wicked cosmos.

      Such has been the verdict of many, particularly of the Gnostic sects which existed in the first four centuries of our Christian era. It is a view which human weakness is often tempted to accept. For man, no matter how hard his heart may...

    • chapter three The Extended Natural Cosmos
      (pp. 157-178)

      1. In this chapter we want to inquire into the meaning of the natural cosmos, and thereby to understand how the whole universe, including God, can be naturalized. We will attempt to achieve our end by examining the thought of Plato and Augustine. We begin with the hypothetical hypothesis of theProtagorasthat virtue is knowledge, and then pass on to theRepublicand finally to Augustine. In this way we shall uncover the assumptions and principles of the natural cosmos, and how they can be falsely extended to include the entire universe.

      2. Plato in theProtagorasputs forth...

    • chapter four The Meaning of Sin
      (pp. 179-213)

      1. So far we have tried to do three things: (a) We have vindicated the natural cosmos, attempting to show that the natural cosmos is good and not bad, and that the evil of the world does not derive from nature as such. (b) We have seen how with Plato and Augustine the entire cosmos was spoken of in terms of natural relations, and therefore how easy it is to fall into this error. (c) The first point has led us to suggest that we will have to look for the meaning of sin in a region of experience which...

    • chapter five The Meaning of Faith
      (pp. 214-252)

      1. In this chapter we want to discuss the meaning of faith and the fruits of personality which grow out of faith. Such a discussion is the complement to the chapter on the meaning of sin. As sin is the separation from and the destruction of community and therefore of personality, so is faith the integration into and the reconstruction of community. The proper antithesis is between sin and faith. Sin is that closedness which bears the fruits of wicked actions, whereas faith is that openness which flowers into the complete fullness of communal life.

      2. The problem, then, arises...

    • Bibliography
      (pp. 253-258)
  6. ON MY RELIGION (1997)
    (pp. 259-270)

    1. My religion is of interest only to me, as its various phases and how they followed one another are not unusual or especially instructive. I was born into a conventionally religious family. My mother was an Episcopalian, my father a Southern Methodist, but my two parents went to the same Episcopal Church in Baltimore. I never had any sense that either had other than a conventional religion. I too was only conventionally religious until my last two years at Princeton.

    Then things changed. I became deeply concerned about theology and its doctrines—for example, the different ways of conceiving...

  7. General Index
    (pp. 271-276)
  8. Index of Biblical Passages
    (pp. 277-277)