Morris Raphael Cohen

Biography of Morris Raphael Cohen

Morris Raphael Cohen (July 25, 1880 – January 28, 1947) was an American philosopher, lawyer and legal scholar who united pragmatism with logical positivism and linguistic analysis. He was father to Felix S. Cohen.

Cohen was born in Minsk, Imperial Russia, but moved with his family to New York, at the age of 12. He was educated at the City College of New York and Harvard University, where he studied under Josiah Royce, William James, and Hugo Münsterberg. He obtained a PhD from Harvard in 1906.

He was Professor of Philosophy at CCNY from 1912-38. He also taught Law at City College and the University of Chicago 1938-41, gave courses at the New School for Social Research, and lectured in Philosophy and Law at Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and other universities.

Cohen was legendary as a professor for his wit, encyclopedic knowledge and ability to demolish philosophical systems. "He could and did tear things apart in the most devastating and entertaining way; but ... he had a positive message of his own," Robert Hutchins. Bertrand Russell said of Cohen that he had the most original mind in contemporary American philosophy.

Cohen helped give CCNY in the 1930s its reputation as the "proletarian Harvard," perhaps more than any other faculty member. The Cohen Library at CCNY is named for him. Cohen was an advocate of liberalism in politics, and was opposed to laissez-faire economics. Cohen also defended liberal democracy and wrote indictments of both fascism and communism. Cohen's obituary in the New York Times stated that long before his death, Cohen had become "an almost legendary figure in American philosophy, education and the liberal tradition".

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