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Lectures on the History of Moral and Political Philosophy
G. A. Cohen
Edited by Jonathan Wolff

Hardcover | 2013 | $39.95 | £32.95 | ISBN: 9780691149004
376 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 1 line illus. 7 tables.
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G. A. Cohen was one of the leading political philosophers of recent times. He first came to wide attention in 1978 with the prize-winning book Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence. In subsequent decades his published writings largely turned away from the history of philosophy, focusing instead on equality, freedom, and justice. However, throughout his career he regularly lectured on a wide range of moral and political philosophers of the past. This volume collects these previously unpublished lectures.

Starting with a chapter centered on Plato, but also discussing the pre-Socratics as well as Aristotle, the book moves to social contract theory as discussed by Hobbes, Locke, and Hume, and then continues with chapters on Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche. The book also contains some previously published but uncollected papers on Marx, Hobbes, and Kant, among other figures. The collection concludes with a memoir of Cohen written by the volume editor, Jonathan Wolff, who was a student of Cohen's.

A hallmark of the lectures is Cohen's engagement with the thinkers he discusses. Rather than simply trying to render their thought accessible to the modern reader, he tests whether their arguments and positions are clear, sound, and free from contradiction. Throughout, he homes in on central issues and provides fresh approaches to the philosophers he examines. Ultimately, these lectures teach us not only about some of the great thinkers in the history of moral and political philosophy, but also about one of the great thinkers of our time: Cohen himself.


"What this collection provides . . . is a very idiosyncratic tour of the history of moral and political philosophy. The tour is very selective as to where it stops, and when it does stop it is equally selective in the sights it shows. And so it's not a tour I'd recommend to a complete newcomer to the area. But for the experienced traveler in this intellectual terrain, the sights on the tour are, almost without exception, well worth the extended stop provided."--Peter Stone, Marx and Philosophy Review of Books

"Wolff's closing intellectual biography is, as I mentioned above, excellent. It provides an overview of the rest of Cohen's work that is useful and interesting even to those already familiar with it."--Clare Chambers, Philosophical Quarterly


"This collection of lectures--erudite, demanding, and precise, yet funny and accessible--captures Jerry Cohen's inimitable voice and sparkling brilliance. Whether discussing Plato, Locke, Marx, or Nietzsche, Cohen guides the reader through the historical context while rejuvenating its urgency by interweaving modern political concepts. Cohen's rare approach--combining charitable interpretation, intellectual honesty, analytical clarity, and a love of teaching--exemplifies how to treat historical texts as contemporary interlocutors."--Seana Shiffrin, UCLA School of Law

"These essays demonstrate brilliantly Cohen's intellectual commitment to going naked into the debating chamber. Arguments are broken down, reconstructed, analyzed, and evaluated with such perspicuity that readers can pinpoint precisely where their own judgments diverge from Cohen's, while being challenged to match his standards in responding. It is a measure of the sharpness of Cohen's intellect that even the essay on Nietzsche, where his knowledge is most limited, offers insights and arguments of real merit."--David Owen, University of Southampton

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Table of Contents:

Editor's Preface vii
Acknowledgments xi
Part One Lectures 1
Chapter 1 Plato and His Predecessors 3
Chapter 2 Hobbes 65
Chapter 3 Locke on Property and Political Obligation 103
Chapter 4 Hume's Critique of Locke on Contract 120
Chapter 5 Kant's Ethics 138
Chapter 6 Hegel: Minds, Masters, and Slaves 183
Chapter 7 Nietzsche 201
Part Two Papers 245
Chapter 8 Bourgeois and Proletarians 247
Chapter 9 T he Workers and the Word: Why Marx Had the Right to Think He Was Right 268
Chapter 10 R eply to Elster on "Marxism, Functionalism, and Game Theory" 284
Chapter 11 Review of Karl Marx, by Allen W. Wood 298
Chapter 12 Reason, Humanity, and the Moral Law 305
Part Three Memoir 325
Chapter 13 G. A. Cohen: A Memoir, Jonathan Wolff 327
Works Cited 345
Index 355

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