Born at Skipton, Yorkshire, Henry Sidgwick studied at Trinity College, Cambridge University, where he was appointed a fellow in 1859. In 1869 he resigned his fellowship when growing religious doubts led him to decide that he could no longer subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican church (as fellows were required to do). He was subsequently reappointed when the religious requirements were abolished, becoming professor of moral philosophy in 1883 and continuing to teach at Trinity College until his death. Sidgwick was active in many fields: education, classics, literature, political theory, and history as well as philosophy. He was interested in the cause of women's education and was instrumental in the founding of Newnham College for women at Cambridge. Sidgwick's most important contributions to philosophy lie in the field of ethics, and his most important work is Methods of Ethics (1874). In ethical theory, he was a proponent of utilitarianism; he is generally regarded as the third great representative of that position, along with Bentham and John Stuart Mill (see also Vols. 1 and 3). He rejected the empiricism on which earlier utilitarians had grounded their theory and displayed much greater complexity and sophistication in treating the psychology of moral motivation. In political theory, Sidgwick was more conservative than either Bentham or Mill.
John Rawls, professor of philosophy at Harvard University, had published a number of articles on the concept of justice as fairness before the appearance of his magnum opus, A Theory of Justice (1971). While the articles had won for Rawls considerable prestige, the reception of his book thrust him into the front ranks of contemporary moral philosophy. Presenting a Kantian alternative to conventional utilitarianism and intuitionism, Rawls offers a theory of justice that is contractual and that rests on principles that he alleges would be accepted by free, rational persons in a state of nature, that is, of equality. The chorus of praise was loud and clear. Stuart Hampshire acclaimed the book as "the most substantial and interesting contribution to moral philosophy since the war."H. A. Bedau declared: "As a work of close and original scholarship in the service of the dominant moral and political ideology of our civilization, Rawls's treatise is simply without a rival." Rawls historically achieved two important things: (1) He articulated a coherent moral philosophy for the welfare state, and (2) he demonstrated that analytic philosophy was most capable of doing constructive work in moral philosophy. A Theory of Justice has become the most influential work in political, legal, and social philosophy by an American author in the twentieth century.