Sunday, 27 March 2011

A Great Contemporary Moral Philosopher with Papers for Download

It isn't often that I come across colleagues whose writings I not only learn from, is challenged by and/or, occasionally, agree with, but that to my eye embodies the very core of what philosophy is about. If you know anything about philosophy, you may also know that the question of what it is about is deeply contested among philosophers, so perhaps a better way of saying this is to put it in terms of what initially attracted me and keeps me attracted to the subject. Anyhow, moral philosopher Jeff McMahan (Oxbridge man, now at Rutgers University) is one of these few people. He caught my attention when I was a Ph.D. student writing on the morality of abortion with what I think is his first major academic publication, the lengthy review "Problems of Population Theory", that has since then become a classic primer for anyone seriously wanting to pursue the intricate problems involved in formulating an ethical theory capable of handling the tricky aspects of how our choices may impact on posterity. After that, McMahan has been writing extensively on what may be defined as the ethics of life and death – not least that of killing. In particular, he has pursued and (I would say) thoroughly revived the classic theme of the ethics of war and warfare. What I like about McMahan is basically the combination of three things: his honest engagement with moral philosophy as a practical subject, his commitment to critical thinking – never quitting to question the content and plausibility of his own premises, arguments and ideas, and his view and practice of making applied ethics as an integral part of making ethical theory – and vice versa.

However, luckily, you don't have to take my word for it. McMahan has had the very good taste of making a lot of his writings available for free download via his university webpage. Enjoy!