John Macmurray

A Biography

John E. Costello

Out of print

Quick Look

The first authoritative account of John Macmurray’s life.

234 x 156 mm
Floris Books
Philosophy of Human Life; Art & Literature
18 b/w photographs
448 pages
Publication date:
01 Feb 2002


The philosopher John Macmurray (1891–1976), perhaps the last of the great Scottish humanists, is now seen as a thinker for the twenty-first century. He was a philosopher with passion and vision as well as an inspirational teacher and lecturer at the universities of Oxford, London and Edinburgh.

Deeply moved by his experience in the trenches of the First World War, Macmurray was confirmed in his Christian faith but became scathing in his criticism of the Churches. Later, as a philosopher, he came to challenge the foundations of modern European thought and social practice, mounting an assault on impersonal academic systems which failed to address human freedom.

From the nightmare of the trenches to the crowded lecture halls of his academic teaching, in his private as well as his public life, Macmurray sought to express with integrity his vision of personal relations lived with freedom, equality and justice in community.

This biography, drawing on unpublished diaries, correspondence, interviews with colleagues and students and family records, is the first authoritative account of John Macmurray’s life. It sheds much light on the development of his thought and reveals the colourful complexity of his character and relationship.


'This well-written book will no doubt in the future be an essential starting point for students of Macmurray's philosophy, for it provides a general and authoritative introduction to Macmurray's philosophy and its development, set within a rich and sensitive account of Macmurray's life as a whole.'
-- Adam Hood, Scottish Journal of Theology, 2004

'A neglected native talent, John Macmurray, is the subject of a new biography. John Costello has done his homework on the philosopher, delving into unpublished diaries and other sources with zeal. This is a fitting tribute to a subtle and brilliant thinker.'
-- Edmund O'Connor, Chapman magazine, March 2004

'Read of the Week: British philosophy's best kept secret.'
-- The Scotsman

'Moving, readable and informative.'
-- The Tablet

'Highly recommended as a valuable introduction to Macmurray's life and thought.'
-- Appraisal

'This is an accomplished work of enormous labour. It is not only a rich biography of the man but also a synoptic glimpse of contemporary intellectuals between the wars. A full and convincing portrait of an extraordinary man.'
-- Edinburgh University History Newsletter

'This is an excellent book and a pleasing celebration of a great teacher.'
-- Science and Medical Network

'Written so lucidly and with so much insight into the man and philosophy.'
-- The Scots Magazine

'The first full-scale biography of John Macmurray … authoritative and helpful. Costello's sensitive and well written book is valuable in helping us to understand Macmurray's work in context. It is a welcome starting point for students of Macmurray.'
-- Adam Hood, The Philosophical Quarterly, April 2003

'A rich and rewarding introduction to Macmurray's life and thought. On almost every page new insights and facts are brought into the public realm for the first time. John Costello's well-written book describes a man whose ideas still have a role to play in building a truly human society.'
-- Adam Hood, The Dalhousie Review, Spring 2003


John E. Costello, a Canadian Jesuit priest, is a faculty member of Regis College in the University of Toronto and Director of the Toronto-based Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice.

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