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This is the second of three volumes of posthumously collected writings of G. A. Cohen, who was one of the leading, and most progressive, figures in contemporary political philosophy. This volume brings together some of Cohen's most personal philosophical and nonphilosophical essays, many of them previously unpublished. Rich in first-person narration, insight, and humor, these pieces vividly demonstrate why Thomas Nagel described Cohen as a "wonderful raconteur." The nonphilosophical highlight of the book is Cohen's remarkable account of his first trip to India, which includes unforgettable vignettes of encounters with strangers and reflections on poverty and begging. Other biographical pieces include his valedictory lecture at Oxford, in which he describes his philosophical development and offers his impressions of other philosophers, and "Isaiah's Marx, and Mine," a tribute to his mentor Isaiah Berlin. Other essays address such topics as the truth in "small-c conservatism," who can and can't condemn terrorists, and the essence of bullshit. A recurring theme is finding completion in relation to the world of other human beings. Engaging, perceptive, and empathetic, these writings reveal a more personal side of one of the most influential philosophers of our time.
G. A. Cohen was one of the leading political philosophers of recent times. He first came to wide attention in 1978 with the prize-winning book Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence. In subsequent decades his published writings largely turned away from the history of philosophy, focusing instead on equality, freedom, and justice. However, throughout his career he regularly lectured on a wide range of moral and political philosophers of the past. This volume collects these previously unpublished lectures. Starting with a chapter centered on Plato, but also discussing the pre-Socratics as well as Aristotle, the book moves to social contract theory as discussed by Hobbes, Locke, and Hume, and then continues with chapters on Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche. The book also contains some previously published but uncollected papers on Marx, Hobbes, and Kant, among other figures. The collection concludes with a memoir of Cohen written by the volume editor, Jonathan Wolff, who was a student of Cohen's. A hallmark of the lectures is Cohen's engagement with the thinkers he discusses. Rather than simply trying to render their thought accessible to the modern reader, he tests whether their arguments and positions are clear, sound, and free from contradiction. Throughout, he homes in on central issues and provides fresh approaches to the philosophers he examines. Ultimately, these lectures teach us not only about some of the great thinkers in the history of moral and political philosophy, but also about one of the great thinkers of our time: Cohen himself.
G. A. Cohen was one of the most gifted, influential, and progressive voices in contemporary political philosophy. At the time of his death in 2009, he had plans to bring together a number of his most significant papers. This is the first of three volumes to realize those plans. Drawing on three decades of work, it contains previously uncollected articles that have shaped many of the central debates in political philosophy, as well as papers published here for the first time. In these pieces, Cohen asks what egalitarians have most reason to equalize, he considers the relationship between freedom and property, and he reflects upon ideal theory and political practice. Included here are classic essays such as "Equality of What?" and "Capitalism, Freedom, and the Proletariat," along with more recent contributions such as "Fairness and Legitimacy in Justice," "Freedom and Money," and the previously unpublished "How to Do Political Philosophy. " On ample display throughout are the clarity, rigor, conviction, and wit for which Cohen was renowned. Together, these essays demonstrate how his work provides a powerful account of liberty and equality to the left of Ronald Dworkin, John Rawls, Amartya Sen, and Isaiah Berlin.
Defenders of capitalism claim that its inequality is the necessary price of the freedom that it guarantees. In that defense of capitalist inequality, freedom is self-ownership, the right of each person to do as he wishes with himself. The author shows that self-ownership fails to deliver the freedom it promises to secure. He thereby undermines the idea that lovers of freedom should embrace capitalism and the inequality that comes with it. In the final chapter he reaffirms the moral superiority of socialism, against the background of the disastrous Soviet experiment.
Is socialism desirable? Is it even possible? In this concise book, one of the world's leading political philosophers presents with clarity and wit a compelling moral case for socialism and argues that the obstacles in its way are exaggerated. There are times, G. A. Cohen notes, when we all behave like socialists. On a camping trip, for example, campers wouldn't dream of charging each other to use a soccer ball or for fish that they happened to catch. Campers do not give merely to get, but relate to each other in a spirit of equality and community. Would such socialist norms be desirable across society as a whole? Why not? Whole societies may differ from camping trips, but it is still attractive when people treat each other with the equal regard that such trips exhibit. But, however desirable it may be, many claim that socialism is impossible. Cohen writes that the biggest obstacle to socialism isn't, as often argued, intractable human selfishness--it's rather the lack of obvious means to harness the human generosity that is there. Lacking those means, we rely on the market. But there are many ways of confining the sway of the market: there are desirable changes that can move us toward a socialist society in which, to quote Albert Einstein, humanity has "overcome and advanced beyond the predatory stage of human development."
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