John McMurtry

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John McMurtry, PhD, FRSC, is University Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Guelph, Canada.[1] The long-guiding thread of his work is the deep-structural study of social value systems across domains and cultures. Since the 1990s, he has focused his most well-known research on the underlying moral and economic logic of ‘globalization’. McMurtry's principal research project from 2003 to 2011 followed from the invitation by the Secretariat of UNESCO/EOLSS (Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems, Paris-Oxford) to construct, author and edit Philosophy and World Problems as a multi-volume study. Three sub-volumes entitled Western Philosophy and the Life-Ground, Modes of Reason, and Philosophy, Human Nature and Society have been written with internationally distinguished philosophers while the central title study by McMurtry, entitled, “What is Good, What is Bad? The Value of All Values Across Time, Place and Theories”, is an encompassing in-depth critical study of known world philosophies and disciplinary fields to explain the logic of each canon and school in relationship to world problems across languages and eras including the method of life-value onto-axiology, which is deployed to uncover, explain and resolve unexamined presuppositions of the world’s major thought-systems, from ancient traditions to modern and contemporary philosophy. A further monograph on ‘spiritual philosophies’ philosophically decoding the core primary sources of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Christianity has completed the project. In between these general research projects, McMurtry was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC) in June 2001 by his peers for his outstanding contributions to the study of the humanities and social sciences.[2][3]


John McMurtry received his doctorate from University College, London in the United Kingdom after completing his BA and MA at the University of Toronto, Canada. Prior to doctoral studies, he was "a professional football player, print and television journalist, academic English teacher and world-traveller". In his autobiographic article The Human Vocation: An Autobiography of Higher Education for the scholarly journal Nordicum-Mediterraneum, McMurtry recounts the most salient moments of his formative years and states that he "came to philosophy as a last resort, because as someone naturally disposed to question unexamined assumptions and conventional beliefs, I could find no other profession which permitted this vocation at the appropriate level of research."

Value theory is his unifying field of research, as he has published and taught in as diverse fields of inquiry as social and political philosophy, Asian/Indian and Chinese philosophy, philosophy of economics, philosophy of education, philosophy and literature, philosophy of history, post-Kant continental philosophy, the logic of natural language, and philosophy of the environment.

He is also part of the peace movement and international law study bodies.[4] He served as Chair of Jurists, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Tribunal at the Alternative World Summit in Toronto, 1989.[4] His professional work has been published in over 150 books and journals, including Inquiry, the Monist, the Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Praxis International, the Encyclopaedia of Ethics, Atlantic Monthly, Guardian Weekly, and the Norton Anthology of Prose.

Political, philosophical, and economic views[edit]

McMurtry's best known research has focused on the underlying value structure of economic theory, its consequences for global civil and environmental life, and the life ground and civil commons. McMurtry considers the global free market "inefficient and life-destructive" in proportion to how unregulated it is by life needs (that without which life capacity is reduced) and by life capital (human and ecological life wealth that reproduces more life wealth if not run down).[5] In general, four principles of analysis and development are applied: the life-ground (all the conditions required to take one’s next breath), life value (whatever enables life capacities), life capital (means of life that can produce more means of life without loss), and civil commons (any social construct that enables universal access of community members to life goods through time).

In Unequal Freedoms: The Global Market As An Ethical System, 1998, he examines the underlying value system of the global market in theory and in practice, argues that it constructs the opposite of the “free and democratic society” it claims to bring about, and re-grounds economic thought in life-value principles.

In The Cancer Stage of Capitalism, 1999, he contends that human societies assume the social order in which they live as good even if systemically life-destructive, and focuses on financial capitalism as displaying the hallmark characteristics of a cancer invasion at the social level of life organization. He develops the concept of “the civil commons” as the lost common ground of social defense and development.

In Value Wars: The Global Market Versus the Life Economy, 2002, he criticizes capitalist ideology and scientific technology, transnational trade apparatuses, NATO wars, and an expanding prison regime as symptoms of a "new totalitarianism cumulatively occupying the world and propelling civil and ecological breakdowns". The second half of the book proposes a systematic account of the constitutional standards required for a global “life economy”.

McMurtry questioned the “official conspiracy theory” of the September 11 attacks in a public address to Science for Peace, University of Toronto, December 9, 2001.[6]

Notable works[edit]

1. Books

  • The Dimensions Of English. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.
  • The Structure of Marx's World-View. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.
  • Understanding War: A Philosophical Inquiry. Toronto: Science for Peace & Samuel Stevens, 1989.
  • Unequal Freedoms: The Global Market As An Ethical System, Toronto: Garamond & Westport, Conn., 1998.
  • The Cancer Stage of Capitalism. London, Pluto Books, 1999 (2nd ed. 2013, with subtitle "From Crisis to Cure").
  • Value Wars: The Global Market Versus the Life Economy, London and Sterling: Pluto Press, 2002.

2. Articles

  • Monogamy: A Critique The Monist 67(4): 588-600, 1972.
  • How to Tell the Left From the Right Canadian Journal of Philosophy 9(3): 387-412, 1979.
  • The Case for Children's Liberation Interchange 10(3): 387-412, 1979-80.
  • Philosophical Method and Rise of Social Philosophy Eidos, 11(2): 139-176, 1981.
  • Fascism and Neo-Conservatism: Is There a Difference? Praxis International 4(1): 86-102, 1983.
  • The Unspeakable: Understanding the System of Fallacy of the Media Informal Logic 10(3): 133-150, 1988.
  • Rethinking the Military Paradigm Inquiry (Europe) 34(4): 415-432, 1991.
  • How Competition Goes Wrong Journal of Applied Philosophy, 8(2): 200-210, 1991.
  • Education and the Market Model Journal of the Philosophy of Education 25(2): 209-218, 1991.
  • Sex, Love and Friendship In Soble, Alan & Barbara Krishner, eds, Sex, Love and Friendship Value Inquiry Book Series, Takoma: Rodopi, 1995.
  • Human rights versus Corporate Rights: Life Value, the Civil Commons and Social Justice, Studies in Social Justice 5(1): 10-61. Special Issue: Life Value and Social Justice, 2011.
  • Behind Global System Collapse: The Life-Blind Structure of Economic Rationality, Journal of Business Ethics Vol. 108: No.1, 49-60, 2012.
  • The Moral Decoding of 9-11: Beyond the U.S. Criminal State Journal of 9/11 Studies Volume 35: 1-67, 2013.[7]


  1. ^ "University of Guelph - Department of Philosophy".  (retrieved October 2013)
  2. ^ U of G Professor named to Royal Society of Canada
  3. ^ "The Royal Society of Canada". Complete List of Fellows. Retrieved 28 September 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "IPRD Advisory Board". Dr. John McMurtry. Institute for Policy Research and Development. Retrieved 27 September 2011. 
  5. ^ How the Free Market Destroys Life, by John McMurtry in The New Internationalist.
  6. ^ Why there is a War in Afghanistan by John McMurtry in Global Research.
  7. ^ Chicago Media Watch Conference, "Empire at War: American Propaganda From a Political, Historic, and Religious Perspective", Chicago Media Watch Reporter, Fall, 2002

External links[edit]