Gerald Cohen

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Gerald Allan "Jerry" Cohen (April 14, 1941August 5, 2009) was a Canadian Marxist political philosopher.


  • I never believed, as many Marxists professed to do, that normative principles were irrelevant to the socialist movement, that, since the movement was of oppressed people fighting for their own liberation, there was no room or need for specifically moral inspiration in it. I thought no such thing partly for the plain reason that I observed enormous selfless dedication among the active communists who surrounded me in my childhood, and partly for the more sophisticated reason that the self-interest of any oppressed producer would tell him to stay at home, rather than to risk his neck in a revolution whose success or failure would be anyhow unaffected by his participation in it. Revolutionary workers and, a fortiori, bourgeois fellow-travellers without a particular material interest in socialism, must perforce be morally inspired.
  • The circumstances of the camping trip are multiply special: many features distinguish it from the circumstances of life in a modern society. One may therefore not infer, from the fact that camping trips of the sort that I have described are feasible and desirable, that society-wide socialism is equally feasible and equally desirable. There are too many major differences between the contexts for that inference to carry any conviction. What we urgently need to know is precisely what are the differences that matter, and how can socialists address them? Because of its contrasts with life in the large, the camping trip model serves well as a reference point for purported demonstrations that socialism across society is not feasible and/or desirable, since it seems eminently feasible and desirable on the trip.
    • Why Not Socialism? (2009), I. The Camping Trip
  • I believe that certain inequalities that cannot be forbidden in the name of socialist equality of opportunity should nevertheless be forbidden, in the name of community. But is it an injustice to forbid the transactions that generate those inequalities? Do the relevant prohibitions merely define the terms within which justice will operate, or do they sometimes (justifiably?) contradict justice? I do not know the answer to that question.
    • Why Not Socialism? (2009), II. The Trip's Principles

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