Chichele Professorship of Social and Political Theory

by Harry on December 20, 2007

Most people in the political theory/philosophy community probably know that G. A. Cohen is retiring (that’s a verb, not an adjective, as anyone who knows him would know) from the post of Chichele Professorship of Social and Political Theory. A rather brilliantly prosaic job advertisement is on the Vacancies page at the Department of Politics and International Relations (deadline Jan 7th). There’s a grander job ad here. The holders of the position since it was established in 1944 (a very odd time to be establishing Chairs, I’d have thought) have been G.D.H. Cole, Isaiah Berlin, John Plamenatz, Charles Taylor (not the famous one) and G.A. Cohen (who has held it for quite a bit longer than any of his pedecessors). Very curious who will follow.

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Stuart 12.20.07 at 3:58 pm

pedecessors: the children who came before?


Matt 12.20.07 at 4:00 pm

If I had to make a bet I’d bet on either Jo Wolff or Will Kymlicka. Both are excellent political philosophers (though to my mind Wolff is more often right than Kymlicka is), both established enough but also young enough, and both keep witht he seeming tradition of students of former holders taking the job (Taylor as a student of Berlin, Cohen as a student of Berlin and Taylor.) Kymlicka might have the slight edge if a preference for Canadians has been established after Taylor and Cohen, but maybe those in charge are getting tired of Canadians. Given that, I place my bet on Wolff.


Kieran Healy 12.20.07 at 4:07 pm

G.D.H. Cole

In his Diaries, Alan Bennett tells a story about an Oxford Don conducting Margaret Thatcher on a tour of (I suppose) All Souls in the early 1980s. Along the way he was supposed to point out some of the portraits of various college luminaries. His plan was to pause by Cole’s portrait, point out the nameplate and say, “And this is the philosopher G.D.H. Dole,” whereupon Thatcher would have to say “Cole, not Dole.” But he chickened out and didn’t do it.


Neil 12.20.07 at 4:10 pm

Allen Buchanan has been mentioned.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 12.20.07 at 5:02 pm

Allen Buchanan would be an excellent choice. So too, I think, would be Jon Elster, Martha Nussbaum, Robert Goodin, Richard Arneson, Bhikhu Parekh, Onora O’Neill, or Jeremy Waldron.


Selfreferencing 12.20.07 at 5:08 pm

I bet Thomas Pogge will get it; his projects have just the right kind of flair and ideological correctness for a major appointment; he’s also the right age. But compared to other under-60 political philosophers, I think his work is fairly shallow. It’d be a shame if he got it.

If I had to choose, I’d choose Pettit or Gaus.

Pettit’s work is fresh and systematic. It’s the kind of work that deserves to have a major audience.

I think Gaus deserves it though. His work in political philosophy might be the freshest, most systematic and has the best prospect for further development than any political philosopher under sixty. But he’d never even be considered for the job, partly for ideological reasons.


Chris Bertram 12.20.07 at 5:08 pm

When you say, “not the famous one”, Harry, who do you think of as the famous one?


Chris Bertram 12.20.07 at 5:13 pm

I’m not going to get into the name business (though in the improbable event that Befair open a market, I would put a few quid on David Miller). But people would be wrong, given the title and history, to focus on political philosophers alone.


marcel 12.20.07 at 5:15 pm

(that’s a verb, not an adjective, as anyone who knows him would know)

I’m not an expert on English grammar, but to me that looks more like a gerund or a present participle (my bet).


Matt 12.20.07 at 5:20 pm

I assumed that by the “famous” Charles Taylor Harry meant the Liberian war-lord and ex-president. Is there another one even more famous?


Chris Bertram 12.20.07 at 5:22 pm

_I’m not an expert on English grammar, but to me that looks more like a gerund or a present participle (my bet)._

“He is retiring” is the third person singular in the continuous present of the verb “to retire”.


phil 12.20.07 at 6:14 pm

And ‘retiring’ in the sentence is the present participle of the verb ‘to retire’.


Beryl 12.20.07 at 8:12 pm

When you say, “not the famous one”, Harry, who do you think of as the famous one?

He means the infamous, I would imagine.


harry b 12.20.07 at 8:22 pm

Or are they, like William Gladstone and W.G. Grace, one and the same person? That would be a turn up! (Remember Bernard Coard, Chris?)


marcel 12.21.07 at 3:28 am

#11: “He is retiring” is the third person singular in the continuous present of the verb “to retire”

Of course, but you wrote, that’s a verb, not an adjective, as anyone who knows him would know.

“That” is singular, indicating that whatever it refers to is as well. Since no one would take the phrase “is retiring” to be an adjective, I imagined that you meant “that word”, not “that phrase”.

If you are going to make a pun, better be sure that your pedantry is in order. Had you wanted to be precise, you could have written “probably know that G. A. Cohen retires effective the end of this term/academic year”, or “probably know that G. A. Cohen will retire in the near future…” In this case, the pun would have been more difficult to pull off, but the referent of “that” would have been of the appropriate number.

Anyway, it appears to me “retiring” is a verbal, and the predicate of the sentence is “is retiring”. But as I said, I am not a grammarian, so may be wrong.


harry b 12.21.07 at 3:39 am

marcel, anyone who reads us regularly and pays attention will know that my spelling is bad, my typing is worse, and my grammar is crap. Still, about a third of the people who read the post in a good mood, and know Jerry, will have experienced an unbidden semi-smile at the vague thought contained in my stream of conciousness.

Or is #15 an elaborate joke about pedantry?


Tom Hurka 12.21.07 at 3:55 am

When they picked Jerry, they picked someone with a big and also *original* political-philosophy program. I hope they do the same again, rather than select someone who’s just carrying on a familiar existing program. I’m actually confident they will.


Matt 12.21.07 at 5:26 am

Tom- who do you think fits your bill? I’m curious to hear quite independently of whether any such person might actually be under consideration. I’d tend to think most of the people who have been mentioned would fit to some degree or another, though of course some have other draw-backs (too old, unlikely to move, etc.) Who do you think has both a big and original program today?


PdeB 12.21.07 at 1:19 pm

I recall a wisecrack by a member of CT at a tea party on the retirement of a different philosophy professor a few years ago, at which G.A. Cohen was present. GAC was helping himself to seconds or thirds of chocolate cake when up pipes the CT member and asks (in homage to GAC’s snappy book-title): “If you’re an egalitarian, how come you’re so f***ing greedy?”


aaron_m 12.21.07 at 1:32 pm

A pretty short list of names so far. Does this reflect the reality in terms of the scope of potential candidates?


chris armstrong 12.21.07 at 2:01 pm

Well, modesty prevents us suggesting ourselves, right?


Thom Brooks 12.21.07 at 4:27 pm

One crucial feature of all Chichele Professors seems to be that all have written a book on Marx. Of the names circulating above, who has written a book on Marx…? (Yes, I know the answer.)


josh 12.21.07 at 8:26 pm

Did Taylor write a book on Marx? I was unaware of that …
It would be quite a change from past practice if someone was appointed who didn’t have a degree from Oxford (and also, if a native-born Briton were appointed).
It struck me as strange to be establishing a chair in 1944, too — but then it was established in a strange way, by (if memory serves) splitting the old Gladstone professorship in two, to produce one professorship in public administration and one in political theory — a key moment in the emergence of political theory as a distinct subject at Oxford (so fallow was the field, that Berlin – who at that point only had his book on Marx and one lecture course on the political thought of the Enlightenment to recommend him for the post – was invited to apply. But by the time word reached him in the US, Cole had already gotten the job). There’s a rather good account of the CPSPT’s history in Robert Wokler’s essay on ‘The Professorate of Political Thought in England’ in this volume:

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