The Department of Philosophy is saddened to share that Emeritus Professor Charles Marks has passed away. Charles joined the Department of Philosophy in 1966, served as Chair of the department from 1980-1982, and retired in 2003. His research and classes focused on philosophy of the mind and the history of philosophy. He also held fellowships at MIT and Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro.
Reminiscences of Chuck Marks from fellow faculty members:
I met Chuck in September, 1962. We had both just arrived in Ithaca, NY, as first-year graduate students at Cornell. Ours was a small class (6 students), so we all got to know one another pretty quickly.
Like me, Chuck was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. He had come from Reed College, where he had studied with Marvin Levich and Hugo Bedau. His main interests, he told me at the time, were in ethics. But philosophy of mind was in the air at Cornell in those days, and that's the area where all the best faculty members (Sydney Shoemaker, Keith Donnellan, Norman Malcolm, David Sachs) were working. So Chuck soon changed his focus as well.
I left for Minnesota in 1965, and Chuck for the University of Washington the following year. Neither of us had finished our Ph.D. dissertations when we left Cornell -- you could do that in those days, when jobs were plentiful. I finally got my degree in 1967, and Chuck managed to put his off until 1972, I think it was. Then in 1973 I moved to Seattle and we became colleagues once again. We remained close friends for the rest of his life. It's been a great ride.
Chuck and I arrived at the same time at the University of Washington — the fall of 1966. We briefly shared an office which gave us the opportunity to get to know each other. As young, new faculty, I think we shared several common fears, including large classes, faculty meetings, finding time to write new lectures and research papers. There was ample time for commiseration. We also shared an interest in Descartes’ philosophy, our many discussions about his work were beneficial to both of us. Over the years we were caught up in off and on budget cuts, protests against the Vietnam war, and changes in administration. Chuck made our lives better one year with a series of old silent films accompanied only by a banjo player. He was a friendly presence throughout my life at UW. His passing saddens me and leaves a feeling of something important lost. My favorite memories of Chuck are when at his house I observed him together with his much-loved blue point Siamese.
Chuck loved to use scientific findings to generate philosophical puzzles. One of his favorite examples was the Sperry and Gazzaniga split brain experiments. For several years Chuck came to one of the sessions of my freshman seminar in philosophy and discussed these experiments with the students. The experiments were conducted on people who had had their corpus callosum severed as a treatment for seizures. The corpus callosum is the main connection between the two hemispheres of our brain. Severing the corpus callosum prevented seizures in one hemisphere of the brain from spreading to the other hemisphere. It also prevented most information transfer between the two hemispheres. Experiments on these split-brain subjects produced powerful evidence that they have two streams of consciousness, one in each hemisphere. After Chuck was sure that the students understood the experiments, he would ask them: What about us? Do we have two streams of consciousness, one in each hemisphere? Many of the students would respond that if our corpus callosum is intact, the two streams of consciousness would be identical, so there would only be one stream of consciousness. Chuck enjoyed pointing out that even if the streams were identical, there would still be two of them.
I like to say that I do philosophy for the real world. Chuck’s philosophy was always real world philosophy. He will be missed.
My memories of Chuck were formed initially in the very old days when smokers got to know each other on the steps of Savery. I have also run into him very occasionally in the years since he retired, most recently within the past year, always near or in a grocery store. The thought of Chuck makes me grin. He was an exceptionally sweet, kind-hearted, and thoughtful man, very, very thinly disguised as an old curmudgeon.
The department offers condolences to Professor Marks’s family and loved ones; he will be missed.