at the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale

Global Justice Program

Students and scholars gather to honor Rawls's work and life

The event that for the last few months we have been calling "Rawls Fest" took place last Friday, November 30, 2012, in the Faculty Room of Yale's Connecticut Hall. This one-day workshop was held in honor of the 10th anniversary of John Rawls' passing (November 24, 2002).

Our gratitude goes to the Yale Philosophy Department, which kindly hosted the event. We were honored to have the Department Chair, Professor Tamar Szabó Gendler, deliver the opening remarks, and we are happy to say that "Rawls Fest" was a success. It was a well-attended workshop, which brought together established scholars and younger students to exchange thoughts on Rawls's work and legacy.

More than 50 people attended the conference, including renowned academics Jon Mandle, Paul Weithman, Dan Dombrowski, and Michelle Moody-Adams (to name only a few) and graduate students from Yale and other colleges and universities. In particular, we were happy to have with us several students from Sarah Lawrence College and Fairfield University, and are grateful to their professors of politics and philosophy, David Peritz and Joy Gordon, for encouraging them to attend.

Special thanks go to all the presenters and chairs of our six sessions: Paul Weithman, who chaired Andrius Gališanka's presentation; Daniel Dombrowski, who chaired for P. Mackenzie Bok; Carmen Dege, who chaired for Andrei Poama; Andrew Lister, who chaired for Esha Senchaudhuri and Kyle Adams; Lea Brilmayer, who chaired for Timothy Waligore; and Jon Mandle, who chaired for Hyunseop Kim. We greatly enjoyed the presentations and the discussions that followed.

The day was divided in 4 parts. In the first session, "Rawls in Context: The Early Days," we had occasion to learn from students of American intellectual history (Gališanka and Bok) who have worked in the Rawls archive, held by the Pusey Library of Harvard University. Andrius Gališanka's presentation dealt with the relationship between the early Rawls and logical positivism by focusing on papers that Rawls wrote during his graduate years at Princeton (1946-1951). Kenzie Bok's presentation focused on papers that Rawls wrote in the 1950s and dealt with the relationship between Rawls's way of conceiving political philosophy, contemporary Aristotelianism, and the later of Wittgenstein's works.

The second session, "Between Correction and Distribution," was dedicated to the unusual topic of Rawls and the problem of punishment. Andrei Poama's presentation put in relation Rawls's renowned first principle of justice with the problems of corrective justice, and it focused on the problem of envisaging a penal system from the perspective of Rawls's original position.

In the third session, "The Private, the Public, and the Semi-Public," Esha Senchaudhuri and Kyle Adams engaged in a conversation while presenting two perspectives on the problem of the scope of public reason. Esha made use of the notion of a 'sympathetic liberalism' while Kyle defended what he deemed a 'narrow' conception of public reason.

In the fourth session, "Beyond Borders," Timothy Waligore focused on what he deemed the limits of Rawls's well-known difference principle, by dealing with the problem of historical injustice. Tim proposed a 'historicized difference principle' as a way of bridging the gap between ideal and non-ideal theory with regard to the present and future assessment of inherited forms of injustice. Hyunseop Kim presented a reading of The Law of Peoples hinged on the notion of stability. Hyunseop argued that the concern for internal stability of a liberal democracy – a crucial concern for Rawls in Political Liberalism – is also at the core of Rawls's arguments about international justice.

All the papers are available for download on our website.

Last but not least, we are deeply grateful to Mardy Rawls and Rawls's two daughters, Anne Warfield and Elizabeth (Liz) Fox, who kindly agreed to conclude our conference with an amusing and touching reading on Rawls’s private life.

To the memory of
John Bordley Rawls
Baltimore, MD - February 21, 1921
Lexington, MA - November 24, 2002

View Program.