J. L. Mackie

J. L. Mackie

region = Western Philosophy
era = 20th-century philosophy
color = #B0C4DE

image_caption =

name = John Leslie Mackie
birth = 1917
death = 1981
school_tradition = Australian Realism|Moral Sceptism
main_interests = Ethics, metaphysics
influences = John Anderson
influenced = Colin MacLeod
notable_ideas = Argument from queerness

John Leslie Mackie (1917–1981) was an Australian philosopher, originally from Sydney. He is perhaps best known for his views on meta-ethics, especially his defence of moral skepticism. However, he has also made significant contributions to philosophy of religion and metaphysics.



* 1917 born
* 1938, graduates from the University of Sydney after study under John Anderson
* 1938, Wentworth Travelling Fellowship to study Greats at Oriel College, Oxford
* 1940, graduates with a first
* 1940-46, World War II army service
* 1946-54, Lectures at the University of Sydney in Moral and Political Philosophy
* 1955-59, Professor of Philosophy, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
* 1959-63, Professor of Philosophy, University of Sydney
* 1963-67, Professor of Philosophy, University of York
* 1967, elected a fellow of University College, Oxford
* 1974, elected a fellow of the British Academy
* 1981 died

Character and family

Mackie is said to have been capable of expressing total disagreement in such a genial way that the person being addressed might mistake the comment for a compliment. This personal style is exemplified by the following words from the preface to Mackie's "Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong" (1977, p. 3):

One of Mackie's daughters, Dr. Penelope Mackie, also became a philosopher. She was a lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham from 1994 to 2004, and is now at the University of Nottingham.


Mackie was most well known for his contributions to the fields of meta-ethics, philosophy of religion, and metaphysics. In meta-ethics, he took the position of moral nihilism (though, since he was active prior to the existence of consistent naming conventions, Mackie used the term "moral skepticism" in his writings), arguing against the objective existence of "right" and "wrong" as intrinsically normative entities on fundamental grounds unsure what kinds of things such entities would be, if they existed (see, for example, Mackie 1977) (see Argument from Queerness). The Argument from Queerness also suggests that the only way to know of such entities would be through an intuition or another faculty different from how we know everything else. He conjoined moral skepticism with error theory, holding that moral judgments, while cognitive, are all false since there are no moral properties about which our moral judgments could be correct.

Concerning religion, he was well known for vigorously defending atheism, and also arguing that the problem of evil made untenable the main monotheistic religions (see, for example, Mackie 1982). His criticisms of the free will defence are particularly significant. He argued that the idea of human free will is no defense for those who wish to believe in an omnicompetent being in the face of evil and suffering, as such a being could have given us both free will and moral perfection, thus resulting in us choosing the good in every situation. Thus, Mackie's critique of free will theodicies was based on his support for compatibilism. In metaphysics, Mackie made significant contributions relating to the nature of causal relationships, especially regarding conditional statements describing them (see, for example, Mackie 1974) and the notion of an INUS condition.

elected publications

* 1973, "Truth, Probability, and Paradox", Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-824402-9.
* 1974, "The Cement of the Universe: A Study of Causation", Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-824642-0.
* 1976, "Problems from Locke", Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-824555-6.
* 1977, "Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong", Viking Press, ISBN 0-14-013558-8.
* 1977, "The Third Theory of Law", "Philosophy & Public Affairs", Vol. 7, No. 1.
* 1980, "Hume's Moral Theory", Routledge Keegan & Paul, ISBN 0-7100-0525-3.
* 1982, "The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and Against the Existence of God", Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-824682-X.
* 1985, "Logic and Knowledge: Selected Papers, Volume I", Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-824679-X.
* 1985, "Persons and Values: Selected Papers, Volume II", Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-824678-1.

References and further reading

* Franklin, James. (2003) "Corrupting the Youth: A History of Philosophy in Australia", Macleay Press, ISBN 1-876492-08-2.
* Honderich, Ted (ed). (1985) "Morality and Objectivity: A Tribute to J. L. Mackie", Routledge Kegan & Paul, ISBN 0-7100-9991-6.
* Stegmüller, Wolfgang. (1989) "Hauptströmungen der Gegenwartsphilosophie" (Bd. IV, Kapitel II, Teil A. Moralphilosophie ohne Metaphysik; Teil B. Mackies Wunder des Theismus), Alfred Kröner Verlag, ISBN 3-520-41501-1.

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