The religion of John Rawls

I sometimes jest with Robin Hanson that he is a Christian theologian, studying eschatology.  In my dialogue with Peter Singer I described his thought in terms of a longstanding Jewish tradition of commentary on the idea of suffering, a successor to Spinoza you might say.  In Law and Literature class I often ask my students: "What is the author's implicit theology?"

Now Kevin Vallier sends me this very interesting piece on Rawls:

When John Rawls died in 2002, there was found among his files a short statement entitled “On My Religion”, apparently written in the 1990s. In this text Rawls describes the history of his religious beliefs and attitudes towards religion. He refers to a period during his last two years as an undergraduate at Princeton (1941–2) when he “became deeply concerned with theology and its doctrines”, and considered attending a seminary to study for the Episcopal priesthood. But he decided to enlist in the army instead, “as so many of my friends and classmates were doing”. By June of 1945, he had abandoned his orthodox Christian beliefs. With characteristic tentativeness and a disclaimer of self-knowledge, Rawls speculates that his beliefs changed because of his experiences in the war and his reflections on the moral significance of the Holocaust. When he returned to Princeton in 1946, it was to pursue a doctorate in philosophy.

The article, by Joshua Cohen and Thomas Nagel, has much more of interest. It's one of the best mid-length essays I've read in some time.


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