Vale György Márkus (A Brief Note from Paul Redding)

12 Oct 2016 10:02 AM | Anonymous

Vale György Márkus, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sydney. Died October 5, 2016 at the age of 82.

In 1978, the philosophical community in Sydney became the beneficiary of political conflict in Eastern Europe. Having been forced from his university post in Budapest in 1973, György Márkus arrived at the University of Sydney in 1978 to take up a lectureship in the then Department of General Philosophy. György soon become “George”, a warmly admired and widely respected philosophical presence in an otherwise fractious local environment.

In Hungary, a younger Márkus had been a student of the well-known Georg (György) Lukacs, and not surprisingly his major philosophical commitments were to a type of a Hegel-inspired, humanist variant of Marxism that within the Eastern European context some had seen as an alternative to the state-sanctioned version. Colleagues and students at Sydney, however, soon came to appreciate a philosophical depth that transcended particular theoretical commitments. George’s massive erudition in the history of philosophy was most obvious in his command of philosophies of Kant and the German Idealists, but he also had a deep understanding of the main currents of Anglo-American philosophy—then unusual in central and eastern European trained philosophers. He had translated Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus into Hungarian, corresponded with the American neo-realist Roy Wood Sellars, and in the 1960s travelled to the US with the intention of studying with his son, Wilfrid, only to end up at Harvard with W. V. O. Quine.

In the Sydney context, many philosophy undergraduates had their first exposure to social and political philosophy via his inspiring and powerful introductory first-year course. At higher levels, he introduced many to the history of Marxism, contemporary European philosophical philosophical movements such as Habermasian pragmatics and Gadamerian hermeneutics, but, especially, Kant and German idealism. Márkus’s teaching could simply be life-transforming, and it is difficult to capture the unique philosophical personality that many undergraduate and postgraduate students in these years were fortunate enough to experience at first hand. A former colleague, John Burnheim, perhaps comes closest in describing George’s “extraordinarily powerful combination of authentic sensibility and concern to get things right”.

It was this refusal to cut intellectual corners and to be satisfied with merely convenient answers that inspired those with whom he came into contact. The recognition of his work, especially in Europe and the United States, later led to his election to both the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. After retirement from his position at Sydney in 1999 and the award of emeritus status, he continued to teach courses for a number of years, both in Sydney and in Budapest. In more recent years he concentrated his researches on a theory of culture, some of the results of which have appeared in the volume, Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity, published by Brill in 2014.

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