He received his doctorate in 1975 from University College, University of London. Prior to doctoral studies, he was "a professional football player, print and television journalist, academic English teacher and world-traveller" and a student of Asian philosophy. According to himself he "came to philosophy as a last resort, because as someone naturally disposed to question unexamined assumptions and conventional beliefs, I could find no other profession which permitted this vocation at the appropriate level of research."
He calls value theory "my unifying field of research", but has also published and taught in social and political philosophy, Asian/Indian and Chinese philosophy, philosophy of economics, philosophy of education, philosophy and literature, philosophy of history, post-Kant continental philosophy, the logic of natural language, and, recently, philosophy of the environment.
He is also part of the peace movement and international law study bodies, e.g. serving as Chair of Jurists, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Tribunal at the Alternative World Summit in Toronto, 1989. His professional work has been published in over 150 books and journals, including Inquiry, the Monist, the Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Praxis International, the Encyclopedia of Ethics, Atlantic Monthly, Guardian Weekly and the Norton Anthology of Prose.
His recent research has focused on the underlying value structure of economic theory, its consequences for global civil and environmental life, and the life ground and civil commons.
In Unequal Freedoms: The Global Markets As An Ethical System, 1998, he lays out strong arguments for moral purchasing and ethical investing. Any purchasing or investing decision makes ethical and moral choices anyway, be default, he argues, and a market system must by definition reflect the morality of the society that conducts commerce via that system.
Globalization, for instance, is driven by what he calls "an unexamined and absolutist value system whose principles and unseen meaning it lays bare." He criticizes capitalist scientific technology, transnational trade apparatuses, NATO wars and an expanding prison regime, as symptoms of a "new totalitarianism cumulatively occupying the world and propelling civil and ecological breakdowns."
Value Wars: The Global Market Versus the Life Economy, 2002, which outlines this analysis, also explains "the shared life-grounds, public sectors and cross-cultural movement of the "'new resistance'", and systematically defines the moral compass and constitutional standards of a global life economy alternative."
A consistent theme is to argue strongly against any definition of the commons that excludes property controlled by the nation-state and refers only to atmosphere, oceans, genes and other "unowned" elements of the environment. To exclude terrestrial ecoregions, he argues, is to exclude biodiversity, watershed, river, and other resources that are under the sole purview of states to protect. This is in contrast to such definitions as are used in proposals like Global Resource Banking, that tend to refer to the commons only in terms of what is outside the control and jurisdiction of the nation-state. This is major point of tension between apolitical Greens and those engaged in left-wing politics to control state power - one not wholly resolved by green politics which has so far failed to fully control any nations.
McMurtry advocates a strict monetary policy that reinforces the actual value system of the society, opposes North American currency union, and has been a long standing member of the Canadian Committee On Monetary and Economic Reform, which often publishes and distributes his work.
He is considered by some to be a major figure in the evolution of global ethics, similar to stature to John Davies Humphries
Partial list of major or recent works
Va: Pluto Press, 2002), 277 pages. Cloth £50 (24 X16cms), ISBN 0 7453 1890 8. Pbk.
£15.99.(21.5 X 13.5 cms) ISBN 0 7453 1889 4.
Value Inquiry Book Series, Takoma: Rodopi, 1995.