On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice, and Other Essays in Political Philosophy

On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice, and Other Essays in Political Philosophy

G. A. COHEN
Edited by Michael Otsuka
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rp56
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  • Book Info
    On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice, and Other Essays in Political Philosophy
    Book Description:

    G. A. Cohen was one of the most gifted, influential, and progressive voices in contemporary political philosophy. At the time of his death in 2009, he had plans to bring together a number of his most significant papers. This is the first of three volumes to realize those plans. Drawing on three decades of work, it contains previously uncollected articles that have shaped many of the central debates in political philosophy, as well as papers published here for the first time. In these pieces, Cohen asks what egalitarians have most reason to equalize, he considers the relationship between freedom and property, and he reflects upon ideal theory and political practice.

    Included here are classic essays such as "Equality of What?" and "Capitalism, Freedom, and the Proletariat," along with more recent contributions such as "Fairness and Legitimacy in Justice," "Freedom and Money," and the previously unpublished "How to Do Political Philosophy." On ample display throughout are the clarity, rigor, conviction, and wit for which Cohen was renowned. Together, these essays demonstrate how his work provides a powerful account of liberty and equality to the left of Ronald Dworkin, John Rawls, Amartya Sen, and Isaiah Berlin.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3866-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. EDITOR’S PREFACE
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Part One: Luck Egalitarianism
    • Chapter One ON THE CURRENCY OF EGALITARIAN JUSTICE
      (pp. 3-43)

      In his Tanner Lecture of 1979 called “Equality of What?” Amartya Sen asked what metric egalitarians should use to establish the extent to which their ideal is realized in a given society. What aspect(s) of a person’s condition should count in afundamentalway for egalitarians, and not merely as cause of or evidence of or proxy for what they regard as fundamental?

      In this study I examine answers to that question, and discussions bearing on that question, in recent philosophical literature. I take for granted that there is something which justice requires people to have equal amounts of, not...

    • Chapter Two EQUALITY OF WHAT? ON WELFARE, GOODS, AND CAPABILITIES
      (pp. 44-60)

      The publication of John Rawls’sA Theory of Justicein 1971 was a watershed in discussion bearing on the question, derived from Sen, which forms my title. BeforeA Theory of Justiceappeared, political philosophy was dominated by utilitarianism, the theory that sound social policy aims at the maximization of welfare. Rawls found two features of utilitarianism repugnant. He objected, first, to its aggregative character, its unconcern about the pattern of distribution of welfare, which means that inequality in its distribution calls for no justification. But, more pertinently to the present exercise, Rawls also objected to the utilitarian assumption that...

    • AFTERWORD TO CHAPTERS ONE AND TWO
      (pp. 61-72)

      1. Intellectual ethics demand a degree of follow-through on things that one has written: one should respond to criticism and, where necessary, amend one’s position. But satisfying that demand can mean diminishing returns in illumination per unit of effort, and trade-off judgments sometimes have to be made.

      In the case of the currency of equality problematic, I have decided against extensive revision, partly because of diminishing returns, but also because I am at present defeated by some of the knotty issues that Chapter 1 in particular raises. I do not know how to untie the knots without devoting all of...

    • Chapter Three SEN ON CAPABILITY, FREEDOM, AND CONTROL
      (pp. 73-80)

      In the present appreciation, I first describe the leading idea—‘capability’—which Amartya Sen has brought to this field of discourse. I then take up the connection or lack of it between freedom and control.

      What Sen calls “capability” is determined by the different forms of life that are possible for a person: a person’s capability is a disjunction of the combinations available to her of what Sen calls “functionings,” which are states of activity and/or being. These functionings vary, Sen says, “from most elementary ones, such as being well-nourished, avoiding escapable morbidity and premature mortality, etc., to quite complex...

    • Chapter Four EXPENSIVE TASTE RIDES AGAIN
      (pp. 81-115)

      The present paper is a reply to “Equality and Capability,”¹ in which Ronald Dworkin responded to some of the criticisms of his work that I made in “On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice.”²

      The first two sections of the paper are clarificatory. Section 1 distinguishes two broad criticisms of equality of welfare that Dworkin has developed, one surrounding the indeterminacy of the concept of welfare and one surrounding the problem of expensive taste. I express sympathy with the first criticism, and I argue that the second one must be assessed in abstraction from the first. Section 2 explains what the...

    • Chapter Five LUCK AND EQUALITY
      (pp. 116-123)

      1. In Chapter 6 (“Why the Aim to Neutralize Luck Cannot Provide a Basis for Egalitarianism”) of herJustice, Luck, and Knowledge, Susan Hurley defends two claims: that “the aim to neutralize luck [does not] contribute to identifying and specifying what egalitarianism is,” and that it also provides no “independent non-question-begging reason or justification for egalitarianism” (p. 147).¹ In the present response, I reject the first of Hurley’s claims, and I show that the second, while true, lacks polemical force.

      I said, in “On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice” [reprinted as Chapter 1 of this volume—Ed.], that...

    • Chapter Six FAIRNESS AND LEGITIMACY IN JUSTICE, AND: DOES OPTION LUCK EVER PRESERVE JUSTICE?
      (pp. 124-144)

      For a long time I was preoccupied with the idea of self-ownership and, connectedly, with entitlement theories of justice. A major influence was, of course, Robert Nozick’sAnarchy, State, and Utopia. But an earlier influence in the same direction began to exercise itself on me when I met Hillel Steiner in 1968. He was visiting my then London home with his then wife whom I had known since childhood: it was through her that we first came to know each other. Hillel described the germs of an arresting point of view that was later expressed in a series of articles....

  6. Part Two: Freedom and Property
    • Chapter Seven CAPITALISM, FREEDOM, AND THE PROLETARIAT
      (pp. 147-165)

      1. In capitalist societies everyone owns something, be it only his own labor power, and each is free to sell what he owns, and to buy whatever the sale of what he owns enables him to buy. Many claims made on capitalism’s behalf are questionable, but here is a freedom which it certainly provides.

      It is easy to show that under capitalism everyone has some of this freedom, especially if being free to sell something is compatible with not being free not to sell it, two conditions whose consistency I would defend. Australians are free to vote, even though they...

    • Chapter Eight FREEDOM AND MONEY
      (pp. 166-192)

      I have never dedicated an article to a person before. I have considered it to be a pretentious thing to do. Whole books are big things: they are manifestly big enough to warrant the device of a dedication. But to dedicate a mere article seems to imply an immodest belief on the author’s part that the intellectual value of his little piece is pretty special.

      For all that, I have dedicated this article to the memory of my sadly late¹ but imperishably present teacher and friend, Isaiah Berlin. I have been impelled to this departure from normal practice not because...

    • TWO ADDENDA TO “FREEDOM AND MONEY”
      (pp. 193-200)

      a.I here take up the issue suspended in the course of “Freedom and Money,” that of the relationship between freedom and ability, or, equivalently, the question whether the first premise of the right-wing argument is true. It is customary for the Left to deny that premise, but the Left overestimates the significance of doing so. The Left says: since the Right cherish freedom, and, contrary to what they say, inabilityisa form of lack of freedom, the Right cannot dispute the Left view that inability requires attention as much as (other forms of) freedom do.

      The...

  7. Part Three: Ideal Theory and Political Practice
    • Chapter Nine MIND THE GAP
      (pp. 203-210)

      Thomas Nagel argues, inEquality and Partiality, that the task of political philosophy is to reconcile the opposed deliverances of two standpoints. In the personal point of view, everything gets its value from my distinctive interests, relationships, and commitments. But I can also look at things impersonally, and then I realize that the interests and projects of others are just as important as mine are, that my life is no more important than anyone else’s is.

      Since we occupy both the personal and the impersonal standpoints, “we are simultaneously partial to ourselves, impartial among everyone, and respectful of everyone else’s...

    • Chapter Ten BACK TO SOCIALIST BASICS
      (pp. 211-224)

      On November 24, 1993, a meeting of Left intellectuals occurred in London, under the auspices of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which is a Labour-leaning think tank. A short document was circulated in advance of the said meeting, to clarify its purpose. Among other things, the document declared that the task of the IPPR was “to do what the Right did in the seventies, namely to break through the prevailing parameters of debate and offer a new perspective on contemporary British politics.” The explanatory document also said that “our concern is not to engage in a philosophical debate...

    • Chapter Eleven HOW TO DO POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
      (pp. 225-235)

      1. People like me, who have been trying to do philosophy for more than forty years, do in due course learn, if they’re lucky,howto do what they’ve beentryingto do: that is, they do learn how to do philosophy. But although I’ve learned how to do philosophy, nobody ever told me how to do it, and, so far as I would guess, nobody will have told you how to do it, or is likely to tell you how to do it in the future. Themostcharitable explanation of that fact, the fact, that is, that nobody...

    • Chapter Twelve RESCUING JUSTICE FROM CONSTRUCTIVISM AND EQUALITY FROM THE BASIC STRUCTURE RESTRICTION
      (pp. 236-254)

      The present paper concatenates excerpts from my book calledRescuing Justice and Equality.¹ The first two parts of the paper correspond to the distinct rescues indicated by that book title. Part One pursues the rescue of justice from constructivism. It is about theidentityof justice. Part Two pursues the rescue of equality from the basic structure restriction. It is about thescopeof justice. The identity question is at issue in an argument that I present against the Rawlsian identification of justice with the principles that constructivist selectors select. The scope question is at issue in an argument that...

  8. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 255-262)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 263-268)