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Rock Bottom

Thomas Nagel: Legislation, 14 October 1999

The Dignity of Legislation 
by Jeremy Waldron.
Cambridge, 210 pp., £35, July 1999, 0 521 65092 5
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... the relation between theories of justice and conceptions of institutional design. Waldron faults John Rawls for treating the institutional question only for the case of a ‘well-ordered society’, one whose members are agreed on the fundamental principles of justice and committed to supporting institutions that conform to them. He argues that since ...

Happy Campers

Ellen Meiksins Wood: G.A. Cohen, 28 January 2010

Why Not Socialism? 
by G.A. Cohen.
Princeton, 83 pp., £10.95, September 2009, 978 0 691 14361 3
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... that its commitment to equality represents a threat to liberty. He also convincingly criticised John Rawls – most recently in Rescuing Justice and Equality – for fundamental weaknesses in his conception of equality. But it is not at all clear that the question posed by Cohen’s last book, ‘Why not socialism?’, can be answered in the terms in ...

The Sober Science

Mark Lilla, 20 April 1995

German Ideology: From France to Germany and Back 
by Louis Dumont.
Chicago, 259 pp., £25.95, March 1995, 0 226 16952 9
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... Aron’s intellectual heirs has led few of them to adopt the language of Mill, let alone that of John Rawls. Many have turned instead to the work of the anthropologist Louis Dumont, the great specialist of India now retired from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes. Dumont was a student of Marcel Mauss and a contemporary of Lévi-Strauss who was virtually ...

Invented Communities

David Runciman: Post-nationalism, 19 July 2001

Democracy in Europe 
by Larry Siedentop.
Penguin, 254 pp., £8.99, June 2001, 0 14 028793 0
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The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays 
by Jürgen Habermas, translated by Max Pensky.
Polity, 216 pp., £45, December 2000, 0 7456 2351 4
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... What is wrong with the idea of a world state? John Rawls, the world’s most celebrated living political philosopher, believes that the answer is relatively straightforward. ‘I follow Kant’s lead in Perpetual Peace,’ he writes, ‘in thinking that a world government – by which I mean a unified political regime with the legal powers normally exercised by central government – would either be a global despotism or else would rule over a fragile empire torn by frequent civil strife as various regions and peoples tried to gain their political freedom and autonomy ...

What Philosophers Dream Of

Geoffrey Hawthorn: Bernard Williams, 2 July 2015

Essays and Reviews 1959-2002 
by Bernard Williams.
Princeton, 435 pp., £24.95, January 2014, 978 0 691 15985 0
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... the revival of liberal political philosophy in the United States in the 1960s, and his reviews of John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin remain some of the most acute there are. But these philosophers started from within. They may have been prompted to write by the establishment of civil rights in the 1960s and the domestic consequences of the Vietnam War, but ...

How do you like your liberalism: fat or thin?

Glen Newey: John Gray, 7 June 2001

Two Faces of Liberalism 
by John Gray.
Polity, 161 pp., £12.99, August 2000, 0 7456 2259 3
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... like Wilson and Blair – by not being about anything.The prominent British political theorist John Gray has also been seen as chameleonic. His passage from Mill to Hayek to Berlin (he has written books on each of them) has prompted charges of swaying with the wind or, still less charitably, being a Vicar of Bray. The Hayek phase coincided with ...

Ultimate Choice

Malcolm Bull: Thoughts of Genocide, 9 February 2006

The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing 
by Michael Mann.
Cambridge, 580 pp., £17.99, January 2005, 0 521 53854 8
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Genocide in the Age of the Nation State. Vol. I: The Meaning of Genocide 
by Mark Levene.
Tauris, 266 pp., £24.50, August 2005, 1 85043 752 1
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Genocide in the Age of the Nation State: Vol. II: The Rise of the West and the Coming of Genocide 
by Mark Levene.
Tauris, 463 pp., £29.50, August 2005, 1 84511 057 9
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... of entire social groups that happen to get in the way. And then there is what Michael Walzer and John Rawls both call a ‘supreme emergency’, when direct attacks on civilian targets are required in circumstances of dire military necessity. Since, in the nuclear age, ‘supreme emergency has become a permanent condition,’ this means that it is ...
Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature 
by Richard Rorty.
Blackwell, 401 pp., £12.50, May 1980, 0 631 12961 8
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The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality and Tragedy 
by Stanley Cavell.
Oxford, 511 pp., £12.50, February 1980, 0 19 502571 7
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Philosophy As It Is 
edited by Ted Honderich and Myles Burnyeat.
Pelican, 540 pp., £2.95, November 1979, 0 14 022136 0
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... Wittgenstein’s. The third member of Rorty’s liberating trinity is – surprisingly – John Dewey, for whom Rorty claims the honour of having understood the importance for the general culture of making essentially the same breach with the philosophical tradition as did Wittgenstein and Heidegger. Philosophy, then, has already undergone its crucial ...

A Bear Armed with a Gun

David Runciman: The Widening Atlantic, 3 April 2003

Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order 
by Robert Kagan.
Atlantic, 104 pp., £10, March 2003, 1 84354 177 7
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... of the ‘rogue state’ is a lot closer to the work of a neo-Kantian political philosopher like John Rawls than to anything you will find in Hobbes. But it is true that far from being stuck in the past, the Americans have moved beyond Hobbes, and Europe, in one crucial respect. That is in their preoccupation with the new threat posed by weapons of mass ...

The Central Questions

Thomas Nagel: H.L.A. Hart, 3 February 2005

A Life of H.L.A. Hart: The Nightmare and the Noble Dream 
by Nicola Lacey.
Oxford, 422 pp., £25, September 2004, 0 19 927497 5
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... and started a great flood of work by others which has not ceased with his death. Along with John Rawls, he initiated the vastly influential tradition within analytic philosophy of substantive moral exploration of major public issues, bringing high standards of clarity, rational argument and lucid expression to questions that matter to many more ...

Personal Identity

Bernard Williams, 7 June 1984

Reasons and Persons 
by Derek Parfit.
Oxford, 543 pp., £17.50, April 1984, 0 19 824615 3
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... and neglected other areas of philosophy, and (with the exception of some philosophers such as John Rawls) other disciplines. Derek Parfit has written a brilliantly clever and imaginative book which treats in a very original way a wide range of ethical questions. It spends virtually no time on meta-ethics (perhaps too little), but it avoids many of ...

The Strangeness of Socrates

T.H. Irwin, 21 November 1991

Socrates, Ironist and Moral Philosopher 
by Gregory Vlastos.
Cambridge, 334 pp., £35, April 1991, 0 521 30733 3
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... of scepticism about constructive moral argument) enjoys renewed favour among moral philosophers. John Rawls has remarked that the ideal method of moral philosophy is Socratic; and Vlastos’s account shows why a Socratic method deserves to be taken seriously and examined critically. Much of the best work on Socratic and Platonic ethics that has been ...

The SDP’s Chances

William Rodgers, 23 October 1986

... been a long debate in the Party about its intellectual roots. Did it owe more to R.H. Tawney or to John Rawls? In a free society, what relative importance should be attached to the values of liberty and equality? How could Social Democrats distinguish themselves from Croslandite democratic socialists if the Labour Party’s temporary recovery was ...

The Estate Agent

Terry Eagleton: Stanley Fish, 2 March 2000

The Trouble with Principle 
by Stanley Fish.
Harvard, 328 pp., £15.50, December 1999, 0 674 91012 5
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... universalism it deplores, rather than a genuine alternative to it. Stanley Fish is the flipside of John Rawls rather as tribalism is the terrible twin of globalism, or the view from nowhere is inevitably countered by the view from us alone. In this respect, Fish is a fully paid-up tribalist who, like Slobodan Milosevic, champions a unique people moulded ...

How do they see you?

Elizabeth Spelman: Martha Nussbaum, 16 November 2000

Sex and Social Justice 
by Martha Nussbaum.
Oxford, 476 pp., £25, July 1999, 0 19 511032 3
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Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach 
by Martha Nussbaum.
Cambridge, 312 pp., £17.95, May 2000, 0 521 66086 6
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... of her blows is shaped in large part by her chosen sparring partners: Aristotle, Kant, Mill, Marx, John Rawls, Amartya Sen, Catharine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, Susan Moller Okin. Though some of the nudging she gives feminists – typically referred to in Sex and Social Justice as ‘them’ but in the more recent Women and Human Development as ‘my ...

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