'Thoughts and Principles: On Cohen and the Standard Model of Political Philosophy'

The following event is organised as part of the Political Theory Research Seminar series


G.A. Cohen’s thesis on the justificatory relationship between facts and principles holds that a fact can only ground a principle in virtue of a still further and deeper principle. For example, for the fact ‘freedom makes people happy’ to ground the principle ‘maximise individual freedom’, there must be a further principle, such as ‘make people happy’, that makes that fact relevant, which is itself either fact-independent or depends ultimately on a further fact-independent principle. In this paper I advance four arguments against that thesis, each of which supports one or more parts of the following syllogism:

  • According to what I will call the ‘standard model’ of political philosophy, moral and political principles are only justified for an individual in virtue of the thoughts in that individual’s head (e.g. their considered judgements or intuitions)
  • It is a matter of fact whether or not an individual has a given set of thoughts; (3) it is therefore a matter of fact whether or not a given set of principles is appropriately grounded, which means (when rephrased, for this is not a further deduction) that moral and political principles fundamentally depend upon facts, not principles.

All are welcome. There is no requirement to book in advance.


Baines Wing 1.13 (this is number 58 on the campus map)