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G. A. Cohen

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G. A. Cohen
Gerald Allan Cohen

(1941-04-14)14 April 1941
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Died5 August 2009(2009-08-05) (aged 68)
Oxford, England
Other namesJerry Cohen
  • Margaret Pearce
    (m. 1965; div. 1996)
  • Michèle Jacottet
    (m. 1999)
Academic background
Alma mater
Academic advisorsGilbert Ryle[1]
Academic work
School or tradition
Doctoral students
Notable students
Notable worksKarl Marx's Theory of History (1978)[3]
Notable ideas

Gerald Allan Cohen FBA (/ˈkən/ KOH-ən; 14 April 1941 – 5 August 2009) was a Canadian 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. He was known for his work on Marxism, and later, egalitarianism and distributive justice in normative political philosophy.

Life and career


Born into a communist Jewish family in Montreal, Quebec, on 14 April 1941,[6] Cohen was educated at McGill University (BA, philosophy and political science) in his hometown and the University of Oxford (BPhil, philosophy), where he studied under Gilbert Ryle (and was also taught by Isaiah Berlin).[6]

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 went on to be important moral and political philosophers, while another, Ricky Gervais, has a successful career in comedy.[citation needed]

Cohen was a proponent of analytical Marxism[7] and a founding member of the September Group. His 1978 work Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence[8] defends an interpretation of Karl Marx's historical materialism its critics often call technological determinism.[9] 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 hold them.

Cohen was known for his flamboyant style during philosophical debates. According to his best friend, the philosopher Gerald Dworkin, "Nothing was too inappropriate, private, bizarre, or embarrassing to be suddenly brought into the conversation".[10] Cohen also abjured technology, a stance he called "technological conservatism". His wife, Michelle, answered all his email.

Cohen was close friends with Marxist political philosopher Marshall Berman.

Cohen died on 5 August 2009.


  • "Marx and Locke on Land and Labour" Proceedings of the British Academy 71, 1985 (1986)
  • 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)
  • "Expensive Taste Rides Again," in: Ronald 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. ^ Rosen, Michael (2010). "Jerry Cohen: An Appreciation". Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University. p. 2. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  2. ^ Vallentyne, Peter (2014). "Libertarianism". In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University.
  3. ^ Rosen, Michael (2010). "Jerry Cohen: An Appreciation". Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University. p. 5. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  4. ^ Frank Vandenbroucke, Social Justice and Individual Ethics in an Open Society: Equality, Responsibility, and Incentives, Springer, 2012, p. 149.
  5. ^ Alexander Kaufman (ed.), Distributive Justice and Access to Advantage, Cambridge University Press, 2014, p. 52.
  6. ^ a b O'Grady, Jane (10 August 2009). "GA Cohen". The Guardian.
  7. ^ "The Labour Theory of Value and the Concept of Exploitation".
  8. ^ Cohen, Gerald Allan (1978). Karl Marx's theory of history : a defence. Oxford : Clarendon Press; New York : Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-827196-3 – via Internet Archive.
  9. ^ Singer, Peter (2000). Marx: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-19-285405-6.
  10. ^ "How universities killed the academic". March 2024.

Further reading

Academic offices
Preceded by Chichele Professor of
Social and Political Theory

Succeeded by
Preceded by Tanner Lecturer on Human Values
at Stanford University

Succeeded by
Preceded by
Gifford Lecturer at the
University of Edinburgh

Succeeded by
Preceded by Quain Professor of Jurisprudence
Succeeded by
Preceded by Deutscher Memorial Prize
Succeeded by