Jeff McMahan (philosopher)

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Jeff McMahan
Jefferson Allen McMahan

(1954-08-30) 30 August 1954 (age 66)
Alma materUniversity of the South
Corpus Christi College, Oxford
St. John's College, Cambridge
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
InstitutionsSt. John's College, Cambridge
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Rutgers University
University of Oxford
ThesisProblems of Population Theory (1986)
Doctoral advisorJonathan Glover, Derek Parfit, Bernard Williams
Main interests
Normative and applied ethics
Notable ideas
The ethics of intensive animal farming, the ethics of wild animal suffering, the ethics of killing in war, the ethics of nuclear weapons

Jefferson Allen McMahan (/məkˈmɑːn/; born 30 August 1954) is an American moral philosopher. He has been White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford since 2014.[1]

Education and career[edit]

McMahan completed a B.A. degree in English literature at the University of the South (Sewanee). He completed a second B.A. degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics then did graduate work in philosophy at Corpus Christi College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He then earned his M.A. at the University of Oxford. He was offered a research studentship at the St. John's College, Cambridge from 1979 to 1983. He studied first under Jonathan Glover and Derek Parfit at the University of Oxford and was later supervised by Bernard Williams at the University of Cambridge, where he was a research fellow of St. John's College from 1983 to 1986. He received his doctorate in 1986. His thesis title was Problems of Population Theory.

He taught at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (1986–2003) and at Rutgers University (2003–2014).[1]



McMahan has written extensively on normative and applied ethics, especially on bioethics and just war theory. His main work in bioethics include The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life (Oxford University Press, 2002). The book includes five parts, about identity, death, killing, the beginning of life and the end of life. In its first part, McMahan defends a mixed view of personal identity, claiming that individuals are what he calls "embodied minds". In the following parts, he claims that the badness of death and the wrongness of killing depends on our interest in living. He also defends what he calls a "time-relative interest account of living". According to his view, our interest in living depends on our psychological connection to our future selves at each time.

Animal ethics[edit]

In relation to his contributions in bioethics, McMahan has also written on the subject of animal ethics, where he has argued against the moral relevance of species membership.[2][3] McMahan has also claimed that intensive animal farming is a major ethical problem. He has argued for a strong negative duty to stop the suffering inflicted on animals through modern industrial agriculture, and against the eating of animals[4] McMahan has also participated in the ethical debate on wild animal suffering.[5] He has also made a case for intervening in nature to alleviate the suffering of wild animals when doing so would not cause more harm than good.[6][7][8]

Just war theory[edit]

McMahan's main contributions to just war theory are made in his book Killing in War (OUP, 2009), which argues against foundational elements of the traditional theory of the just war theory. Against Michael Walzer,[9] he claims that those who fight an unjust war can never meet the requirements of jus in bello.

Other work[edit]

McMahan has also co-edited the books The Morality of Nationalism (with Robert McKim, OUP, 1997), and Ethics and Humanity (with Ann Davis and Richard Keshen, OUP, 2010). In the early 80's, he wrote two books about the political situation at the time: British Nuclear Weapons: For and Against (London: Junction Books, 1981, which included a preface by Bernard Williams), and Reagan and the World: Imperial Policy in the New Cold War (London: Pluto Press, 1984). In more recent times, he has also done work on effective altruism.[10][11] He is on the editorial board of The Journal of Controversial Ideas.[12]

Selected publications[edit]


  • "The Meat Eaters". The Stone. The New York Times. 19 September 2010.
  • "Predators: A Response". The Stone. The New York Times. 28 September 2010. Archived from the original on 30 October 2019.
  • "Rethinking the 'Just War,' Part 1". The Stone. The New York Times. 11 November 2012.
  • "Rethinking the 'Just War,' Part 2". The Stone. The New York Times. 12 November 2012.
  • "Why Gun 'Control' Is Not Enough". The Stone. The New York Times. 19 December 2012.
  • Cutting, Gary; McMahan, Jeff (19 December 2012). "Can Torture Ever Be Moral?". The Stone. The New York Times.


  • The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life (Oxford University Press, 2002) (ISBN 0-195-16982-4)
  • Killing in War (Oxford University Press, 2009) (ISBN 0-199-54866-8)
  • The Ethics of Killing: Self-Defense, War, and Punishment (forthcoming, Oxford University Press, 2020) (ISBN 0-195-18721-0)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b McMahan, Jeff (January 2018). "Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). Jeff McMahan.
  2. ^ McMahan, Jeff. 2002. “Animals,” in R. G. Frey and Christopher Wellman, eds., Blackwell Companion to Applied Ethics (Oxford: Blackwell).
  3. ^ McMahan, Jeff. 2005. “‘Our Fellow Creatures’,” Journal of Ethics, 9, 353-380.
  4. ^ McMahan, Jeff. 2008. "Eating Animals The Nice Way". Daedalus 137 (1): 66-76. doi:10.1162/daed.2008.137.1.66.
  5. ^ Faria, Catia. 2015. "Making a Difference on Behalf of Animals Living in the Wild: Interview with Jeff McMahan". Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism 3 (1): 82-4. doi:10.7358/rela-2015-001-fari. open access
  6. ^ McMahan, Jeff (19 September 2010). "The Meat Eaters". New York Times Opinionator. Retrieved 2017-07-10.
  7. ^ McMahan, Jeff (2014). "The Moral Problem of Predation". In Chignell, Andrew (ed.). Philosophy Comes to Dinner: Arguments on the Ethics of Eating (PDF). London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0415806831.
  8. ^ Dorado, Daniel (2015). "Ethical Interventions in the Wild. An Annotated Bibliography". Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism. 3 (2): 219–238. doi:10.7358/rela-2015-002-dora. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  9. ^ Walzer, Michael. Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, 4th ed. (New York: Basic Books, 1977)
  10. ^ McMahan, Jeff. 2016. “Philosophical Critiques of Effective Altruism,” The Philosopher’s Magazine 73 (2nd Quarter).
  11. ^ McMahan, Jeff. 2017. “Doing Good & Doing the Best,” in Paul Woodruff, ed., Philanthropy and Philosophy: Putting Theory Into Practice (New York: Oxford University Press).
  12. ^ Rosenbaum, Martin (12 November 2018). "Pseudonyms to protect authors of controversial articles". BBC. Retrieved 13 November 2018.

External links[edit]