John Rawls at 100: Theorist of Liberalism and Justice


It is rare for academic philosophers to greatly influence society. American moral and political philosopher John Rawls (21 February 1921—24 November 2002) is one candidate to have achieved this.

Rawls is widely considered the most important political philosopher of the 20th century, recipient of several prizes including the National Humanities Medal. His works have been used in court rulings and invoked by politicians. People who have not read his works may find themselves using his ideas.

Rawls is best known for his defence of liberal egalitarianism in his first book, A Theory of Justice (1971). This book took elements of the social contract tradition to argue for principles of justice with a liberal and egalitarian slant over the Utilitarian approach which prevailed at the time.

In the first half of the day we will look at Rawls’ way of approaching moral and political philosophy, considering whether this is still relevant. We then look at how he applied his approach to the basic institutions of society, his theory of justice. The most discussed of his principles of justice is his famous ‘difference principle.’ This holds that inequalities should be allowed to the extent that they benefit the worst off. How does Rawls argue for this and does this influence economists and politicians today?

In the second half of the day we will consider Rawls’ later work, Political Liberalism and its ongoing influence on politics and the law. Rawls argues that political life should be conducted according to a secular ‘public reason’ which shows respect to those who disagree. Questions of tolerating the intolerant are a perpetual theme in liberalism. Those who are unable to sign up to the requirements of political liberalism are labelled unreasonable. Is this fair?

Rawls’ book A Theory of Justice is one of the most cited works in the humanities and social sciences of the 20th century. It has influenced not only moral and political philosophy but also economics and law.

This day school will summarise Rawls’ contribution and consider its ongoing influence in both academic discourse and in the wider world.

Programme details

9.45am: Registration

10.00am: Rawls’ early life and the moral methodology of A Theory of Justice (1971), Dr Doug Bamford

11.15am: Coffee/tea

11.35am: Justice as Fairness – Rawls’ principles of Justice, Dr Doug Bamford

1.00pm: Lunch

2.00pm: A Political Turn – Later Rawls’ Political Liberalism (1993), Dr Sabrina Martin (presenting remotely)

3.15pm: Coffee/tea

3.45pm: Rawls on International Justice – The Law of Peoples An assessment of Rawls’ impact, Dr Doug Bamford

5.00pm: Course disperses


Description Costs
Tuition - in-person attendance £80.00
Tuition - virtual attendance £80.00
Baguette £5.50
Hot Lunch £15.50


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Doug Bamford

Course Tutor

Doug Bamford teaches courses in philosophy and political economy at OUDCE. His main interest is in political philosophy and its application to public policy. He received his PhD in Political Philosophy at the University of Warwick in 2013. He is author of Rethinking Taxation (Searching Finance, 2014) and several papers (including articles in the Journal of Applied Philosophy and Moral Philosophy and Politics). He blogs at Doug Bamford's Tax Appeal.

Dr Sabrina Martin


Fellow and Lecturer in Politics, Keble College Oxford; Fixed-Term Fellow in Politics, Pembroke College Oxford


Accommodation is not included in the price, but if you wish to stay with us the night before the course, then plesae contact our Residential Centre.

Accommodation in Rewley House - all bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished and each room has tea and coffee making facilities, Freeview television, and Free WiFi and private bath or shower rooms.  Please contact our Residential Centre on +44 (0) 1865 270362 or email for details of availability and discounted prices.

IT requirements

You can opt to attend this hybrid teaching event either online (via a livestream) or in person at Rewley House, Oxford. You will be given the option of how you wish to attend during the enrolment process. You can only pick one option. If your preferred attendance format is fully booked, you can email us to be put on the waiting list.

For those joining us online

The University of Oxford uses Microsoft Teams for our learning environment. If you’re attending online, you’ll be able to see and hear the speakers, and to submit questions via the Teams interface. Joining instructions will be sent out prior to the start date. We recommend that you join the session at least 10-15 minutes prior to the start time – just as you might arrive a bit early at our lecture theatre for an in-person event.

If you have not used the Microsoft Teams app before, once you click the joining link you will be invited to download it (this is free). Once you have downloaded the app, please test before the start of your course. If you are using a laptop or desktop computer, you will also be offered the option of connecting using a web browser. If you connect via a web browser, Chrome is recommended.

Please note that this course will not be recorded.