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Soulful philosopher kept the faith

Max charlesworth

Max Charlesworth, a leading Australian philosopher and ethicist, has died at the age of 88. While always a devout Catholic, his liberalism and method were sometimes at odds with the Church hierarchy.

Max Charlesworth, AO, philosopher. 

Born 1925; died 2014

Max was born in Numurkah, the younger son of William and Mabel Charlesworth. He obtained his BA (Hons) in 1946 and his MA in philosophy in 1948. In 1950 he married Stephanie Armstrong.

In the same year, Max was the first recipient of the Mannix Scholarship for Catholic students to further their studies overseas. However, having contracted TB, he was forced to spend the next two years at the Gresswell Sanatorium.

Dissatisfied with what he considered the narrow-minded analytic philosophy he had been taught, Max wanted to study contemporary European philosophy. He took the advice of his professor, Alexander Boyce Gibson, to study at the University of Louvain in Belgium, instead of taking the well-trodden path to Oxford or Cambridge.

Max and Stephanie then spent three years in Louvain, where he was awarded his doctorate in 1955.

Max's first academic post was as a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Auckland in 1956. In 1959, he returned to the University of Melbourne as lecturer in philosophy. There Max pioneered the ground-breaking course Contemporary European Philosophy, which focused on Sartre and de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty and others.

Max co-founded the journal Sophia, an international journal of the philosophy of religion, in 1962.

Max's seven decades in philosophy spanned philosophy of religion, bioethics, social studies in science, European philosophy, Aboriginal religions, and the role of the Church in a liberal democratic State. Max did not see philosophy so much as a technical pursuit as a way to communicate with the wider society about the big questions of life. He did this in a wonderfully clear and distinct fashion.

His opposition to Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War, often expressed in The Catholic Worker - a journal he co-edited - set him at odds with Church hiearchs.

Max became head of the Department of Philosophy of the University of Melbourne in 1974-75. He was then invited by Victoria's fourth university, Deakin, to become foundation planning Dean of Humanities in Geelong (1975-80). In this capacity, Max set up the School of Humanities as interdisciplinary areas involving philosophical studies, Australian studies, literary studies, and the performing arts.

Max remained Professor of Philosophy until his retirement in 1990, when he became Professor Emeritus. 

Read full article: Obituary: Max Charlesworth (The Age)


Max Charlesworth AO on democracy in the church (ABC Radio National)

Scientists and the Soul (ABC Radio National)

Boyer Lecture Highlights 4: Bioethics and Medical Research (ABC Radio National)

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