Mcmahan, Jeff(erson Allen) 1954-

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McMAHAN, Jeff(erson Allen) 1954-


Born August 30, 1954. Education: University College, Oxford, diploma, 1975; University of the South, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1976; Corpus Christi College, Oxford, B.A. (first class honors), 1978; Oxford University, M.A., 1985; Cambridge University, Ph.D., 1986.


Office—Department of Philosophy, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 105 Gregory Hall, 810 South Wright St., Urbana, IL 61801. E-mail—[email protected].


Educator and author. University of Illinois at Chicago, instructor in philosophy, 1983; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, assistant professor, 1986-92, associate professor, 1992-2001, professor of philosophy, 2001—.


Research fellow, St. John's College, Cambridge.


British Nuclear Weapons: For and Against, Junction Books (London, England), 1981.

Reagan and the World: Imperial Policy in the New Cold War, Pluto Press (London, England), 1984, expanded edition, Monthly Review Press (New York, NY), 1985.

Ethical Aspects of the Nuclear Debate, Open University Press (Milton Keynes, England), 1986.

(With Susan Hurley and Madison Powers) A Select Bibliography of Moral and Political Philosophy, Oxford Subfaculty of Philosophy (Oxford, England), 1987.

(Editor, with Robert McKim) The Morality of Nationalism, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.

The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributor to periodicals, including Ethics and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Contributor to anthologies, including Dangers of Deterrence: Philosophers on Nuclear Strategy, edited by Nigel Blake and Kay Pole, Routledge & Kegan Paul (Boston, MA), 1983, and Nuclear Weapons and the Future of Humanity, edited by Avner Cohen and Steven Lee, Rowman & Allanheld (Totowa, NJ), 1986.

Author's work has been published in Spanish translation.


A companion volume to The Ethics of Killing that examines the ethics of killing in self-defense, during war, and as a penalty for criminal acts.


A professor of philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Jeff McMahan has devoted much of his career to the study of the ethics of warfare, particularly as the nature of warfare has changed since the advent of nuclear weaponry. In books such as Ethical Aspects of the Nuclear Debate and The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life he explores the relative "value" of human life and its loss from birth to old age. McMahan's work has been roundly commended for its lucidity and thoroughness. Writing of McMahan's 1981 volume British Nuclear Weapons: For and Against, an Ethics contributor praised the educator for presenting a "refreshingly nonapocalyptic study" that presents an "argumentative tour de force" of interest to readers interested in arms proliferation, while McMahan's Reagan and the World: Imperial Policy in the New Cold War was dubbed a "sophisticated critique [that] marshals substantial argument and evidence" by Library Journal contributor Richard B. Finnegan.

In The Ethics of Killing McMahan studies the concept of death as it is viewed relative to the moral status of individual identity and such mortal acts as abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, and the killing of animals. Noting that the author's intent is to "defend a particular theory of the rights and wrongs of killing, in particular abortion and euthanasia, on the basis of a theory of personal identity," Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews contributor Michael Lacewing synthesized McMahan's argument by explaining that merely being human does not count for much. "The wrongness of killing human beings who have little psychological unity, such as fetuses, infants, and the congenitally severely cognitively impaired, is proportional to their time-relative interests," which are not strong. As Ingmar Persson explained in a Times Literary Supplement review, "Death cannot be intrinsically bad for you, in the way that feeling pain is, because death implies permanent unconsciousness. So its badness must be entirely extrinsic, bad because of what it excludes in the way of good life." Following this reasoning, McMahan views an infant's death as less bad because an infant, with no awareness of its future potential, has less to lose in death than a healthy adult in mid-life. Therefore, Lacewing continued, "Killing human beings with no more capacity for rich psychological unity than animals is no more wrong than killing animals.… Killing animals is a serious matter, McMahan argues, but the harm involved … can be outweighed by other interests." While voicing disagreement with some of the ideas McMahan puts forth in his discussions, Persson nonetheless called The Ethics of Killing a "monumental book" written in a manner "so lucid that non-specialists" will find it accessible. In conclusion, the reviewer maintained that "the thoroughness and comprehensiveness with which [the author] … has worked out these ideas is deeply impressive."

Other books by McMahan include The Morality of Nationalism, a collection of essays coedited with fellow educator Robert McKim in which scholars such as Michael Walzer, Jonathan Glover, Charles Taylor, and Avishai Margalit represent an international perspective. Responding to the changing concept of the political "State" in the face of the breakdown of the former USSR, the fractiousness in post-colonial Africa, and the dissolution of Yugoslavia into units of ethnic rather than geographic foundations, the nineteen essays included in this work explore the question "What is Nationalism?" Praising the book for containing innumerable facts of interest to many students of social and political history, Choice reviewer J. M. Betz hailed the works included as "gems of sustained philosophical analysis." In his Ethics review Christopher W. Morris cited The Morality of Nationalism as "an instructive and probing treatment of the moral issues raised" by the nation-state construct, while in American Political Science Review Glyn Morgan praised the book as "a welcome and important addition" to a central philosophical issue.



American Political Science Review, June, 1998, Glyn Morgan, review of The Morality of Nationalism, p. 442.

Choice, June, 1998, J. M. Betz, review of The Morality of Nationalism, p. 1723.

Ethics, October, 1983, review of British Nuclear Weapons: For and Against, p. 185; April, 2000, Christopher W. Morris, review of The Morality of Nationalism, p. 629.

Library Journal, August, 1985, Richard B. Finnegan, review of Reagan and the World: Imperial Policy in the New Cold War, p. 102.

Monthly Review, January, 1987, Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers, Reagan and the World, pp. 42-51.

New Statesman, January 1, 1982, M. H. Ryle, "Confronting Our Fear," pp. 18-20.

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, November 1, 2002, Michael Lacewing, review of The Ethics of Killing.

Times Literary Supplement, March 26, 1999, David Runciman, review of The Morality of Nationalism pp. 7-8; November 1, 2002, Ingmar Persson, "A Blind Life within the Brain," p. 15.

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Mcmahan, Jeff(erson Allen) 1954-

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