Lectures on the History of Moral and Political Philosophy

Lectures on the History of Moral and Political Philosophy

G. A. Cohen

Language: English

Pages: 376

ISBN: 0691149003

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

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 This volume collects these previously unpublished lectures.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.

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expressions.” “Of course.” “What this expression means, I think,” I continued, “is that there are better and worse elements in a person’s mind, and when the part which is naturally better is in control of the worse part, then we use this phrase ‘self-­mastery’ . . .”82 Recall, now, how temperance in the state is characterized (see beginning of this paragraph): it is the circumstance that the better part of the state is controlling the worse. Since, in an inferior person, the part better by

men’s passions as making them shortsighted, as if the problem were short-­term versus long-­term interest, rather than the Prisoners’ Dilemma or the assurance game. (We shall see that Hume too misrepresents what is in fact a Prisoners’ Dilemma problem as a matter of short-­term versus long-­term interest.) (ii) Back now to the second text-­based argument for saying that the glory-­centered other-­regarding passions are not derivative. If desire for honor were derivative, why would it continue so

the “restraint” which the former impose on the latter is not “contrary to” the “passions” as such, “for if so, it could never be entered into or maintained: but it is only contrary to their heedless and impetuous movement.” When people act from a sense of justice, “the passions are restrained in their partial and contradictory motions.”37 The good that is done by the sense of justice is that it checks and rechannels potentially destructive passion, but that is not true of the virtue of

distinction. It’s not just if you call a purpose a principle then instead of fulfilling it you have to observe it. The point is that purposes are particular whereas principles are universal in character (to use distinction 12 to elucidate distinction 5). It can be my purpose, but not my principle, to fly to the moon or to eat a sour apple. We can date the times when these purposes are fulfilled. But if it 31  [The text at this point contains the remark: “(show how one might plausibly hold former

try to see what the intellect can confidently assert without any recourse to them. And it turns out that the only thing which the intellect can assert without recourse to any external evidence is the Cogito. And what seems to guarantee the Cogito is its clarity and distinctness. So this principle, integral to the 67  [At this point the text continues with the following rough notes: “Connected view that evil man more praiseworthy. (The ‘love’ of the Gospels is practical, not pathological). A deep

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