G.A. Cohen vs. Jason Brennan: Why Not Socialism/Capitalism? (A Three-Week Webinar)

Benjamin Burgis
In the last year of his life, the great Marxist analytic philosopher G.A. Cohen put out a very short book (called "Why Not Socialism?") presenting the case for a socialist transformation of the economy in a compelling and unusual way. Five years later, the libertarian philosopher Jason Brennan wrote a response in the same format called, "Why Not Capitalism?" In this course we'll take a hard look at the arguments in both books.
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Past dates

Dec 5 - Dec 19
Dec 5 - Dec 19
10am PT / 1pm ET
120 min


The great Marxist analytic philosopher G.A. Cohen made his name with a long book full of intricate arguments--"Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence." Later in his career, he devoted much of his time to responding to the arguments of libertarian philosophers like Robert Nozick--and later still to criticizing John Rawls's theory of justice from the left. One of his most striking and memorable contributions to political philosophy, though, came in a very short book published in the last year of his life which he started with a simple intuitive argument for socialism based on the example of a group of friends going on a camping trip. That book was called, "Why Not Socialism?" Five years later, the libertarian philosopher Jason Brennan wrote a response in the same style called, "Why Not Capitalism?"

You can probably read both books in a weekend, but fully unpacking all the arguments and counterarguments in these two deceptively simple books is a lot more challenging. We'll cover Cohen's book in the first session--the lessons he draws from the camping trip example, his theory of "socialist equality of opportunity" (and how it's supposed to be different from "bourgeois equality of opportunity" and "left-liberal equality of opportunity"), the anti-socialist arguments he considers, his responses to them, and his (tentative) conclusions about how what kind of socialism might be realistically possible. In the second session, we'll turn to Brennan's book--the reason he thinks standard response to Cohen are insufficient, how he tries to parody and turn around Cohen's argument, and what mistakes he thinks Cohen is making. Finally, in the third session Ben will present his own defense of Cohen and critique of Brennan. All three two-hour sessions will include at least an hour of interactive discussion, and students will have the option of turning in short reflections two weeks before each session and getting feedback.

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