Charles James McCracken

Date of Birth

April 17, 1933

Date of Death

May 4, 2020

City of Death

Santa Barbara

Charles James McCracken, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Michigan State University, died of cancer on May 4, 2020, at his home in Santa Barbara. Eighty-seven years old, born in Los Angeles on April 17, 1933, he was the third and last child of Charles James McCracken Sr, a newspaper pressman; and Alice (Henderson) McCracken, a church soloist. He grew up in Los Angeles, graduating from L.A. High in 1951 and from UCLA in 1955. He married Katherine Polutanowitsch in 1956, and with her has two children. He got an M.A. from Fordham and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, both in philosophy.

For thirty-four years, from 1965 until 1999, he taught philosophy at Michigan State. After retiring from there, he was a visiting professor at Claremont Graduate University and the University of California, Santa Barbara. He was interested in virtually every branch of philosophy, but the history of early modern philosophy was his specialty. Besides articles and book chapters, he published two books, one on the influence on British philosophy of the 17th-century French philosopher Nicolas Malebranche (Oxford University Press), the other (with Ian Tipton) on the sources of the idealist philosophy of the 18th-century Irish thinker George Berkeley (Cambridge University Press). In 1998 Michigan State University accorded him its Distinguished Faculty Award, and after his retirement the Philosophy Department, through the generosity of a former student, endowed an annual lecture named for him.

Once retired, he and Katherine moved from East Lansing to Santa Barbara; but they’ve had a long relationship with Paris. They met there in 1956 when Katherine was a student at the Sorbonne, and in time they came to own a little Left Bank apartment. They spent their summers and all but one of their sabbaticals in Paris and, since retiring, have lived there for four months of the year.

Charles and Katherine played the piano badly, sharing a passion for the baroque. They held that, if anything could betoken the existence and agony of God, it was Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor. Atheists and socialists, they’ve been steady supporters of peace and social justice movements, and active members of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara. A man of great wit and kindness, Charles dedicated himself, above all, to two things: his family and his vocation as a teacher.

He was preceded in death by his father, his mother, his brother, and his sister. He’s survived by his wife, who has been his soulmate and kindred spirit for sixty-four years; their daughter, Theresa McCracken; their son, Peter McCracken; their daughter-in-law, Anne Herlofsen; their grandson Alex Charles Herlofsen; nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews, great-grandnieces, great-grandnephews, and a host of friends.

His family gives thanks for all of the visiting nurses who helped him through his last months.

Contributions in his memory may be made to VNA Health or to Doctors Without Borders.


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