“The Human Vocation: An Autobiography of Higher Education” by Prof John McMurtry (2008)

To be honest, I backed into the academic profession after trying almost everything else. Until then, I perceived the academic’s work as a disconnection in symbolic spheres, “merely academic”. Only as I came to recognise that concepts are the governors of action did I realize that the real action was thinking through the life-blind programs I saw all around me. Since thinking through is the vocation of the university, that is where I ended up. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I had to experience the university first. From the day I was an 18-year-old on campus, it was the freest place I had ever been – freedom from the external routines of job and school, freedom from the authority structure that deadened my life-pulse, and freedom to be really good with the best. Eventually I got the idea of the searching mind as a common horizon that stretched from behind and opened over the millennia, and I never got over the exhilaration. It was like being timeless and unbound.

But it took me a while to get there. I began as a typical active boy. I did not like being in a classroom when I could be moving and self-directed, and I did not like exams. I just knew through high school that I had to do everything required “to get a university education”. This was a given in my family, but I had no idea of any career. The idea always seemed to me a closure. That was the beauty of the university. You did not have to choose a career. Who knew what you would want to do then when it was now, and you were still learning what really interested you. Intelligence is interest, I figured out early on.

A job? For me, it could be working in the prisons with the most oppressed people in our society, those who are caged, or it could be, at the other end, the applied psychology of advertising which fascinated me by tapping into people’s desires. Or it could be a lawyer like my father and two older brothers – my context was full of the legal profession. But I hated the idea of having to call judges “my lord” or being ingratiating to the rich. Perhaps I could be a writer since I’d published erratically since I was 12. But once in university, the questions faded. I was so busy giving myself full speed to what the academy had to offer that I had no time for the pre-laid road of a “career”. I blessed the university as a place where freedom from a career was possible – approximately the opposite conception of today when it is reduced to an instrument of “the job market”.

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“How Competition Goes Wrong” by Prof JOHN McMURTRY (1991)

Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1991 pp. 201-209 How Competition Goes Wrong JOHN McMURTRY ABSTRACT The article begins by identifying a set of hitherto undisclosed contradictions of meaning and value attributed to a basic structure of our existence—competition. It seeks to resolve these contradictions by showing that there are two basic forms… Read More

Adnan Zuberi 2013 “9/11 in the Academic Community” – ACADEMIA’S TREATMENT OF CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES ON 9/11 – DOCUMENTARY

Video above from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9F2TWZ1xfJI Reproduced from: https://911inacademia.com/about/ About Awarded for “Documentary Achievement” at the University of Toronto Film Festival, this film documents academia’s treatment of critical perspectives on 9/11 by examining impairments in professional inquiry, the usage of terms functioning as thought-stoppers in academic discourse, the epistemological implications of basing the official 9/11 narrative’s foundation on testimony obtained… Read More

“War and Peace: The Lost Principles of Science and Value” by Professor John McMurtry

Reproduced from: https://www.globalresearch.ca/war-and-peace-the-lost-principles-of-science-and-value/5456055 War and Peace: The Lost Principles of Science and Value Peace Activists Blame the Enemy without Science or Life-Value Compass By Prof. John McMurtry Global Research, September 14, 2015 In recent months we have seen one ‘peace activist’ organization after another framing global conflicts in US war-propaganda terms. There is no criterion of… Read More


WAYS OF UNIVERSAL LIFE: THE  TAO, HUMAN HEARTEDNESS, AND ZEN JESUS Keywords: aesthetic, being and non-being, body, Chuang Tzu, Confucianism, death, desires, Five Relations, good and evil, First Peoples, human nature, human heartedness, Jesus, koans, Legalism, Lao tzu, life needs/necessities, life-coherence principle, love, male/female, Mencius, Mo Tzu, mind, money, Nature, Neo-Confucianism, principles, propriety, self-other, subjectivist… Read More

‘What Is Good? What Is Bad? – The Value Of All Values Through Time, Place And Theories’ by Prof John McMurtry


When the UNESCO-EOLSS Secretariat asked me in 2004 to organize a Philosophy Theme for the Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems, I accepted with an ultimate commitment. We were united in our shared concern for the future of life on the planet, and the world itself needed what philosophy can offer – critical examination of first principles and underlying value assumptions at a system level. The cumulative degradation and collapse of the globe’s life-carrying capacities was by then undeniable to thoughtful people, and I had already published much research on the unexamined value system regulating the globe. With the sciences and economics misleadingly claiming value neutrality, and philosophy and the humanities not engaging the value- system problem at a planetary level, I sought to meet a seemingly impossible task of explaining world philosophy across specialties and areas while coming to grips with the emergent world crisis. Forging explanatory connection between ruling thought systems and the deep-structural problems of civilization had long been central to my research, and so I understood this invitation as a call to enlist the deepest and most comprehensive resources of philosophical analysis to explain philosophy across schools, to lay bare the fatally misguided assumptions and their consequences pressing in upon us, and to spell out a life-coherent way of reason to move forward. “How to live” has been philosophy’s ultimate question since the ancients and “what is good and true”, or not, has been its unifying quest. Common problem and method of understanding it whole were joined by this project.

Organization of the Chapters

The work found in this publication has two major ‘volumes’ of explanatory analysis. The first is my Theme Essay on Philosophy and World Problems which is written in a cumulatively building explanation to fulfill the project in one unified volume. Its 12 chapters are set out in full in the Table of Contents ahead. Here I shall only summarize their research and findings in a very general way. Analysis begins from our current human condition with an anatomy of the global crisis in terms of opposed and unexamined value systems (Chapter 1). The next chapters then critically analyze and move beyond the immutable idea of the good as happiness and release from pain (Chapter 2) to critically excavate other general theories of value across classic and leading contemporary forms (Chapters 3, 4 and 5). The self-evident basis of all that human beings truly value is spelled out from the “primary axiom of value” with the “ultimate value fields of thought, felt being and action” explained and illustrated across problems and domains (Chapters 6, 7 and 8). The human subject and the manifold value systems constructed across cultures are then explained as the rules by which individuals and societies live whose validity or invalidity, justice or injustice can be objectively determined by life-value analysis in theory and practice alike (Chapters 9, 10 and 11). Rational choice and scientific method across contemporary theories are then critiqued in light of the life-coherence principle as the missing imperative of human reason and of the global system itself (Chapter 12).

The second ‘volume’ of original essays is by experts who have been selected to cover all the life-relevant fields of contemporary philosophical inquiry. Their essays cover three meta areas of philosophy, with each meta area consisting of a set of four or five essays. This organizing framework complements the all-inclusive Theme Essay by providing specialist accounts of major topic fields by philosophers with internationally recognized capacities of research in these fields. The three meta areas are: (1) Onto-Ethical Philosophy from the pre-Socratics to the present with overviews from a life-grounded standpoint covering virtually every known figure and school of philosophy up to contemporary environmental theory; (2) Modes of Reason consisting of systematic coverages of logic, science, natural language argument, and market rationality; (3) Philosophy and Society investigating competing historical and contemporary views of human nature, democracy, and human rights.


Philosophy resists conclusions because its method across disagreements – like modern science to which it gives rise – always leaves issues open to counter-argument and furtherance of understanding. This is how philosophy differs from religious, sectarian and other dogmas and closed systems of thinking. Yet agreement across the research contributing to this work is implicit or explicit on one meta principle: whatever is incoherent with organic, social and ecological life requirements through time is false, and evil to the extent of its reduction and destruction of life fields and support systems.


Members of the UNESCO-EOLSS Secretariat patiently supported and counseled on this complex “magnum opus” over six years. My former PhD students and now distinguished professors, Jeffery Noonan and Giorgio Baruchello, have been close and outstanding co-researchers and explainers of life-ground philosophy and the method of life-value analysis across philosophy’s domains. James Robert Brown, Alex Michalos, and (as joint authors) Tony Blair and Ralph Johnson have written definitive overview texts for the project as masters in their fields. Kai Nielsen has explained why he thinks that received moral philosophy in which he is a noted leader has been impoverished in facing the world’s problems. Jerry (G.A) Cohen contributed his renowned essay on non-market reason and community before his tragic passing. My longtime partner Jennifer Sumner has been an invaluable social-science researcher into the life-ground and the civil commons and has provided all-sided life support to the project.

John McMurtry,

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A Resetting of our Life-Dysfunctional Cultural Value Systems to the Life-Valued Ground via The Three Horizons Framework

As a biological and cultural species, we are ultimately grounded to the life-supporting systems of our planet and that of our societies, respectively. We are ultimately anchored to these life-supporting systems and are able to survive and thrive by the necessary and sufficient provisioning of the universal human life necessities as explained in Professor John’s… Read More

“The Social Immune System and the Cancer Stage of Capitalism” by Prof John McMurtry (1995)

WHEN WE THINK OF A SOCIETY’S “DEFENSE SYSTEM,” WE THINK OF ITS ARMED FORCES. We have long been conditioned to do this. The military industrial establishment and the armaments business are the world’s most powerful institutions of organized violence and international trade. For them to preserve their vast systems of power, it is essential that they be sold as society’s primary form of “self-defense” (e.g., at least $700 million a day of demand on the U.S. public purse alone).[note]For a systematic critique of the military paradigm of social self-defense, see McMurtry (1989).[/note] Society’s real system of self-defense, its public health process, is in this way deprived of its proper social resources and functions. At the same time, ever more invasive assaults on the protection and circulation of means of life within societies by environmental despoliation, redistribution of wealth from the poor and middle-income classes to the rich, and radical dismantling of public forms of life-provision now attack society’s health and life-defenses from another side.[note]On November 11, 1994, Canada’s House of Commons Committee on Foreign Affairs made the extraordinary announcement that the state of Canada’s economy was more important than military defense to Canada’s security “because the threat to Canada’s standard of living is now greater than the threat to its borders.” The announcement, however, was not communicated in any mainstream news media.[/note] In these ways, we now confront a situation where the cumulative breakdown of society’s structures of life-security and health protection poses a more systemically far-reaching threat to social and planetary well-being than we are yet prepared for.

In this context, we must look through a wider lens at what we call “public health.” Public health regimes regulated by self-conscious scientific practices are a comparatively recent evolution, originating in Europe in the latter half of the 18th century with, as Michel Foucault puts it, “the accumulation of bodies” in large cities during the industrial capitalist expansion. The intensive concentrations of propertyless humanity in rising capitalist production centers introduced a host of new and deadly problems of runaway sewage, fouled water supplies, adulterated foods, contagious diseases, roaming street people, abandoned children, extreme poverty and degradation, infirm and aged people without familial supports, and so on – much as we see growing again in the unfettered “free market” cities of today at the end of the 20th century.[note]Interestingly, the postmodernist Foucault (1984: 279-281), typical of the naive nihilism of this school, seems to deplore the regime of “care, contact, hygiene, cleanliness, attentive proximity, and physical exercise … which envelopes, maintains, and develops the child’s body … as an instance of social control.”[/note]

Subsequent to its initial development in Europe and Britain, public health came to be associated with a host of municipal, regional, and national government regulations to secure the prevention of disease and the promotion of health in social populations – from laws to ensure the purity of food and water supplies, to administrative and liability norms to protect workers’ health and safety, to public educational systems to develop cognitive capabilities essential to social and individual survival within vast, interconnected organizations of interdependent functions constituting contemporary social bodies. When surveying the increasing state and public-sector mediations of every aspect of our lives by complex, articulated systems of life-protective circulation and regulation of social intercourse and functions, one begins to recognize that – despite its continuous errors, oversights, and dogmas – this historically evolved organization of societies for the protection of their members against disease, trauma, and dysfunction is a determining level of species survival and development. It is a social immune system.

To measure the competence of this “social immune system” in any given society, we now have standard indicators of infant mortality, disease frequencies and ratios, average life expectancies and indices of mortality, distribution of life resources across social memberships, national fitness levels, grades of mental competence, and measures of citizen participation in the organizational development of social bodies as functioning wholes. To an increasing extent, these various social indicators of social health and well-being have become more complex and detailed than the medical profiles and records of individual patient organisms.

In recognizing this evolution of social life-organization and the corresponding immune defense systems, we must be very careful not to reduce the individual, as some political theorists like Hegel and the fascists have done, to a mere function and element of a social organism. Rather, we must understand that human individuals are dependent upon the larger social bodies to which they belong for their healthful reproduction and expression. To exist as individuals functionally able to realize individual capacities in a state of normal health, they must be protected members of social bodies. Individual persons are not reducible to, but are based upon the socially interrelated whole to which they belong for their life requirements to be fulfilled, and for their health to be secured. If we imagine the absence from our lives of an evolved social system of life protection, we immediately realize how precarious and lethally exposed individual human life becomes without it – for example, against contagious plagues, toxins, and insecure conditions of life and information transmission. In 14th-century Europe and Asia, up to three-quarters of individual humans suffered horrible deaths without the system of social immune defense that we now take for granted.

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The Mass Media: An Analysis of Their System of Fallacy by John McMurtry (1990)

At the heart of informal logic is its concern to detect fallacious structures of reasoning in natural language discourse. The normal procedure is: where we are able to identify a flaw in premise, inference, relevance or the like in any route of reasoning, we hold that a fallacy has been committed and we seek to demonstrate it. Otherwise put, logical analysis is directed at what is argued, and fallacies are found in this or that particular way of arriving at a conclusion.

This method of analysis is indispensable to sound logical construction of individual arguments, but misses the overall pattern of assertion and non-assertion for the particular claims within it. What has been so far overlooked is that reasoning can be misled not only in its steps of making a case, but by what is ruled out from being made a case: not only by what is wrong within this or that route of assertion, but also by what is wrong with the structure of these routes of assertion taken together. We have in a word missed the forest for the trees – or more accurately, we have missed the logical landscape within which the forest and trees are located.

I argue here that there is a deeper, more comprehensive structure that subverts reason and misleads our thinking across propositional routes, and not through any fallacy of any such route. And I show that this structure obstructs and deforms our thinking by a general system of deception which has so far operated underneath the reach of our tools of logical detection and correction.

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The Argumentum Ad Adversarium by Prof. John McMurtry (1986)

The fallacy of ignoratio elenchi (“ignorance of the argument”) comes in many forms. The traditional species are marked by a Latin nomenclature: the ad hominem (“to the man”), ad baculum (“to force”), ad misericordiam (“to pity”), ad populum (“to the people”) and ad verecundiam (“to reverence” or “authority”).[note]

Ignoratio elenchi means, literally, “ignorance of refutation”. The term arises as a Latin translation of Aristotle’s name for one of the thirteen fallacies he describes in De Sophisticis Elenchis, and has covered a wide range of logical sins since. For example, C.L. Hamblin, Fallacies (New York: Methuen, 1970) pp. 41 ff, lists fully 24 species of this fallacy and Alex Michalos, Improving Your Reasoning (Englewood Cliffs, J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970), pp. 50-67, lists 21. (I am indebted to David Hitchcock here.) All such noted species of the ignoratio elenchi, however, conform to the unifying principle we cite.[/note] The common principle underlying these and all other types of the ignoratio elenchi is that each diverts the argument onto a premise that is irrelevant to the claim in contention. Because they are familiar and recognizable kinds of dishonest argumentation – in particular, the appeals ad hominem and ad baculum which are a stock-in-trade of everyday communication and exchange – they are widely enshrined as fallacies in informal logic courses and texts. Indeed knowledge of the ad hominem has achieved such wide currency that it has passed into the language as a more or less standard term of literate discourse.

What I wish to propose here is that there is a kind of ignoratio elenchi so far unrecognized which is as easily identifiable and more influentially misleading than the traditional types, but which has as yet escaped a name to detect it. This kind, as all others of its species, diverts argument onto an irrelevant premise, but it does so in a special way: by rerouting discussion onto the alleged property or behaviour of a common adversary.[note]

We use the phrases “common adversary”, “conventional foe”, ”customarily shared opponent” and so on interchangeably. What qualifies a party or entity, E, for the status referred to by these and similar expressions is that the social group, G, within whose context E is invoked, has as a group a predictable tendency to attack It is consistent with this description that some individual members of G, whether G is a national television audience or a living room gathering, may as individuals dissent from G’s disposition to attack E. (It would be a fallacy of division to infer the contrary.) It also follows that in some cases, say, “big unions”, “women’s libbers”, or “student radicals”, G’s collective reaction to invocation of these as E, will vary from G to G, depending on the composition of the group appealed to. (The “common adversary” here will be predictable for some groups, business or conservative, but not predictable for others.) It is these complicating factors that can account for cases of the ad adversarium’s dramatic failure (e.g. hisses from the audience), or change of adversarial objects over time with the same group.[/note]

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