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Morris Raphael Cohen

lawyer , philosopher

MORRIS RAPHAEL COHEN was an American philosopher, lawyer, and legal scholar.


Morris Cohen was born in the Belorussian city of Minsk. His family moved to the United States in 1892 and settled in New York City.


Cohen received his B.A. from the City College of New York in 1900; he continued his studies, first at Columbia University (M.A., 1902), and then at Harvard (Ph.D., 1906), where he was assistant to such leading philosophers as William James, Josiah Royce, George Santayana, and Hugo Munsterberg.


After a brief stint in the New York public school system, Cohen began to teach mathematics and philosophy at City College in 1902. He received full professorship in 1912 and continued teaching there until 1938. Between the years 1938 and 1942, he taught at the University of Chicago. He was an outstanding leader and a favorite guest lecturer at numerous universities, notably Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and Yale.

A collection of essays, "Reflections of a Wandering Jew" (1950), and an autobiography, "A Dreamer's Journey" (1949), were published posthumously.

Cohen was a prolific author. He was editor of the "Modern Legal Law Review" and wrote numerous books on legal philosophy, history, and ethics.


  • Cohen was active in the intellectual life of America for many years. In 1913 he organized the Conference of Legal and Social Philosophy, and he headed the American Philosophical Organization in 1929. He was also active in Jewish issues, chairing the Conference on Jewish Relations (1933-1941) and founding the journal Jewish Social Studies in 1939.


Although Cohen was a socialist in his youth, he was highly critical in his later life of most philosophical systems. He developed a philosophy of his own in which he combined elements of pragmatism with logical positivism and linguistic analysis.

This philosophy had important ramifications for the legal system. As a specialist in legal philosophy, Cohen, raised awareness in America of the importance of a philosophy of law underlying any legal system. He claimed that law was not an imposition of random will but the result of continuing development based in philosophy.