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.
The nonphilosophical highlight of the book is Cohen's remarkable account of his first trip to India, which includes unforgettable vignettes of encounters with strangers and reflections on poverty and begging. Other biographical pieces include his valedictory lecture at Oxford, in which he describes his philosophical development and offers his impressions of other philosophers, and "Isaiah's Marx, and Mine," a tribute to his mentor Isaiah Berlin. Other essays address such topics as the truth in "small-c conservatism," who can and can't condemn terrorists, and the essence of bullshit. A recurring theme is finding completion in relation to the world of other human beings. Engaging, perceptive, and empathetic, these writings reveal a more personal side of one of the most influential philosophers of our time.
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with more recent contributions such as "Fairness and Legitimacy in Justice," "Freedom and Money," and the previously unpublished "How to Do Political Philosophy."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.