New Faculty: Joshua Cohen, Professor of Law

New faculty: Joshua Cohen,

Josh Cohen was not worried about being drafted for the Vietnam War; his lottery number was high enough to relieve him of that concern. Nonetheless, he was deeply disturbed by the war—particularly by the idea that the political leadership of the country had not been upfront about aspects of America’s involvement in Vietnam. In his view, this was completely at odds with what the country and democracy were supposed to be about. This “political philosophical moment” ignited Cohen’s interest in politics. He began college intent on studying law. Instead, two political philosophy courses—“taught by really smart guys who were interested in everything”— inspired him to become a political philosopher, a career that has allowed him to pursue his interests in both law and democracy.

After receiving his BA and MA in philosophy from Yale and his PhD in philosophy from Harvard, Cohen joined the MIT faculty where he has served as a professor of philosophy and political science, and as chair of both departments. In this role, he has written extensively on issues of democratic theory, particularly deliberative democracy and its implications for personal liberty, freedom of expression, and campaign finance. More recently, he has become interested in global justice issues, not only because of the intellectual challenges but also because of their fundamental human importance.

At Stanford, Cohen will split his time between the law school and the political science and philosophy departments and will offer classes to undergraduates and graduate students. He also will initiate a program on global justice at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and will continue to serve as co-editor of Boston Review, a bimonthly magazine of political, cultural, and literary ideas.

While it is clear what Cohen brings to the law school, what do legal academics and law students have to offer Cohen? He explained, “Law professors ask a distinctive set of questions, both normative and institutional. Conversations with them provide a great opportunity to test and refine abstract ideas of what a just and decent society should be.”