John Rawls (1921-2002) is an American political philosopher. He was born in Baltimore. He did his undergraduate degree at Princeton, graduating in 1943. After that, he enlisted in the military and served as an infantryman in New Guinea, the Philippines, and Japan, where he witnessed the aftermath of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. He went back to Princeton after the war to finish his doctorate in moral philosophy. In the early 1950s, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford University, where Isaiah Berlin had an influence on him. After that, he worked at Cornell and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and in 1962, he got a job at Harvard, where he would stay for 40 years.
Rawls is best known for his 1971 magnum opus, A Theory of Justice. One of the most cited humanities books in history, A Theory of Justice focuses on the problem of distributive justice and introduces two principles that have since become famous: the principle of liberty and the principle of difference. According to Rawls’ first principle, which he considers to be inviolable, for a society to be just, everyone needs to be able to speak, gather, and worship freely. The second, more complicated principle asserts that the economy must be structured in such a way that it is most beneficial to the least fortunate and that everyone has access to opportunities for social advancement. Although A Theory of Justice is a work that has sparked a lot of debate, it has in many ways set the tone for political science debates about social justice since it was published nearly four decades ago. These ideas were extended to international politics in his subsequent works, particularly Political Liberalism (1993) and The Law of Peoples (1999).