Martin Cohen (philosopher)

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Martin Cohen (born 1964) is a British philosopher, an editor and reviewer who writes on philosophy, philosophy of science and political philosophy.


He studied philosophy and social science at Sussex University where his tutors included some of the early group of philosophers who launched the university's pioneering language and values programme, including Terry Diffey and Bernard Harrison. He obtained a teaching qualification at Keele University and his PhD in philosophy of education from the University of Exeter. After research posts at universities in Britain and Australia, Cohen moved to France to concentrate on his writing, which typically blend "psychological and social studies with philosophical theory ... eschewing technical jargon and using easily understood scenarios to demonstrate the theme".[1] The first of these, 101 Philosophy Problems has been published in a dozen languages and is now in its third edition. His book on thought experiments, Wittgenstein's Beetle and Other Classic Thought Experiments was selected by The Guardian as one of its 'books of the week'[2] and the Times Literary Supplement said that 'With its sense of history, Wittgenstein's Beetle provides the opportunity to consider which thought experiments last.'[3]

Another element of Martin Cohen's style in presenting philosophy is to use simple and unpretentious line drawings both to break up the text (and make it less monolithic) and to illustrate specific issues under discussion, for example the 'Traditional Chinese Problem' of the turtle told to cross a pan of boiling water by balancing on a piece of bamboo.

Cohen has been a frequent contributor and reviewer for the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES),[4] the New Statesman (on environmental issues) and the Guardian (London) (on the role of computers in education)[5] as well as occasional pieces on economics[6] including the obesity issue.[7] His writing, for example, on food and society, blends philosophy and social science as well as ethics.[8]

An article in the New York Times (entitled Nuclear Power's Death Somewhat Exaggerated[9]) quoted his book on energy policy and ethics to illustrate how business interests can join forces with environmentalists to improve their public image, a point he also explored in an article for the Times Higher (London) entitled 'The Profits of Doom'.[10]

Mind Games was selected by France Culture as one of new philosophy books for dissection in the program essai du jour;[11] Paradigm Shift: How Expert Opinions Keep Changing on Life, the Universe and Everything was featured on RTE Radio 1 in Ireland;[12]

Philosophical work[edit]

Paradigm Shift[edit]

Paradigm Shift: How Expert Opinions Keep Changing on Life, the Universe and Everything (Imprint Academic UK September 2015) is a book by Cohen. It claims that scientific knowledge is less certain than it is usually portrayed. Cohen offers a number of examples to back up this claim, which he traces back to Thomas Kuhn, and the original theory of 'paradigm shifts' in 1962, in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

In this key social science text, Kuhn claims that the progress of scientific knowledge is not the steady accumulation of pieces of a great jigsaw but rather a haphazard, political affair involving periodic paradigm shifts in which much of the old certainties are abandoned in order to open up new approaches to understanding that scientists would never have considered valid before.

The idea behind Cohen's book is to treat a broader sweep of issues than Kuhn does, from public health to climate change and high finance, as a series of 'case studies' which he argues illustrate both the radical insights Kuhn's theory brings, and conversely the error of assuming that science and knowledge generally is 'a very sensible and reassuringly solid sort of affair'. He advocates the 'separation of state and science'.

Cohen argues information cascades can distort rational, scientific debate, with a particular focus on health issues. The book looks at the example of highly mediatised 'pandemic' alarms, and why they have turned out eventually to be little more than scares.[13]

Cow in the Field Thought Experiment[edit]

Cover of 101 Philosophy Problems, Second Edition

Martin Cohen is well-known for having invented the famous 'cow-in-the-field' thought experiment in the spirit of Edmond Gettier's imaginary scenarios intended to explore the nature of knowledge. [14] The Cow in the Field leads his book 101 Philosophy Problems including being on the cover of the second edition. However, numerous websites erroneously attribute the imaginary scenario directly to Gettier.

Select bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Official website
  • Articles for the Independent [1]
  • Critique of Wikipedia as the "Big Mac" of knowledge in the documentary The Wikipedia Promise [2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "". Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  2. ^ Poole, Steven (20 November 2004). "Et cetera: Nov 20". Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  3. ^ "The Times & The Sunday Times". Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  4. ^ "Beyond debate?". 10 December 2009. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  5. ^ Cohen, Martin (12 June 2001). "Creativity in ICT classes". Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  6. ^ Cohen, Martin (2 April 2012). "Nuclear industry dreams dashed by current economic reality". Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  7. ^ Cohen, Martin (24 November 2016). "The obesity epidemic is an economic issue". Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  8. ^ Cohen, Martin (19 February 2018). "It's poverty, not individual choice, that is driving extraordinary obesity levels". Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  9. ^ Wald, Matthew L. (10 April 2012). "Nuclear Power's Death Somewhat Exaggerated". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  10. ^ "Profits of doom". 29 July 2010. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  11. ^ "Écouter France Culture : la radio en direct et en réécoute". France Culture. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  12. ^ "RTÉ Radio Player: Radio Just Got Easier". RTE Radio. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  13. ^ "Martin Cohen". The Conversation.
  14. ^ Poole, Steven (20 November 1999). "The Cow in the Field". THE COW IN THE FIELD: Nov 20. doi:10.4324/9780203029893-2. Retrieved 15 August 2022.