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Reading G.A. Cohen’s “On the Structure of Proletarian Unfreedom” (Pt.2)

           In the first post of this (hopefully three-part) series on G.A. Cohen’s article On the Structure of Proletarian Unfreedom I challenged a fairly typical, common-discourse, defense of capitalism against the Marxist claim that under capitalism the working class is forced to sell their labor to those who own the means of production (namely the defense that says they are not forced because they have other options, i.e., poverty, crime, starve to death etc.). This facile, but typical response of course rests on a simplistic misunderstanding of what it is to be forced to do something. I followed Cohen’s reasoning that in ordinary usage, when we say “one is forced to do A, because one has no choice,” this is meant as shorthand for, “one is forced to choose to do A, because one has no reasonable or acceptable alternative.”

           But how does this Marxist claim about working-class unfreedom stand against a more serious criticism: namely real-life examples of individuals whose objective position within the relations of production under capitalism is identical to that of the proletarian, who nevertheless manage to work their way out of the working class to become small business owners or capitalists? Since such cases show that the working class are not relevantly forced to sell their labor – i.e., they have at least one option other than wage labor, beggary, or starvation, which appears perfectly reasonable and acceptable – this seems to form a powerful counterexample to the Marxist thesis. Cohen recognizes this as a powerful case against the Marxist claim about proletarian unfreedom, and even attempts to show how two of the most common arguments against this powerful counterexample fail to recognize the argument’s strength, and thus, ultimately do not work. Read more…

It’s Not Like Anyone is Holding a Gun to Your Head: Reading G.A. Cohen’s “On the Structure of Proletarian Unfreedom” (pt. 1)

What does it mean to be forced to do something? In an article entitled “The Structure of Proletarian Unfreedom,” G.A. Cohen argues that in common conversation, to say that someone was forced to do X, implies that they were forced to choose to do X. Similarly, when we say that someone “had no other choice,” this is simply meant as shorthand to say that person “had no other choice worthy of consideration,” or that there were “no reasonable or acceptable alternatives.” Thus to say that “someone was forced to do X, and that they had no other choice,” is simply to say that that person was forced to choose to do X, because they had no other choice worthy of consideration – there simply was no reasonable or acceptable alternative. Let’s refer to this definition of unfreedom as the common sense of unfreedom, since it is, according to Cohen, rooted in our common understanding of what is is to be forced to do something. Read more…

A Day to Relax.

Today has probably been my first real day off in, probably over a year. No work, no errands, no homework or classes, no obligatory social engagements. I was thinking to myself I ought to pounce on this opportunity to do some intense studying and writing. After deciding that option sounded fanatical, I decided to literally do nothing today. …Okay, so literally nothing may be metaphysically impossible, and I did wind up reading while lying around all day, but for the first time in a really really long time I just read to read, rather than take notes etc. I decided not to write a blog either. So while I’m enjoying a day of freedom, here’s a video recording of G.A. Cohen, one of those rare philosophers able to retain a sense of humor., on the “German idea of freedom.” Enjoy.

Categories: G.A. Cohen, VIdeos Tags: , ,