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Laurence Jonathan Cohen

(Laurence) Jonathan Cohen FBA (7 May 1923 – 26 September 2006) was a British philosopher. He was Fellow and Praelector in Philosophy, 1957–90 and Senior Tutor, 1985–90 at The Queen's College, Oxford and British Academy Reader in Humanities, University of Oxford, 1982–84.

He was educated at St. Paul's School, London and Balliol College, Oxford.


  • Career 1
  • Work 2
  • Honours 3
  • Publications 4
  • References 5



The principal emphasis in his work was on the powers and use of reasoning and how reasoning should be used properly on professional assessment of evidence in legal and scientific trials.

Initially a political philosopher, he published The Principles of World Citizenship in 1954. He then pursued the question "What do you mean by...?"”, in The Diversity of Meaning (1962). This involved linguistic philosophy and sociology.

His best-known book, The Probable and the Provable (1977), argued in favour of inductive reasoning when making up your mind, for instance, when on a jury. The human ability to bring in all the relevant factors when arguing from known specifics to a general conclusion—the essence of inductive reasoning—was in his view far too complex to express in a logical equation. But their methods of reasoning could still be held up to inspection and, to some extent, classified.

In clinical and scientific work, he was also concerned with the nature of proof. Another book, Belief and Acceptance (1992), examined the bases of people’s assumptions. In all, Jonathan Cohen believed in the fundamental validity of human reasoning, even if it could never attain absolute perfection.



  • The Principles of World Citizenship, 1954
  • The Diversity of Meaning, 1962
  • The Implications of Induction, 1970
  • The Probable and the Provable, 1977
  • Applications of Inductive Logic, 1980 (Joint editor)
  • Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science, 1982 (Joint editor)
  • The Dialogue of Reason, 1986
  • An Introduction to the Philosophy of Induction and Probability, 1989
  • An Essay on Belief and Acceptance, 1992
  • Knowledge and Language, 2002


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