By Andrew Cohen
Renowned political theorist Joshua Cohen will join Berkeley Law’s faculty on April 1 as a distinguished senior fellow. He will hold similar positions across campus in the Departments of Philosophy and Political Science in the College of Letters and Science. Cohen is an acclaimed scholar who focuses on issues at the intersection of democratic norms and institutions.
“I think UC Berkeley is an amazing school and I’m thrilled to join it,” he said. “It’s a great university, the greatest public university in the country. I have a lot of personal and professional connections there—most notably my wife, Ellen Eisen, who teaches in the School of Public Health.”
Cohen is considered one of the leading political theorists in the anglophone world, with scholarship that ranges from regulating sweatshop labor to the proper interpretation of Rousseau’s political philosophy.
“One is hard-pressed to think of another Anglo-American political philosopher working today who combines analytical rigor with close attention to institutional design and practice in the way that Cohen does,” said Berkeley Law Dean Sujit Choudhry.
Cohen has been a political science, law, and philosophy professor at Stanford, and a philosophy and political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At UC Berkeley, he will run a weekly course that brings in outside speakers to present works-in-progress in legal, moral, and political philosophy.
The course will alternate between the law school’s Kadish Center for Morality, Law & Public Affairs and the College of Letters and Science’s Social Sciences Matrix. Cohen will lead the Kadish Center workshop with Berkeley Law Professors Sarah Song and Kinch Hoekstra in the fall and spring, respectively.
“This course is built around interesting people who are working on meaningful projects,” Cohen said. “We’ll convene scholars in law, political science, philosophy, and sometimes other disciplines to expose students to compelling ideas from a wide range of fields. Each topic will have some normative moral and political component, but the range will be quite broad.”
Cohen will also serve on dissertation committees for Berkeley Law’s Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program, as well as the Depts. of Philosophy and Political Science.
Prolific in his passion
The author of 10 books, Cohen has written extensively on issues of democratic theory and global justice and is the co-editor of The Norton Introduction to Philosophy, which was just released in January. Since 1991, he has also served as editor of Boston Review, a bimonthly magazine of political, cultural, and literary ideas.
“Growing up in the 60s, I was very interested in politics,” Cohen said. “Political philosophy seemed like a good way to engage important issues and to think about the fundamental ideas that were animating people participating in politics.”
Cohen is currently on the faculty at Apple University, which provides internal education to Apple employees. He teaches courses for people at different levels of the company, ranging from senior executives to managers.
“We get them thinking about topics, concepts, and issues that may have some importance in their decision-making and engagement with rest of the world,” Cohen said. “One of my courses is called ‘The Best Things,’ which came from a remark by Steve Jobs. His premise was that if you want to produce great products, you have to ‘expose yourself to the best things humans have done, and bring those things into what you are doing.’”
At Stanford, Cohen’s courses regularly included students from various disciplines. His eagerness to teach Berkeley Law students stems from his positive experience with their counterparts.
“A key aspect of what lawyers do is to help clients solve vital problems that cannot be addressed by applying doctrine to an issue,” Cohen said. “Law students often have broad problem-solving skills that help clients in litigation—or to avoid litigation. I’m eager to see how Berkeley’s law students demonstrate those skills.”