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Gerald Allan Cohen

Quain Professor of Jurisprudence at University College, London
1941 to 2009

Gerald Allan Cohen was born in 1941 to proletarian Marxist and antireligious parents in Montreal Canada. He described himself as ‘very Jewish’ despite a lack of belief in the God of the Old Testament. Cohen attended the Morris Winchevsky School where he was taught to believe in both democracy and communism. His education there ended in 1952 when the school was shut down following raids by the Anti-Subversive Squad of the Province of Quebec on both the school and its parent sponsor the United Jewish People’s Order. Subsequently he attended a local Protestant school where he spent some time grappling with his leftist and antireligious tendencies in a 90 percent Jewish and subtly racist environment.

Cohen continued in his personal struggle with self-identity in view of his religious and personal beliefs through the upheaval of the communist and socialist breakdown following among other things the 1956 publication of Khrushchev’'s speech discrediting Stalin during which time he was forced to acknowledge some fascination on his part for religion. He later earned a BA in philosophy and political science from McGill University in Canada and went on to study at the University of Oxford. Cohen progressed from assistant lecturer in 1963 to reader by 1984 in the Department of Philosophy at University College London. In 1985 he was appointed as Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at the All Souls College in Oxford where he occasionally struggled with his beliefs in egalitarianism despite earning more than the average person in society and not giving away all the money that he earns above that average. In 2008 he became emeritus professor at Oxford and the Quain Professor of Jurisprudence at University College London. He died 5 August 2009.

His publications include Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defense (1978 2000); History Labour and Freedom (1988); Self-Ownership Freedom and Equality (1995); and If You’'re an Egalitarian How Come You’'re So Rich? (2000).

  • J. Douglas Mastin