“The world in its essence, is a community, a community of creator and created, and has its source, God.

Thus concludes a recently published Princeton undergraduate thesis, recently recovered by Princeton’s Eric Gregory. The thesis was written in 1942 . . . . by John Rawls!

Before he got to his better known works, he had lost his faith, among other things because of Auschwitz: “How could I pray and ask God to help me, or my family, or my country, or any other cherished thing I cared about, when God would not save millions of Jews from Hitler . . . . To interpret history as expressing God’s will, God’s will must accord with the most basic ideas of justice as we know them. For what else can the most basic justice be? Thus, I soon came to reject the idea of the supremacy of the divine will as . . . hideous and evil.”

That’s more the Rawls we might expect. But the undergraduate thesis elicits a painful “what might have been” moment.

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