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)
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)
In this essay I describe how contractarianism might approach interspecies welfare conflicts. I start by discussing a contractarian account of the moral status of nonhuman animals. I argue that contractors can agree to norms that would acknowledge the “moral standing” of some animals. I then discuss how the norms emerging from contractarian agreement might constrain any comparison of welfare between humans and animals. Contractarian agreement is likely to express some partiality to humans in a way that discounts the welfare of (...) some or all animals. While the norms emerging from the contract might be silent or inconsistent in some tragic or catastrophic cases, in most ordinary conflicts of welfare, contractors will agree to norms that produce some determinate resolution. What the agreement says can evolve depending upon how the contractors or the circumstances change. I close with some remarks on contractarian indeterminacy. (shrink)
Expressions used in religious contexts have often seemed odd and paradoxical to philosophers. Statements have appeared in Christian discourse to the effect that God is not a person and yet is a person, that he is a servant and a king, that he is nothingness and being itself. These statements appear unintelligible either because their terms are self-contradictory or because they are mutually exclusive.
Following the practice of human beings everywhere historians distinguish the real or most significant cause of an occurrence or state of affairs from ‘less important considerations’, ‘precipitating circumstances’, or ‘mere conditions’. I shall term claims that some phenomenon is most basically to be attributed to some one of the factors causally necessary for its occurrence attributive causal explanations or causal attributions and discuss here the extent to which moral convictions are constitutive of them.
In the past empiricist philosophy has urged one or other or both of two interconnected, and sometimes interconfused, theses. The first has been a thesis about the causal origins of certain beliefs, the second a thesis about the proper criteria for appraising these beliefs. The causal thesis is that all beliefs about the structure and contents of the natural world are the end-product of a process that originates wholly in individual experiences of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching. The criterial (...) thesis is that all these beliefs are ultimately to be appraised for their truth, soundness or acceptability in terms of the data afforded by such perceptual acts. Of recent years the causal version of empiricism has been much attacked, primarily in regard to its implications about language-learning. The language in terms of which our beliefs are constructed is heavily conditioned, we are told, by certain congenital features of the human brain. But, whenever Chomsky and his followers have assailed the causal version of empiricism, they have always been careful to claim for their doctrines the warrant of empirical evidence. They have never questioned the correctness of the criterial version of empiricism. (shrink)
In this essay I offer a partial rehabilitation of Cohen’s Kant interpretation. In particular, I will focus on the center of Cohen’s interpretation in KTE, reflected in the title itself: his interpretation of Kant’s concept of experience. “Kant hat einen neuen Begriff der Erfahrung entdeckt,”7 Cohen writes at the opening of the first edition of KTE (henceforth, KTE1), and while the exact nature of that new concept of experience is hard to pin down in the 1871 edition, he states it (...) succinctly in the second edition (henceforth KTE2): experience is Newtonian mathematical natural science.8 While this equation of experience with mathematical natural science has few contemporary defenders, I believe it is substantially correct, with one important qualification. Kant uses the term Erfahrung in a number of different senses in the Kritik der reinen Vernunft (henceforth, KrV). I will argue that a central, and neglected, sense of that key technical term aligns with Cohen’s reading; what Kant sometimes refers to as ‘universal experience’ (sometimes, simply ‘experience’) is, in broad outlines, correctly interpreted by Cohen as mathematical natural science. (shrink)
As any fan of Leonard Cohen will tell you, many of his songs are deeply “philosophical,” in the sense that they deal reflectively and intelligently with the many of the basic issues of everyday human life, such as death, sex, love, God, and the meaning of life. It may surprise these same listeners to discover that much of academic philosophy (both past and present) has relatively little in common with this sort of introspective reflection, but is instead highly abstract, methodologically (...) complex, and filled with technical terminology that can make it inaccessible to anyone except specialists. This is not true of all philosophy, however, and Cohen’s focus on the immediate problems facing ordinary humans has much in common with the theories and ideas proposed by the Hellenistic philosophers who dominated the intellectual life of Greek- and Roman-influenced Europe for almost a thousand years. In this essay, I’ll use Cohen’s songs to examine the three major branches of Hellenistic thought: Stoicism (That’s No Way to Say Goodbye, If It Be Your Will), Epicureanism (Everybody Knows, Closing Time), and Skepticism (Famous Blue Raincoat, Different Sides). (shrink)
Some commentators on Hermann Cohen have remarked on what they take to be a puzzle about the origins of his mature anti-psychologism. When Cohen was young, he studied a kind of psychology, the Völkerpsychologie of Moritz Lazarus and Heymann Steinthal, and wrote apparently psycholgistic accounts of knowledge almost up until the moment he first articulated his anti-psychologistic neo-Kantianism. To be sure, Cohen's mature anti psycholgism does constitute a rejection of certain central commitments of Völkerpsychologie. However, the relation between Völkerpsychologie and (...) Cohen's mature anti-psychologism is not one of straightforward opposition. This paper argues that Cohen had significantly less distance to travel than it appears to get from his early Völkerpsychologie to his mature anti-psychologism. In particular, this paper argues that Cohen always had an anti-psychologistic account of knowledge, even during the period when he was studying Völkerpsychologie, and further, that key features of his Völkerpsychologie partly shaped his mature account of knowledge. Finally, the paper identifies how Cohen’s views did change over the transition from his völkerpsychological period to his later anti-psychologism. It thus identifies what changes in Cohen’s views do need to be explained. (shrink)
In Bertrand Russell's 1903 Principles of Mathematics, he offers an apparently devastating criticism of the neo-Kantian Hermann Cohen's Principle of the Infinitesimal Method and its History (PIM). Russell's criticism is motivated by his concern that Cohen's account of the foundations of calculus saddles mathematics with the paradoxes of the infinitesimal and continuum, and thus threatens the very idea of mathematical truth. This paper defends Cohen against that objection of Russell's, and argues that properly understood, Cohen's views of limits and infinitesimals (...) do not entail the paradoxes of the infinitesimal and continuum. Essential to that defense is an interpretation, developed in the paper, of Cohen's positions in the PIM as deeply rationalist. The interest in developing this interpretation is not just that it reveals how Cohen's views in the PIM avoid the paradoxes of the infinitesimal and continuum. It also reveals some of what is at stake, both historically and philosophically, in Russell's criticism of Cohen. (shrink)
G. A. Cohen is well known within contemporary political philosophy for claiming that the scope of principles of justice extends beyond the design of institutions to citizens’ personal choices. More recently, he’s also received attention for claiming that principles of justice are normatively ultimate, i.e., that they’re necessary for the justification of action guiding principles (regulatory rules) but are unsuitable to guide political practice themselves. The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between these claims as they’re applied (...) in criticism of John Rawls. It argues that ascribing normative ultimacy to justice entails its application to personal choice. However, it also argues that if Cohen is right about Rawls’s difference principle being regulatory rather than ultimate, then his earlier claim that Rawls must extend it to personal choice on pain of inconsistency is refuted. (shrink)
G.A. Cohen is famous for his critique of John Rawls’s view that principles of justice are restricted in scope to institutional structures. In recent work, however, Cohen has suggested that Rawlsians get more than just the scope of justice wrong: they get the concept wrong too. He claims that justice is a fundamental value, i.e. a moral input in our deliberations about the content of action-guiding regulatory principles, rather than the output. I argue here that Cohen’s arguments for extending the (...) scope of justice equivocate across his distinction between fundamental principles of justice, i.e. principles that tell us what justice is; and regulatory principles of justice, i.e. principles that tell us what is required of us, all things – including justice – considered. Though Cohen initially had the regulatory sense of the word ‘justice’ in mind when critiquing the basic structure restriction, his replies to the problem of demandingness presuppose his own, fundamental sense of the word ‘justice’. The upshot is that he escapes demandingness at the cost of sacrificing regulatory justice’s capacity to provide clear guidance. I conclude by considering Peter Singer’s efforts to deal with demandingness in his own work on global poverty. Since Singer manages to deal with demandingness without giving up clarity, his work is a good a place to start in the search for regulatory principles that are suitable for the context of personal choice. (shrink)
The professor of psychopathology Simon Baron-Cohen is well-known for his thesis that males are on average better at systematizing than empathizing and females are on average better at empathizing than systematizing. In this paper, I note an ambiguity in how he defines systematizing.
The German text of Cohen’s Spinoza on State & Religion, Judaism & Christianity (Spinoza über Staat und Religion, Judentum und Christentum) first appeared in 1915 in the Jahrbuch für jüdische Geschichte und Literatur. Two years before, in the winter of 1913, Cohen taught a class and a seminar on Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums. This was Cohen’s first semester at the Hochschule, after retiring from more than thirty years of teaching at the University of (...) Marburg. Cohen’s fame at the time was at its zenith, and his move to the Hochschule was a cause for celebration and excitement. According to the testimony of some students who attended the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus seminar, Cohen left no place for any expression of dissent (regrettably, the academy frequently encourages such authoritarian behavior). The text of Spinoza on State, which was the product of this seminar, still bears the marks of this “didactic” attitude. It is bombastic and feebly argued. Thus, in one moment of emotional crescendo in the text, we can literally hear Cohen shout: When Spinoza, with merciless severity, makes his own nation the object of contempt – at the time that Rembrandt lived on the same street and immortalized the ideal type of the Jew - no voices rises in protest against this humanly incomprehensible betrayal. Such patriotic rhetoric is quite typical of Cohen’s Spinoza on State, as the work reads more like a series of rants against the devil incarnated (“the demonic spirit of Spinoza”) in the figure of the traitor from Amsterdam than like a sustained and serious philosophical polemic. From time to time, one can observe hints of critical arguments, but hardly any are fleshed out. The text is also replete with rudimentary factual and interpretative errors. Thus, when Cohen argues that Spinoza traces his pantheism to Jewish sources, Cohen erroneously cites Spinoza’s reference in E2p7s to “some of the Hebrews [quidam Hebraeorum]” who argued for the identity of Sekhel, Maskil, and Muskal (the Intellect, the Intellecting Subject, and the Intellected Object) – a Maimonidean doctrine that has nothing to do with pantheism – while the text Cohen clearly had in mind was Spinoza’s claim, in Letter 73, that the traditions (traditionibus) of the “ancient Hebrews [antiquis Hebraeis]” agree with Spinoza’s claim that “all things are in God.” Similarly, and on the very same page, Cohen ascribes to Spinoza the claim that “the God of the Old Testament is only a body,” a claim which is nowhere to be found in Spinoza’s works, and which can be inferred from Spinoza’s text only through a patent fallacy. If I may add one last example, consider the following passage from Cohen’s Spinoza on State: [For Spinoza] divine law is grounded in our mind. Yet this does not mean that our mind bears responsibility for producing and obeying the law. Instead, it means that, by definition, the human mind and God are identical, inasmuch as He exists in the human mind. Hardly any claim in this brief passage is correct. Yet, what is most striking is Cohen’s derivation of the identity of God and the human mind from the claim that God exists in the human mind. If I exist in North America, this obviously does not imply that I am identical to North America (there are, for example, a couple of North American porcupines and alligators that are distinct from me). What rule of inference Cohen sought to employ in this argument, and how this impressive inference of the identity of God and the human mind is supposed to square with Cohen’s view of Spinoza as a pantheist – i.e., as considering the physical nature to be divine – is beyond my grasp. Instead of tracking down the dozens of crude errors and fallacies in Cohen’s text, I would like to concentrate here on one crucial issue: Cohen’s critique of Spinoza’s pantheism. By doing this, I will have to pass silently over a couple of surprising agreements between the two figures, such as the (false) claim that all of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible taught the same universal and simple morality. My discussion of pantheism will be divided into two sections. In the first, I will examine Cohen’s understanding of Spinoza’s pantheism. In the second, I will briefly examine the historical validity of Cohen’s claim that pantheism is a Christian doctrine, diametrically opposed to Judaism. (shrink)
Cohen’s hostility to Rawls’ justification of the Difference Principle by social facts spawned Cohen’s general thesis that ultimate principles of justice and morality are fact-insensitive, but explain how any fact-sensitive principle is grounded in facts. The problem with this thesis, however, is that when facts F ground principle P, reformulating this relation as the "fact-insensitive" conditional “If F, then P” is trivial and thus explanatorily impotent. Explanatory, hence justificatory, force derives either from subsumption under more general principles, or precisely exhibiting (...) value in light of relevant (actual or hypothetical) facts. In examples where no subsumption occurs, actual facts trivially become hypothetical facts in "fact-insensitive" conditionals, an empty formalism. Indeed, Rawls’ grounding of principles of justice in “conditions of life” can easily be reformulated as a conditional principle “sensitive” only to hypothetical such conditions, and thus formally fact-insensitive in Cohen's sense, for all Cohen’s ire against Rawls’s grounding.Moreover, any plausible “ultimate fact-insensitive principle” must be intricately qualified, which tacit ceteris paribus clauses mask. Each qualification implies prioritisation of one principle over another in conceivable circumstances, and wherever the now qualified principle is given scope, that too implies prioritisation over competing principles in typical circumstances. Any principle is thus sensitive to conceivable circumstances of application, as recognised by more sophisticated intuitionisms. Non-trivial ultimate principles – luck egalitarianism, act utilitarianism, etc. - require defense, which inevitably involves showing how they best interpret and respond to facts about human needs, goals, and capacities in predictable circumstances. Finally, the substantive debate between Rawls and Cohen about which facts are relevant to the DP is only obscured by the doctrine of fact-insensitivity. (shrink)
This paper assesses G. A. Cohen's critique of Rawlsian special incentives. Two arguments are identified and criticized: an argument that the difference principle does not justify incentives because of a limitation on an agent's prerogative to depart from a direct promotion of the interests of the worst off, and an argument that justice is limited in its scope. The first argument is evaluated and defended from the criticism that once Cohen has conceded some ethically grounded special incentives he cannot sustain (...) his critique of special incentives. But it is finally rejected as a subtle form of an unreasonably demanding moral rigorism. The second argument is interpreted as the more plausible of Cohen's claims. It has, however, to be defended via two subsidiary theses: the claim that Rawls endorses a moral division of labour and that this in turn grounds a further commitment to moral dualism as opposed to moral monism. This argument is assessed and rejected. Neither the moral division of labour nor moral monism supports the claim that in applying the principles of justice to a basic structure one does not thereby apply them to the individuals constrained to act within that structure in the marketing of their labour. Nor is it plausible to identify local aspects of social relations where the principles of justice are suspended. Such principles are presupposed, for example in market relations or the family, but limitation in scope of direct application does not limit the scope of justification. That scope extends at least as far as individual decisions to market one's labour. The latter are made fair in the only possible way they could be made fair. Rawls's commitment to the revisionary socialism of James Meade illustrates this point. It is concluded that no version of Cohen's critique succeeds. However, Cohen's critique identifies the most plausible version of Rawls's egalitarianism. (shrink)
German supporters of the Kantian philosophy in the late 19th century took one of two forks in the road: the fork leading to Baden, and the Southwest School of neo-Kantian philosophy, and the fork leading to Marburg, and the Marburg School, founded by Hermann Cohen. Between 1876, when Cohen came to Marburg, and 1918, the year of Cohen's death, Cohen, with his Marburg School, had a profound influence on German academia.
In an intriguing essay, G. A. Cohen has defended a conservative bias in favour of existing value. In this paper, we consider whether Cohen’s conservatism raises a new challenge to the use of human enhancement technologies. We develop some of Cohen’s suggestive remarks into a new line of argument against human enhancement that, we believe, is in several ways superior to existing objections. However, we shall argue that on closer inspection, Cohen’s conservatism fails to offer grounds for a strong sweeping (...) objection to enhancement, and may even offer positive support for forms of enhancement that preserve valuable features of human beings. Nevertheless, we concede that Cohen’s arguments may suggest some plausible and important constraints on the modality of legitimate and desirable enhancements. (shrink)
The neo-Kantian Hermann Cohen is famously anti-empiricist in that he denies that sensations can make a definable contribution to knowledge. However, in the second edition of Kant’s Theory of Experience (1885), Cohen considers a proposition that contrasts with both his other work and that of his followers: a Kantian who studies scientific claims to truth—and the grounds on which they are made—cannot limit himself to studying mathematics and logical principles, but needs to also investigate underlying presuppositions about the empirical element (...) of science. Due to his subjectivist approach, Cohen argues, Kant not only failed to explain how scientific observation and experiments are possible, but also misconceived the role of the ideas, particularly the idea of a system of nature. (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)
G.A. Cohen is well known within contemporary political philosophy for claiming that the scope of principles of justice extends beyond the design of institutions to citizens’ personal choices. More recently, he’s also received attention for claiming that principles of justice are normatively ultimate, i.e., that they’re necessary for the justification of action guiding principles but are unsuitable to guide political practice themselves. The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between these claims as they’re applied in criticism of (...) John Rawls. It argues that ascribing normative ultimacy to justice entails its application to personal choice. However, it also argues that if Cohen’s right about Rawls’s difference principle being regulatory rather than ultimate, then his earlier claim that Rawls must extend it to personal choice on pain of inconsistency is refuted. (shrink)
Luck egalitarians equalize the outcome enjoyed by people who exemplify the same degree of distributive desert by removing the influence of luck. They also try to calibrate differential rewards according to the pattern of distributive desert. This entails that they have to decide upon, among other things, the rate of reward, i.e., a principled way of distributing rewards to groups exercising different degrees of the relevant desert. However, the problem of the choice of reward principle is a relatively and undeservedly (...) neglected issue among luck egalitarians. The main goal of this paper is to highlight the importance and difficulty of this problem, and to elaborate upon G. A. Cohen's community-oriented response to it. In the last section, I provide a taxonomy of distributive pluralism, contrasting Cohen’s view with other (not so genuine) pluralisms - especially with all-things-considered varieties - while trying to motivate readers to adopt the more robust form of pluralism. (shrink)
This paper examines Hermann Cohen's idiosyncratic construction of a medieval Jewish philosophical tradition, focusing primarily, though not exclusively, on his Charakteristik der Ethik Maimunis . This construction, not unlike modern accounts, is filtered through the central place of Maimonides. For Cohen, however, Maimonides' centrality is defined not by his systematization of Aristotelianism, but by his elevation of ethics over metaphysics. The ethical and pantheistic concerns of Maimonides' precursors, according to this reading, anticipate his uniqueness. Whereas Shlomo ibn Gabirol's pantheistic doctrine (...) of emanation, for example, assigned little weight to ethics, Abraham ibn Daud rebelled against such a doctrine. Ibn Daud—much like Bahya ibn Paquda and Abraham ibn Ezra—becomes part of a Jewish philosophical tradition that culminates in Maimonides' rejection of Aristotelian metaphysics. In particular, this paper examines the way in which Cohen envisaged the pre-Maimonidean philosophical tradition, putting his highly critical reading of Shlomo ibn Gabirol and his pantheistic obsession with prime matter in counterpoint with his more favorable readings of Abraham ibn Daud and Bahya ibn Paquda. (shrink)