Jeff McMahan (philosopher)


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

Jeff McMahan
Jefferson Allen McMahan

(1954-08-30) August 30, 1954 (age 67)
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
  • Derek Parfit, Bernard Williams

Education and careerEdit

McMahan completed a B.A. degree in English literature at the University of the South (Sewanee). He completed a second B.A. 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 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 from Cambridge. 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]

He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2022.[2]

Philosophical workEdit


McMahan has written extensively on normative and applied ethics, especially on bioethics and just war theory. His main work in bioethics includes The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life (Oxford University Press, 2002). The book consists of 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 ethicsEdit

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.[3][4] 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.[5] He has also participated in the ethical debate on wild animal suffering.[6] He has additionally made a case for intervening in nature to alleviate the suffering of wild animals when doing so would not cause more harm than good.[7][8][9]

Just war theoryEdit

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 basis of just war theory. Against Michael Walzer,[10] he claims that those who fight an unjust war can never meet the requirements of jus in bello.

Other workEdit

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 1980s, he wrote two books about the political situation at the time: British Nuclear Weapons: For and Against (London: Junction Books, 1981, with 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.[11][12] He is on the editorial board of The Journal of Controversial Ideas.[13]

Selected publicationsEdit


  • "The Meat Eaters". The Stone. The New York Times. September 19, 2010.
  • "Predators: A Response". The Stone. The New York Times. September 28, 2010. Archived from the original on October 30, 2019.
  • "Rethinking the 'Just War,' Part 1". The Stone. The New York Times. November 11, 2012.
  • "Rethinking the 'Just War,' Part 2". The Stone. The New York Times. November 12, 2012.
  • "Why Gun 'Control' Is Not Enough". The Stone. The New York Times. December 19, 2012.
  • Cutting, Gary; McMahan, Jeff (December 19, 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 (Oxford University Press, 2020) (ISBN 0-195-18721-0)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b McMahan, Jeff (January 2018). "Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). Jeff McMahan.
  2. ^ "New Members".
  3. ^ McMahan, Jeff. 2002. "Animals", in R. G. Frey and Christopher Wellman, eds., Blackwell Companion to Applied Ethics (Oxford: Blackwell).
  4. ^ McMahan, Jeff. 2005. “‘Our Fellow Creatures’,” Journal of Ethics, 9, 353-380.
  5. ^ McMahan, Jeff. 2008. "Eating Animals The Nice Way". Daedalus 137 (1): 66-76. doi:10.1162/daed.2008.137.1.66.
  6. ^ 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.  
  7. ^ McMahan, Jeff (September 19, 2010). "The Meat Eaters". New York Times Opinionator. Retrieved July 10, 2017.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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 April 21, 2016.
  10. ^ Walzer, Michael. Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, 4th ed. (New York: Basic Books, 1977)
  11. ^ McMahan, Jeff. 2016. "Philosophical Critiques of Effective Altruism", The Philosopher's Magazine 73 (2nd Quarter).
  12. ^ McMahan, Jeff. 2017. "Doing Good & Doing the Best", in Paul Woodruff, ed., Philanthropy and Philosophy: Putting Theory Into Practice (New York: Oxford University Press).
  13. ^ Rosenbaum, Martin (November 12, 2018). "Pseudonyms to protect authors of controversial articles". BBC. Retrieved November 13, 2018.

External linksEdit

  • Unjust War in Iraq. The Pelican Record XLI, no. 5 (December 2004): 21-33.
  • Introduction to the work of Jeff McMahan. By Lucia Sommer.
  • Jeff McMahan on Killing in War. An interview for Philosophy Bites, November 21, 2009.