Professor Max Charlesworth

05 Jun 2014 2:10 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Max Charlesworth (1925-2014), AO, FAHA, was one of the great figures in Australasian philosophy. Areas in which he worked included: philosophy of religion, bioethics, European philosophy, social studies in science, studies of indigenous Australian religions, and political philosophy (with a particular focus on relations between church and state, and the activities and organisation of the Catholic Church).

Max obtained a BA (Hons) (1946) and an MA (1949) from the University of Melbourne, and a PhD (1955) from the University of Louvain. He was Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Auckland (1956-1958); Lecturer (1959-1961), Senior Lecturer (1962-67) and Reader (1968-1974) in Philosophy at the University of Melbourne; and Planning Dean of Humanities (1975-1980) and Professor of Philosophy (1980-1990) at Deakin University. From 1990, he was Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Deakin. He held various visiting appointments in the course of his career, including at the University of Notre Dame (1968-9) and the University of Louvain (1972).

Max was the founder of Sophia, and its co-editor from 1962-1990; he was also founder and co-editor of The Catholic Worker. His major books include: Philosophy and Linguistic Analysis (1959); St. Anselm’s Proslogion (1965); Life among the Scientists (1989); Life, Death, Genes and Ethics (1989); Bioethics in a Liberal Society (1993); Religious Business (1998); and Philosophy and Religion (2002).

Positions of responsibility that Max held included: membership of the Charles Strong Trust (1975-2014); Chairperson of the Advisory Committee of the Centre for Human Bioethics (1987-1990); member of the Victorian Government Standing Review and Advisory Committee on Infertility (1985-2014), and member of the National Bioethics Consultation Committee (1988-1990)

A fuller account of Max’s life from which all of the above has been cribbed may be found at:

**The AAP hopes that this page can be used to collate and share thoughts about Professor Max Charlesworth. If you leave a post, make sure you add your name at the end, and your email, if you wish.


  • 05 Jun 2014 8:19 PM | Graham Oppy
    Max wrote the entry in the Monash Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand on Australian Aboriginal Philosophy. Somehow, Nick and I managed to omit it from the First Edition. Fortunately, Monash University Publishing quickly decided that we needed a Second Edition, and so the entry is included in the Second Edition:
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    • 12 Jun 2014 10:01 AM | Janette Poulton
      Thanks for that Max (and Graham, and Nick). Just what I was looking for ...
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  • 07 Jun 2014 11:50 AM | Ivo Burum
    Hello, I have been asked to post this reflections on Max to this blog:

    Dear Professor den Hollander and Reynolds

    I have just read your sad notice(s) regarding the passing of Max Charlesworth.

    My name is Ivo Burum and my association with Max, Freddy and Douglas goes back nearly 40 years, to 1977.

    I was a 21 year old panel beater who enrolled at Deakin as mature aged student. With paint and thinner coursing through my veins I didn’t know what I was in for. I could barely read and there I was learning that no man is an island. It’s a concept that was difficult to comprehend while my mum was still working at Pelaco and my dad was still working alone at night sucking paint fumes in a dirty Richmond garage. But Max laboured over my inability to understand this concept, especially while I was lazing around in Torquay with a hangover, trying to ready myself for Max's Images of Man.

    As a result of my time at Deakin and Max’s enthusiasm for my need to learn, I was fortunate that something actually stuck and I went on to spend my life travelling the globe making television and bringing stories from and to, people who were not as lucky as me, to have been enveloped by the sweet, warm, wisdom of my teacher, Max Charlesworth.

    I have just completed my PhD at Deakin and just finished a semester of teaching there, so after a life time in the trenches, and now not much older than Max was when I met him, I am trying to fill my class with a level of joy and excitement that was always present in Max’s classroom. While I am a product of Max’s teaching about the relationship between free will and one’s own development, I think we are also the product of those who we meet. I feel this strongly about my brief moment with Max, those many years ago.

    Only a week or so ago I met Sara Charlesworth, Max’s daughter. In that moment I didn't know who Sara was, but she had that same Maxian smile and that knowing gaze that can melt a room by making all present feel at ease. Who would have thought he would come back into my life like that at this time. So maybe Max and the philosophers, those he called friend, were right all along, maybe no bugger is an island. I only hope that Sara told Max how everything I have been fortunate to achieve, see and do, is the result (yes, ok, partly) of his kindness.

    Not sure why, but I thought I might share this with you.



    Ivo Burum | Executive Producer | Burum Media Pty Ltd | ACN 115 857 086
    44 Bennett Street, Richmond VIC 3121 | t: 03 94214181 | m: 0417476526 | Skype: ivoburum |Twitter: citizenmojo | Linkedin: ivoburum | YouTube: howtomojo | Blog: | e: url:
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  • 08 Jun 2014 12:57 PM | Paul James
    As a distance education student Max Charlesworth's tapes and writing were
    a light a beacon of clarity and wisdom. Its many years ago now, and I
    never had the pleasure to meet him in person, yet many have been touched
    and inspired by his efforts and good nature. He along with some other
    staff of the philosophy dept at Deakin University fostered my passion and
    led me to keep going and complete a PhD by distance ed part time purely
    for love of the topic.

    A great man indeed.


    Paul James
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  • 12 Jun 2014 4:34 PM | Helga kuhse
    Max was a great humanitarian, a wonderful colleague and a friend. He is sadly missed.
    Helga kuhse
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  • 13 Jun 2014 2:08 AM | Bob Brecher
    I never met Max Charlesworth but remain indebted to him for helping me both begin to think clearly and giving me a kick-start on my PhD through through his St Anselm's Proslogion. He was an unfailingly honest philosopher, something increasingly rare in the neoliberal days.
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  • 16 Jun 2014 4:43 PM | Jack Reynolds
    Staff at Deakin, both within philosophy and beyond, are deeply saddened to hear of Max's death. He is held in the highest esteem as a colleague, manager, writer, thinker and person.

    Prof. Douglas Kirsner has recently written an obituary about Max which was published in The Age:
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    • 23 Jun 2014 12:24 PM | John Lechte
      I would like to add my name to those saddened by Max's passing.
      Max examined my MA thesis on the writing of Australian history
      and was a great friend and supporter of all those working
      in the field of Continental Philosophy, especially
      in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
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  • 19 Jun 2014 8:19 AM | Justin Oakley
    Max was a generous, erudite, and inspiring man, and a wonderful supporter of Monash University Centre for Human Bioethics over the years.
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  • 25 Jun 2014 4:25 PM | Sophia Journal
    The editors, review editors, editorial manager, editorial advisory board
    members and the publisher of Sophia: International Journal of Philosophy
    and Traditions, are saddened by the passing of Emeritus Professor Max
    Charlesworth. He was the founding editor (along with Graeme de Graaff) of the journal, and remained its guiding spirit after handing over the
    editorship in 1992 upon his retirement from Deakin University.

    A special issue of Sophia (Dec 2012, Vol. 53(4)) commemorating Professor
    Charlesworth's contribution to philosophy was published and formally
    launched at the University of Melbourne, the place where the journal was
    inaugurated in 1962. Max Charlesworth's legacy and very considerable
    contribution to 'the life of the mind' lives on. He was awarded the AO
    (Order of Australia) for his services as a public intellectual, and FAHA
    for his contributions to the Humanities.

    There is more on Max Charlesworth¹s scholarship and philosophical
    engagements in the Second Edition of A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand (2014).

    Patrick Hutchings
    Purushottama Bilimoria
    Jay Garfield
    Peter Wong Yih Jiun
    Sherah Bloor
    Cristina dos Santos (Springer, Dordrecht)
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