This essay is an attempt to piece together the elements of G. A. Cohen's thought on the theory of socialism during his long intellectual voyage from Marxism to political philosophy. It begins from his theory of the maldistribution of freedom under capitalism, moves onto his critique of libertarian property rights, to his diagnosis of the “deep inegalitarian” structure of John Rawls' theory and concludes with his rejection of the “cheap” fraternity promulgated by liberal egalitarianism. The paper's exegetical contention is that (...) Cohen's work in political philosophy is best understood in the background of lifelong commitment to a form of democratic, non-market, socialism realizing the values of freedom, equality and community, as he conceived them. The first part of the essay is therefore an attempt to retrieve core socialism-related arguments by chronologically examining the development of Cohen's views, using his books as thematic signposts. The second part brings these arguments together with an eye to reconstructing his vision of socialism. It turns out that Cohen's political philosophy offers a rich conception of objective and subjective freedom, an original understanding of justice as satisfaction of genuine need, and a substantive ideal of fraternity as justificatory community with others. If properly united, these values can suggest a full-bloodied account of the just polity, and give us a glimpse into what it means, for Cohen, to treat people as equals. (shrink)
An egalitarian interpretation and defence of Rawls's principles of justice and their institutional and policy implications in response to G. A. Cohen's criticisms of Rawls's alleged justification of unequalizing incentives. Keywords Applied Philosophy Social and Political Philosophy Rawls G.A. Cohen difference priciple incentives justice property-owning democracy.
In this article, I argue that G. A. Cohen’s defense of the feminist slogan, “The personal is political”, his argument against Rawls’s restriction of principles of justice to the basic structure of society, depends for its intelligibility on the ability to distinguish—with reasonable but perhaps not perfect precision—between those situations in which what Nancy Rosenblum has called “the logic of congruence” is validly invoked and those in which it is not. More importantly, I suggest that the philosophical shape of Cohen’s (...) critique makes it difficult for him to supply the required criterion, and that the methodological “intuitionism” he claims to be committed to is at odds with his larger argument against Rawls concerning the subject of justice. (shrink)
G. A. Cohen was one of the world's leading political theorists. He was noted, in particular, for his contributions to the literature of egalitarian justice. Cohen's classic writings offer one of the most influential responses to the currency of the egalitarian justice question - the question, that is, of whether egalitarians should seek to equalize welfare, resources, opportunity, or some other indicator of well-being. Underlying Cohen's argument is the intuition that the purpose of egalitarianism is to eliminate disadvantage for which (...) it is inappropriate to hold the person responsible. His argument therefore focuses on the appropriate role of considerations regarding responsibility in egalitarian judgment. This volume comprises chapters by major scholars addressing and responding both to Cohen's account of the currency of egalitarian justice and its practical implications and to Cohen's arguments regarding the appropriate form of justificatory arguments about justice. (shrink)
This is a short, critical introduction to Cohen's book and argument: that socialism is justified on several grounds contrary to common opinion. I present Cohen's arguments together with some potential problems as well as responses to them.
G. A. Cohen conceptualizes socialism as luck egalitarianism constrained by a community principle. The latter mitigates certain inequalities to achieve a shared common life. This article explores the plausibility of the community constraint on inequality in light of two related problems. First, if it is voluntary, it fails as a response to “the abandonment objection” to luck egalitarianism, as it would not guarantee imprudent people sufficient resources to avoid deprivation and to function as equal citizens in a democratic society. Contra (...) Cohenite socialism, this appears unjust. Second, if it is instead enforced, coercive equalization beyond sufficiency-constrained luck egalitarianism, which is possibly necessary to achieve a shared common life, seems to require unjustified restrictions on liberty. I therefore argue that the constraint is most plausibly specified as requiring enforcement of sufficiency and only voluntary equalization thereafter. I also note, skeptically, why this constraint might be morally preferable to a purely sufficientarian alternative. (shrink)
1. The present paper is a continuation of my “Self-Ownership, World Ownership, and Equality,” which began with a description of the political philosophy of Robert Nozick. I contended in that essay that the foundational claim of Nozick's philosophy is the thesis of self-ownership, which says that each person is the morally rightful owner of his own person and powers, and, consequently, that each is free to use those powers as he wishes, provided that he does not deploy them aggressively against (...) others. To be sure, he may not harm others, and he may, if necessary, be forced not to harm them, but he should never be forced to help them, as people are in fact forced to help others, according to Nozick, by redistributive taxation. (shrink)
Some ways of defending inequality against the charge that it is unjust require premises that egalitarians find easy to dismiss—statements, for example, about the contrasting deserts and/or entitlements of unequally placed people. But a defense of inequality suggested by John Rawls and elaborated by Brian Barry has often proved irresistible even to people of egalitarian outlook. The persuasive power of this defense of inequality has helped to drive authentic egalitarianism, of an old-fashioned, uncompromising kind, out of contemporary political philosophy. The (...) present essay is part of an attempt to bring it back in. (shrink)
This essay is written on the following premises and argues for them. “Enlightenment” is a word or signifier, and not a single or unifiable phenomenon which it consistently signifies. There is no single or unifiable phenomenon describable as “the Enlightenment,” but it is the definite article rather than the noun which is to be avoided. In studying the intellectual history of the late seventeenth century and the eighteenth, we encounter a variety of statements made, and assumptions proposed, to which the (...) term “Enlightenment” may usefully be applied, but the meanings of the term shift as we apply it. The things are connected, but not continuous; they cannot be reduced to a single narrative; and we find ourselves using the word “Enlightenment” in a family of ways and talking about a family of phenomena, resembling and related to one another in a variety of ways that permit of various generalizations about them. We are not, however, committed to a single root meaning of the word “Enlightenment,” and we do not need to reduce the phenomena of which we treat to a single process or entity to be termed “the” Enlightenment. It is a reification that we wish to avoid, but the structure of our language is such that this is difficult, and we will find ourselves talking of “the French” or “the Scottish,” “the Newtonian” or the “the Arminian” Enlightenments, and hoping that by employing qualifying adjectives we may constantly remind ourselves that the keyword “Enlightenment” is ours to use and should not master us. (shrink)
Abstract G.A. Cohen has produced an influential criticism of libertarian?ism that posits joint ownership of everything in the world other than labor, with each joint owner having a veto right over any potential use of the world. According to Cohen, in that world rationality would require that wealth be divided equally, with no differential accorded to talent, ability, or effort. A closer examination shows that Cohen's argument rests on two central errors of reasoning and does not support his egalitarian conclusions, (...) even granting his assumption of joint ownership. That assumption was rejected by Locke, Pufendorf and other writers on property for reasons that Cohen does not rebut. (shrink)
Abstract In Simple Rules for a Complex World, I outlined a set of legal rules that facilitate just and efficient social interactions among individuals. Frederick Schauer's critique of my book ignores the specific implications of my system in favor of a general critique of simplicity that overlooks the dangers to liberty when complex rules confer vast discretion on public figures. He also does not refer to the nonlibertarian features of my system that allow for overcoming holdout positions. These ?take and (...) pay? rules explain how a system broadly protective of private property responds to well?known two?person (Able?Infirm) hypothetical of the sort advanced by G. A. Cohen, which are designed to show how claims of self?ownership lend strong support to egalitarian outcomes. (shrink)
The relationship between John Locke and Isaac Newton, his co-founder of, in the apt phrase of one recent writer, ‘the Moderate Enlightenment’ of the eighteenth century, has many dimensions. There is their friendship, which began only after each had written his major work, and which had its stormy interlude. There is the difficult question of their mutual impact. In what ways did each draw intellectually on the other? That there was some debt of each to the other is almost certain, (...) but its exact extent is problematic. Questions may be asked over a whole range of intellectual issues, but not always answered. Thus their theology, which was in many respects close, and which forms the bulk of their surviving correspondence, may yet reveal mutual influence. There is the question of their political views, where both were firmly Whig. But it is upon their philosophy, and certain aspects of their philosophy in particular, that this paper will concentrate. My main theme is the nature of their empiricism, and my main contention is that between them they produced a powerful and comprehensive philosophy. (shrink)
The Queen's College, Oxford, UK In his article `Facts and Principles', G.A. Cohen attempts to refute constructivist approaches to justification by showing that, contrary to what their proponents claim, fundamental normative principles are fact- in sensitive. We argue that Cohen's `fact-insensitivity thesis' does not provide a successful refutation of constructivism because it pertains to an area of meta-ethics which differs from the one tackled by constructivists. While Cohen's thesis concerns the logical structure of normative principles, constructivists ask how normative principles (...) should be justified . In particular, their claim that justified fundamental normative principles are fact-sensitive follows from a commitment to agnosticism about the existence of objective moral facts. We therefore conclude that, in order to refute constructivism, Cohen would have to address questions of justification, and take a stand on those long-standing meta-ethical debates about the ontological status of moral notions (for example, realism versus anti-realism) with respect to which he himself wants to remain agnostic. Key Words: John Rawls normative justification realism versus anti-realism methodological versus substantive principles. (shrink)
ABSTRACTThis article offers a reinterpretation of the origins and character of the so-called ‘Cambridge School’ in the history of political thought by reconstructing the intellectual background to J.G.A. Pocock's 1962 essay ‘The History of Political Thought: A Methodological Enquiry’, typically regarded as the first statement of a ‘Cambridge’ approach. I argue that neither linguistic philosophy nor the celebrated work of Peter Laslett exerted a major influence on Pocock's work between 1948 and 1962. Instead, I emphasise the importance of Pocock's interest (...) in the history of historiography and of his doctoral supervisor, Herbert Butterfield. By placing Pocock's intellectual development in these contexts, I suggest, the autonomy of diverse versions of the ‘Cambridge’ approach can more readily be perceived. (shrink)
G. A. Cohen’s claim that fundamental principles are ‘fact-insensitive’ has not received an especially warm welcome from the philosophical community. While some philosophers have expressed doubts about the plausibility of his claim, others have complained that even if his thesis is true, it is also relatively insignificant. In my paper, I argue that the fact-insensitivity thesis, if true, provides considerable support for value pluralism, and is thus of interest for that reason. Though Cohen himself assumes a plurality of fundamental principles, (...) he never argues that the fact-insensitivity thesis supports this assumption. One of my paper’s aims, then, is to fill an argumentative gap in Cohen’s meta-ethical framework. (shrink)
This essay is an attempt to piece together the elements of G. A. Cohen’s thought on the theory of socialism during his long intellectual voyage from Marxism to political philosophy. It begins from his theory of the maldistribution of freedom under capitalism, moves onto his critique of libertarian property rights, to his diagnosis of the “deep inegalitarian” structure of John Rawls’ theory and concludes with his rejection of the “cheap” fraternity promulgated by liberal egalitarianism. The paper’s exegetical contention is that (...) Cohen’s work in political philosophy is best understood in the background of lifelong commitment to a form of democratic, non-market, socialism realizing the values of freedom, equality and community, as he conceived them. The first part of the essay is therefore an attempt to retrieve core socialism-related arguments by chronologically examining the development of Cohen’s views, using his books as thematic signposts. The second part brings these arguments together with an eye to reconstructing his vision of socialism. It turns out that Cohen’s political philosophy offers a rich conception of objective and subjective freedom, an original understanding of justice as satisfaction of genuine need, and a substantive ideal of fraternity as justificatory community with others. If properly united, these values can suggest a full-bloodied account of the just polity, and give us a glimpse into what it means, for Cohen, to treat people as equals. (shrink)
Drawing on the criticisms posed by fraternal egalitarianism against luck egalitarianism, G. A. Cohen proposed a trade-off through the so-called camping-trip model. Since that trade-off was not quite formalized, this article tries to bring up some elements in that direction. To be precise, it will be argued: a) that Cohen wants to bridge his own conception with fraternal egalitarianism by making a distinction between the fairness and legitimacy aspects of justice, together with the affirmation that option luck never preserves justice; (...) b) that the egalitarian and communitarian principles that Cohen considers desirable for socialism operate on the basis of the fairness-legitimacy distinction, so that inequalities generated by genuine choices and bad option luck are just from the perspective of legitimacy but not when seen from fairness, and, as a result, inequalities that hurt the social fabric are causally fundamental whereas the communitarian principle is normatively fundamental; and c) that the communitarian elements that drive Cohen’s compromise are already present in his notions of voluntary equality, egalitarian ethos, strict reading of the Rawlsian difference principle, and justificatory community. (shrink)
Self-Ownership, Freedom and Equality is G.A. Cohens attempt to rescue something of the socialist outlook on society from the challenge of libertarianism, which Cohen identifies with the work of Robert Nozick in his famous book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Sympathizing with the leading idea that a person must belong to himself, and thus be unavailable for forced redistribution of his efforts, Cohen is at pains to reconcile the two. This cannot be done – they are flatly contrary. Moreover, equality is (...) a nonsense principle, calling for such things as equal distribution of natural resources. But resources, as goods, are not natural: all require work to utilize. The only thing exchanged on markets is services, and estimates of value received are relevantly made only by those party to the exchanges in question. Imposition from above on voluntary exchange can only be socially counterproductive. (shrink)
Mills writes: G. A. Cohen's influential ‘technological determinist’ reading of Marx's theory of history rests in part on an interpretation of Marx's use of ‘material’ whose idiosyncrasy has been insufficiently noticed. Cohen takes historical materialism to be asserting the determination of the social by the material/asocial, viz. ‘socio‐neutral’ facts about human nature and human rationality which manifest themselves in a historical tendency for the forces of production to develop. This paper reviews Marx's writings to demonstrate the extensive textual evidence in (...) favour of the traditional interpretation ‐ that for Marx, the ‘material’ includes the economic, and is thus ineluctably social in character. Thus those critics of Cohen who have urged the inclusion of the relations of production in historical materialism's explanans do seem to have Marx's terminological and conceptual backing. (shrink)
Bringing together many of the world's leading political philosophers, this engaging volume reflects the wide-ranging themes in the work of G. A. Cohen. The volume contains essays on a number of key topics, united by questions of social justice, pluralism, equality, and moral duty.
The dialectical method, Marx Insisted, was at the basis of his account of society. In 1858, in a letter to Engels, he wrote: In the method of treatment the fact that by mere accident I again glanced through Hegel's Logic has been of great service to me... If there should ever be the time for such work again, I would greatly like to make accessible to the ordinary human intelligence, in two or three printer's sheets, what is rational in the (...) method which Hegel discovered.1 But he never did find the time for this work. As a result, Marx's dialectical method and the ways in which it draws on Hegel's philosophy remain among the most controversial and least well understood aspects of Marx's work. My purpose in this paper is to explain some of the basic presuppositions of this method and to bring out their significance for Marx's theories. I shall do so by focusing critically on G.A. Cohen 's account of Marxism in Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence. In this important and influential work, Cohen contrives to give an account of 2 Marxism in entirely non-dialectical – indeed, in anti-dialectical – terms. By criticising Cohen 's views I will seek to show that the dialectical method is the necessary basis for an adequate theory of history and an indispensable part of Marx's thought. The major purpose of Cohen 's book is to develop and defend a particular interpretation of historical materialism, the Marxist theory of historical development. Cohen claims that his account is an `old-fashioned' and a `traditional' one ; and, indeed, in certain respects it is. For, in contrast to the tendency of much recent Marxist writing, Cohen strongly emphasises the materialistic and deterministic character of Marx's theory of history. He insists that the development of the productive forces is the primary motive force for historical change, and portrays Marxism as a form of technological determinism. However, there are various different forms of materialism, not all of them Marx's. (shrink)
ABSTRACTI am grateful for J. G. A. Pocock's generous response to my article on his early work and the development of the ‘Cambridge School'. In this brief rejoinder, I try to make clear that I meant in no way to diminish the importance of Pocock's achievement, or its centrality to the ‘Cambridge School’ story, while defending my view of the distinctive character and intellectual genealogy of his work.
G.A. Cohen’s book brings together and elaborates on articles that he has written on selfownership, on Marx’s theory of exploitation, and on the future of socialism. Although seven of the eleven chapters have been previously published (1977-1992), this is not merely a collection of articles. There is a superb introduction that gives an overview of how the chapters fit together and of their historical relation to each other. Most chapters have a new introduction and often a postscript or addendum that (...) connect them with other chapters. And the four new chapters (on justice and market transactions, exploitation in Marx, the concept of self-ownership, and the plausibility of the thesis of self-ownership) are important contributions that round out and bring closure to many of the central issues. As always with Cohen, the writing is crystal clear, and full of compelling examples, deep insights, and powerful arguments. Cohen has long been recognized as one of the most important exponents of analytic Marxism. His innovative, rigorous, and exciting interpretations of Marx’s theories of history and of exploitation have had a major impact on Marxist scholarship. Starting in the mid-1970s he has increasingly turned his attention to normative political philosophy. As Cohen describes it, he was awakened from his “dogmatic socialist slumbers” by Nozick’s famous Wilt Chamberlain example in which people starting from a position of equality (or other favored patterned distribution) freely choose to pay to watch Wilt Chamberlain play, and the net result is inequality (or other unfavored pattern). During the subsequent twenty years, political 1 philosophy has benefited from his thinking about the nature and plausibility of the thesis of selfownership, and about the scope and demands of equality. In what follows I will focus solely on the material dealing with self-ownership, but first I shall mention some of the interesting material on Marxism and socialism that I will be ignoring. First, at various points Cohen discusses how something like a principle of self-ownership is latent in the standard Marxist condemnation of capitalist exploitation (e.g., the capitalist steals labor time from the laborer).. (shrink)
In Why Not Socialism? G.A. Cohen articulates a version of socialism characterized by two values—equality and community—but, being a value pluralist, Cohen is not sanguine about the practical consistency of those values. This paper deals with the relationship between Cohen's formulations of the values of community and equality. I argue that Cohen faces a dilemma: either community and equality are not even in principle consistent, or else they are conceptually compatible. I argue, moreover, that despite the cost to Cohen's value (...) pluralism of accepting the dilemma's second horn, it carries the felicitous consequence of obviating the contingent conflicts between community and equality about which Cohen is concerned. Finally, I suggest that accepting the second horn—that is, the grounds of compatibility between community and equality—is helpful in resolving a puzzle recently raised by John Roemer about Cohen's picture of socialism. (shrink)
In his recent book Rescuing Justice and Equality (Harvard University Press, 2008), G. A. Cohen returns to the defense of his critique of the Rawlsian doctrine of the “basic structure as subject.” This doctrine provides the centerpiece of what Rawls has to say about the domain of distributive justice—that is, about the sorts of things judgments of distributive justice are about and about the ways in which these judgments are interconnected. From the extensiveness of Cohen’s critique of this doctrine, it (...) seems clear that he wants to take a very different view of the boundaries and contours of this domain. However, despite the characteristic clarity and precision with which he describes the Rawlsian doctrine and despite the trenchancy of his criticisms, it is still a matter of some difficulty determining the respects in which he and Rawls are actually in disagreement. (shrink)
A growing sense of the exhaustion of both liberalism and Marxism has fueled a revival of interest in civic republicanism among historians, political theorists, and social commentators. This turn is evaluated via an examination of the normative implications off. G. A. Pocock's account of civic republicanism. Arguing that what is at issue between liberals and republicans has been misunderstood by both sides in the debate, the author shows that the turn to republicanism fails to address the most vexing problems liberalism (...) confronts in the modern world, and that it is and has been compatible with much of what critics of liberalism dislike. He argues, further, that the civic republican view involves an instrumental attitude to outsiders that cannot be justified in today's world and has other unattractive dimensions of which too little account has been taken by defenders and detractors alike. (shrink)
This article offers certain criticisms of some of the main arguments and suggestions put forward by G. A. Cohen in his 1980 Isaac Deutscher Memorial Lecture. As against Cohen I argue: (i) that it is strategically irrelevant for committed socialists or Marxists to argue that capitalism is unjust; (ii) that the political quiescence of the proletariat has less to do with its sense of justice or other ideological factors than with non?ideological factors such as its realization that the struggle for (...) Communism may not be worth it; (iii) that Communism is, anyway, impossible, and (iv) that the tension in Marx and Cohen between the view that capitalism is unjust and that capitalist exploitation is necessary for the productive progress required for the ?ultimate liberation of humanity? cannot be relieved. (shrink)
In his recent book Rescuing Justice and Equality, G. A. Cohen returns to the defense of his critique of the Rawlsian doctrine of the “basic structure as subject.” This doctrine provides the centerpiece of what Rawls has to say about the domain of distributive justice—that is, about the sorts of things judgments of distributive justice are about and about the ways in which these judgments are interconnected. From the extensiveness of Cohen’s critique of this doctrine, it seems clear that he (...) wants to take a very different view of the boundaries and contours of this domain. However, despite the characteristic clarity and precision with which he describes the Rawlsian doctrine and despite the trenchancy of his criticisms, it is still a matter of some difficulty determining the respects in which he and Rawls are actually in disagreement. (shrink)
J.G.A. Pocock has been a dominant force in the history of political thought since his first major work, The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law, was published in 1957. This article is focused on the contribution he has made to the study of the revolutions of seventeenth-century England and the extraordinary body of political discourse to which they gave rise. It begins with an examination of the ways in which ideas about continuity, innovation, institutions and historiography have shaped his approach (...) to the history of political thought and their application to seventeenth-century conditions. Central to a fundamental continuity in his ideas over the last five decades have been notions about the interface of 'paradigms' with both language and socio-political circumstance in the construction and deconstruction of both historiographies and political theories. The article then offers a critical assessment of his contribution to our understanding of the English Revolution. (shrink)
Summary One of the great intellectual productions of the postwar period, J. G. A. Pocock's The Machiavellian Moment was also an intervention in the American polity of the 1970s. The book's content, its rhetorical style, its methodology, and even its physical printed form were all designed to effectuate a political gesture. The crises of 1968 to 1973 invalidated the optimistic liberalism of Pocock's academic circle. The history of political language offered a refuge and a programmatic foundation for Pocock's pragmatic conservatism. (...) The Machiavellian Moment was designed to reinforce the weight of tradition in contemporary political debate. (shrink)
Summary This paper traces a mutually reinforcing set of arguments about the practice of history in the work of J. G. A. Pocock and Paul Ricoeur that responds to challenges posed to the autonomy of selves and their communities raised by both thinkers. It begins with their respective views on language, texts and actions, moves to the construction of narrative and historiography, and concludes with their account of selves and the communities to which they belong. Corresponding to these three considerations (...) are a set of conclusions drawn with different emphases: first, that both texts and acts are potentially open to indefinite and plural interpretations; second, that narrative and historiography are constitutively contested modes of critical discourse continually open to the construction of new meaning; and third, that the contested, capable, narrative self, and the community to which that mediated self belongs, exercises autonomy as an active, responsible, reflective citizen and/or critical historian. It concludes from this study that the limited openness of language, narrative and identity constitutes the promise and risk of history as a contested and affective representation. (shrink)
This note will challenge G. A. Cohen's view of the interaction between legal systems and economic structures; such interaction raises the so‐called problem of legality, which Cohen sets out to solve in the eighth chapter of Karl Marx's Theory of History . In the course of this note, we shall interrogate the presumed rigor of Cohen's theory of base/superstructure relations, to which his understanding of law is central. His approach will not be simply destroyed, but will be resituated in a (...) network of problems that can highlight a certain fissure between his aspirations and his performance. (shrink)
Discussion held in April at a Political Studies Association Roundtable in Manchester, England, on G. A. Cohen’s book If You’re an Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich?. --- Michael Otsuka's contribution sub-titled: "Il personale e politico? Il confine tra pubblico e private nella sfera della giustizia distributiva" = "Is the personal political? The boundary between the public and the private in the realm of distributive justice.".