Gerald Cohen

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G. A. Cohen
Born (1941-04-14)14 April 1941
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Died 5 August 2009(2009-08-05) (aged 68)
Oxford, England, United Kingdom
Alma mater McGill University
University of Oxford
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Analytical Marxism
Main interests
Political philosophy, ethics, philosophy of history, social theory
Notable ideas
The distinction between a strict and lax interpretation of the difference principle,[2] egalitarian ethos[3]

Gerald Allan "Jerry" Cohen, FBA (/ˈkən/; 14 April 1941 – 5 August 2009) was a Marxist political philosopher who held the positions of Quain Professor of Jurisprudence, University College London and Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory, All Souls College, Oxford.

Life and career

Born into a communist Jewish family in Montreal,[4] Cohen was educated at McGill University, Canada (BA, philosophy and political science) and the University of Oxford (BPhil, philosophy) where he studied under Isaiah Berlin and Gilbert Ryle.

Cohen was assistant lecturer (1963–1964), lecturer (1964–1979) then reader (1979–1984) in the Department of Philosophy at University College London, before being appointed to the Chichele chair at Oxford in 1985. Several of his students, such as Christopher Bertram, Simon Caney, Alan Carter, Cécile Fabre, Will Kymlicka, John McMurtry, David Leopold, Michael Otsuka, Seana Shiffrin and Jonathan Wolff have gone on to be important moral and political philosophers in their own right, while another, Ricky Gervais, has pursued a successful career in comedy.

Known as a proponent of analytical Marxism[5] and a founding member of the September Group, Cohen's 1978 work Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence defends an interpretation of Karl Marx's historical materialism often referred to as technological determinism by its critics.[6] In Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality, Cohen offers an extensive moral argument in favour of socialism, contrasting his views with those of John Rawls and Robert Nozick, by articulating an extensive critique of the Lockean principle of self-ownership as well as the use of that principle to defend right as well as left libertarianism. In If You're an Egalitarian, How Come You're So Rich? (which covers the topic of his Gifford Lectures), Cohen addresses the question of what egalitarian political principles imply for the personal behaviour of those who subscribe to them.

Cohen was close friends with Marxist political philosopher Marshall Berman.


  • Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence (1978, 2000)
  • History, Labour, and Freedom (1988)
  • Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1995. ISBN 978-0-5214-7174-9. OCLC 612482692.
  • If You're an Egalitarian, How Come You're So Rich? (2000)
  • Chapter in Dworkin and his Critics, with replies by Dworkin (2004)
  • Rescuing Justice and Equality (2008)
  • Why Not Socialism? (2009) [Trad. esp.: ¿Por qué no el socialismo?, Buenos Aires/Madrid, Katz editores, 2011, ISBN 978-84-92946-13-6]
  • On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice, and Other Essays in Political Philosophy (2011)
  • Finding Oneself in the Other (2012)
  • Lectures on the History of Moral and Political Philosophy (2013)

See also


  1. ^ Vallentyne, Peter (2014). "Libertarianism". In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University.
  2. ^ Frank Vandenbroucke, Social Justice and Individual Ethics in an Open Society: Equality, Responsibility, and Incentives, Springer, 2012, p. 149.
  3. ^ Alexander Kaufman (ed.), Distributive Justice and Access to Advantage, Cambridge University Press, 2014, p. 52.
  4. ^ O'Grady, Jane (10 August 2009). "GA Cohen". The Guardian.
  5. ^ "The Labour Theory of Value and the Concept of Exploitation".
  6. ^ Singer, Peter (2000). Marx: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 105. ISBN 0-19-285405-4.

Further reading

  • The Egalitarian Conscience: Essays in Honour of G. A. Cohen (2006); edited by Christine Sypnowich
  • Tomey, Simon (2012), "An interview with Jerry Cohen.", in Browning, Gary; Dimova-Cookson, Maria; Prokhovnik, Raia, Dialogues with contemporary political theorists, Houndsmill, Basingstoke, Hampshire New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 74–85, ISBN 9780230303058
  • Vrousalis, Nicholas. The Political Philosophy of G.A. Cohen. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781472532701.
  • Robeyns, Ingrid (July 2015). "On G.A. Cohen's "On the currency of egalitarian justice"". Ethics. Chicago Journals via JSTOR. 125 (4): 1132–1135. doi:10.1086/680879. JSTOR 10.1086/680879.

External links

  • Socialist Studies Special Edition on the Life and Work of G.A. Cohen
  • Imprints interview
  • Cohen's Tanner Lectures: "Incentives, Inequality, and Community"
  • Cohen interview at Philosophy Bites (mp3 audio)
  • Obituary to Gerald Cohen at The Third Estate
  • Obituary in The Monthly Review
  • Obituary in The Times Archived by Wayback Machine
  • Obituary in The Guardian
  • Obituary in The Independent
  • Remembering Jerry Cohen: A Tribute in Socialist Worker
  • Review of Why Not Socialism? in The Oxonian Review
  • Journal of Ethics volume for Jerry Cohen
  • Cohen Against Capitalism on Channel 4 on YouTube
  • Jerry Cohen – an Appreciation by Michael Rosen
  • 2010 All Souls College Commemoration of Gerald (Jerry) Allan Cohen with addresses from Professors Philippe Van Parijs, John Roemer, Myles Burnyeat and Timothy Scanlon, and a family tribute from Jerry's son Gideon Cohen.
  • UCL News Obituary: Professor Jerry Cohen Professor Stephen Guest of UCL Laws writes in memory.
  • Michael Otsuka’s remarks at Jerry Cohen’s funeral All Souls College Chapel, 11 August 2009
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