Christopher McMahon

Christopher McMahon
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy

Office Location

South Hall 5711


  • Political and Social Philosophy
  • Moral Philosophy


  • PhD, University of Pittsburgh


I work primarily on social and political philosophy. I also have an interest in meta-ethics, aesthetics, and continental philosophy. My most recent book is Reasonableness and Fairness: A Historical Theory (Cambridge, 2016).  This book posits a distinction between two kinds of moral concern, direct concern and reciprocal concern, and argues that fairness and reasonableness, along with distributive justice, constitute central concepts of the morality of reciprocal concern.  These concepts capture in slightly different ways the essence of reciprocal concern, which is appropriate concession in the context of a cooperative arrangement.  I understand concession to be appropriate when disparities of concession among the participants are eliminated.  I propose a meta-ethical theory of the morality of reciprocal concern according to which it is grounded in a motivational disposition, which will be possessed by all humans whose mental capacities are functioning properly, to respond to perceived disparities of concession, in cooperative arrangements in which they are participants, by making or seeking corrective concessions.  This disposition evolves as novel cooperative contexts are encountered, with the result that the morality of reciprocal concern itself evolves.  Thus what fairness (say) requires now may be different from what it required in the past.   Because distributive justice has received extensive discussion in contemporary philosophy, the book focuses on the less discussed concepts of fairness and reasonableness.  It has two parts.  Part I, The Substance of Reciprocal Concern, explores the structure of the concepts of this part of morality.  This involves distinguishing reasonableness in the concession sense (which marks appropriate concession) from reasonableness in the competence sense (which marks competent reasoning, and is not a moral concept).  Part II, The History of Reciprocal Concern, develops a meta-ethical theory for this part of morality and sketches in more detail its historical evolution.




1.       Public Capitalism: The Political Authority of Corporate Executives. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

2.       Reasonable Disagreement: A Theory of Political Morality. Cambridge University Press, 2009. (Paperback edition, 2012.)

3.       Collective Rationality and Collective Reasoning. Cambridge University Press, 2001.

4.       Authority and Democracy: A General Theory of Government and Management. Princeton University Press,1994.


1.       “Rawls, Reciprocity, and the Barely Reasonable,” Utilitas (2014).

2.       “Disagreement about Fairness,” in Philosophical Topics (2010).

3.       “Habermas, Rawls, and Moral Impartiality,” in Habermas versus Rawls: Disputing the Political, G. Finlayson and F. Freyenhagen, eds. Routledge, 2011.

4.       “Nondomination and Normativity,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (2007).

5.       “Pettit on Collectivizing Reason,” Social Theory and Practice (2005).

6.       “Shared Agency and Rational Cooperation,” Nous (2005).

7.       “The Indeterminacy of Republican Policy,” Philosophy and Public Affairs (2005).

8.       “Why There is No Issue Between Habermas and Rawls,” The Journal of Philosophy (2002).