Reading Cohen

by Chris Bertram on November 17, 2008

I’ve suggested to some of the other CTers that we should have an online reading group on G.A. Cohen’s _Rescuing Justice and Equality_ (“Amazon”: , “”: They can’t do it until January, so this is a heads-up. When we get started we’ll cover a chapter a week, with maybe different people taking the lead (Harry, Ingrid, Jon? …) and then comments will be open. But a condition of commenting is that you’ve actually read the text under discussion (violators will be deleted). So if you want to take part you need to get the book, and you need to get reading and thinking.



matt 11.17.08 at 8:21 pm

I vote for waiting until the paperback comes out! (The practice of releasing some books like this one in hardback only at first, often for a year or more, is an annoying tendency of Harvard University Press. It might be plausible for books that can’t be assumed to have a large [for an academic press] market, but that’s not the case here. They did the same thing with Rawls’s lectures on the history of political philosophy, to the annoyance of those in charge of the project, I know. It’s obnoxious and unreasonable, given that students will be one of the larger audiences, and $45 for the book, or even the amazon mark-down of $36 or whatever, isn’t too cheap.) Beyond that, though, the reading group idea sounds good.


rea 11.17.08 at 8:25 pm

I make it a rule never to read a text I’m discussing–I find it unduly constrains my opinions. :)


jcs 11.17.08 at 11:41 pm

I think this is a fantastic and extrorinarily generous offer on the part of you CT folks. I would love the opportunity to benefit from the insights and comments of the leading thinkers in the field. I almost feel as though I should be paying tuition.


Joel Turnipseed 11.18.08 at 12:20 am

Sign me up. I should probably revisit Rawls, too. It was very interesting to me, working on the Obama campaign this year, to think about some of these themes from Cohen: the weirdness of the $100-$500 a plate fundraising dinner–or the intersection of the well-heeled attorney and the single mom doing a door knock or other event together. Even within the Veterans for Obama groups, you could see very blue-collar vets working alongside former high-ranking officers… and you wondered, “Are we really all in this together?”

As for the $36, Matt: that’s steep, but hardly anything crazy even compared to some other philosophy paperbacks (and is practically free compared to my current work reading).


Eszter Hargittai 11.18.08 at 1:57 am

Matt, my understanding is that books that don’t come out in hard cover version are disqualified from being reviewed in certain important publications. It seems like a crazy tradition left over from earlier times (what could have been the justification for this?), but so it goes. I guess it doesn’t mean they couldn’t release the hard- and paperback versions at the same time, but in that case it would be hard to imagine who would go for the former.


Matt 11.18.08 at 2:49 am

Hi Eszter- many presses regularly release hard back and paper back at the same time of works they expect to sell decent number or to be used regularly by students (both things we can expect of Cohen’s book, and certainly something that could be expected of, say, Rawls’s history of political philosophy lectures). In those cases only libraries and a few others buy the hardback. This leads me to suspect that this is just something that Harvard University Press does when they think they can make a bit more money off a book they expect to sell well even in hardback. Very few academic books are _only_ released in paper since libraries usually want to buy the hardback, but release only in hardback is often a sign that they don’t expect good sales. That’s clearly not the case with this book, or some others recently from Harvard, and it’s a different practice from what’s regularly done at Cambridge and Oxford university presses, so it makes me think it’s a bad practice on their part, and one that sticks in my craw. As Joel says, it’s not a _terrible_ price, but still annoying.


john holbo 11.18.08 at 5:30 am

I just got my copy.


novakant 11.18.08 at 5:57 am

my understanding is that books that don’t come out in hard cover version are disqualified from being reviewed in certain important publications. It seems like a crazy tradition left over from earlier times (what could have been the justification for this?), but so it goes.

Wow, that is crazy indeed. Also, I much prefer well-made paperbacks in general, not so much because they’re cheaper, but because they’re easier to read in bed, in the bathtub or on the tube and I feel more comfortable annotating them, marking them with dog ears and post-its and breaking the spine of the book.


Chris Bertram 11.18.08 at 7:59 am

Matt, you think all those jokes come cheap? Arguments in paperback I could understand, but jokes?


Eszter Hargittai 11.18.08 at 11:08 am

Matt, I appreciate your sentiments, I didn’t mean to suggest it didn’t make sense for you to be frustrated about this, I was just offering a possible explanation. But I get it that often presses release the two simultaneously. Like Novakant, I prefer to read paperback versions (if done nicely as opposed to super tiny print without margins), they handle much easier.


matt 11.18.08 at 3:22 pm

Those interested in the book might also check out the most recent issue of the journal _Ratio_, made up of a symposium on the book with papers by Andrew Williams, Thomas Pogge, Tom Christiano, and others. I only skimmed them quickly but they look good.


Questioner 11.18.08 at 5:44 pm

I actually prefer hardbacks–for some reason I feel more scholarly reading them, and they definitely look better sitting on my bookshelves. Plus, they last longer!

But speaking of Rawl’s lectures on the history of political philosophy, what was with the transparent jacket cover that came with it? I’ve never seen anything like that, and I hope I never see anything of its like again.


Greg 11.18.08 at 7:44 pm

Really Questioner? I rather liked it. The flimsy paper dust jacket Cohen’s book came in ripped shortly after I opened it. The HoPP jacket seems indestructible.


novakant 11.19.08 at 8:22 am

The HoPP jacket seems indestructible.

Yeah, they’ve become really good at making paperbacks, almost all of mine are still intact, even after serious maltreatment. I remember badly made film books from the seventies though with cheaply glued backs, though, and I also have terrible memories of reading Luc Ferry’s Homo Aestheticus when it first came out (early 90s I think) which disintegrated while you were reading it with pages flying all over the place (probably rectified in later editions).

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