From Neo-orthodox theology to rationalistic deism : a study of the religious influences on the development of John Rawls's political philosophy.
The purpose of this dissertation is to demonstrate that John Rawls’s early religious beliefs guided the development of his later political philosophy. By first analyzing A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin & Faith, I argue that the young Rawls’s embrace of Neo-orthodoxy shaped his later philosophical view of human dignity and that the central themes of his undergraduate thesis reappear in secular forms in his philosophical development, despite his abandonment of Neo-orthodox beliefs soon after World War II. I will trace the changes of Rawls’s view on his own religion through a comparison of his main works, from the young Rawls’s Neo-orthodox beliefs to the later Rawls’s rationalistic deism. In the mature Rawls’s political philosophy, I will show that the secular Rawls still holds the Good Samaritan’s ideals such as fraternity, mutual respect, love, and justice as the motivating forces behind the development of his two principles of justice and the duty of assistance. My conclusion is that even though Rawls gave up the basic beliefs of the Protestant Episcopal Church, he never abandoned the religious motivations that he held in his adolescence. Both the young Rawls’s theological work and the mature Rawls’s philosophical thought share the view that there are deep inequalities and other great evils in society and human history. As a solution, while the young Rawls appeals to the restoration of community through overcoming sin by faith, through A Theory of Justice (1971), Political Liberalism (1993), and The Law of Peoples (1999), the later Rawls pursues the establishment of the realistic utopia of a well-ordered society that will eliminate the great evils through the establishment of just social institutions. Moreover, I show that, contrary to his declared rejection of metaphysics in his theory of justice, Rawls engaged with metaphysical themes such as human nature, theodicy, moral motivation, and the problem of evil throughout his career, from his senior thesis to his later works. In the concluding chapter, I discuss the differences between the young and the later Rawls as he transitioned from Neo-orthodoxy to Rationalistic deism, nevertheless emphasizing that Christian values continued to motivate his work until the end.
Key words: Neo-orthodox Theology, Moral Constructivism, Kantian Constructivism, Political Constructivism, International Morality, Just War, Urgent Human rights, Decency, John Rawls, Emil Brunner.