A Brief Inquiry Into the Meaning of Sin and Faith

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Harvard University Press, 2009 - Philosophy - 275 pages

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. At that time Rawls was deeply religious; the thesis is a significant work of theological ethics, of interest both in itself and because of its relation to his mature writings. “On My Religion,” a short statement drafted in 1997, describes the history of his religious beliefs and attitudes toward religion, including his abandonment of orthodoxy during World War II.

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.

The texts display the profound engagement with religion that forms the background of Rawls’s later views on the importance of separating religion and politics. Moreover, the moral and social convictions that the thesis expresses in religious form are related in illuminating ways to the central ideas of Rawls’s later writings. His notions of sin, faith, and community are simultaneously moral and theological, and prefigure the moral outlook found in Theory of Justice.

 

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Though by far the most influential political philosopher in the 20th century, Rawls has never been considered a philosopher of religion. However, his senior thesis at Princeton, published here ... Read full review

Contents

The Theological Ethics of the Young Rawls and Its Background
24
A BRIEF INQUIRY INTO THE MEANING OF SIN AND FAITH
103
A Note on the Text
104
Preface
107
A General Prospectus
110
Vindication of the Natural Cosmos
129
The Extended Natural Cosmos
157
The Meaning of Sin
179
The Meaning of Faith
214
Bibliography
253
ON MY RELIGION
259
General Index
271
Index of Biblical Passages
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About the author (2009)

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

Thomas Nagel is University Professor, Professor of Law, and Professor of Philosophy at New York University.

Joshua Cohen is the author of Book of Numbers which has been shortlisted for the 2015 Bad S-x in Fiction Award.

Robert Merrihew Adams is Clark Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, Yale University.

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