Charles Johnson: 1945-2009

Chuck Johnson, longtime professor of philosophy at Utah State (37 years), passed away this morning after a long battle with cancer.  Many students reading this blog probably never got to meet Chuck as he has been out for some time now.  But those that did know him will remember his excellent teaching, his kindness, patience, endlessly positive attitude and his good humor  (He once remarked to me that he taught the whole history of philosophy in his courses – “both early and later Wittgenstein.”).

He will be missed by the many who loved him, and welcomed by The One who loves him most.

Feel free to share your Dr. Johnson stories here if you like.  Services will be held Friday, 10am at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish (not the Newman Center by campus, but the main parish – go north from campus on 800E, the church is on your left just as you cross into Hyde Park).


Author: Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.

19 thoughts on “Charles Johnson: 1945-2009”

  1. Years ago I was taking a class from Richard Sherlock, his colleague in the department. One day Chuck walks in a few minutes before class, and the arrival of Sherlock, and writes on the board “Richard is a troll”, turns to us, says this phrase, and walks out.


  2. Ah, sad news. Chuck will be missed! I remember so many great things. Writing on the board while muttering and holding his tongue in the corner of his mouth, teaching us how to write illegible cursive, using phrases like ‘I’m a logician, my mind is a steel trap’.


  3. I am very sorry to hear of Chuck’s passing. Our paths crossed a number of times over the past decade. I loved his sense of humor as much as I respected his philosophical intellect. I enjoyed our friendship, and I will miss him a lot!


  4. Chuck hasn’t been teaching for a few years, so unfortunately most of our current students never had the joy of taking a class from him. He always lectured in complete, thoughtful, elegant sentences, shaped into logical paragraphs, and sprinkled with the silliest puns. He listened very carefully to students and showed them unfailing support and encouragement. He had a tough exterior, but was a very tender man. He was always ready with a number of stories of his varied experiences, from being a cadet at West Point to working at the Ludwig drum factory to giving up his hotel room to (I believe) Grice (or was it Strawson?). He was a good man, and we’re all poorer without him.


  5. I had the good fortune of being in four of his classes. His humor was very particular and I appreciated it. He has influenced my philosophical thinking more than he can imagine and I still look at philosophy through his teachings. I am utterly speechless to this. I miss him a lot already.


  6. Chuck & Witty changed my life…or at least warped my mind. I loved his humor, his teaching, and his love of thought. In 2000, every day he walked into epistemology class, stood before us in silence, sipped his coffee, and once all eyes were on him, he would say something magical…unfortunately I only remember the coffee and the silence. Years later, in a church, during a class on the Nicene Creed, he sat in the back row and heckled Kleiner on the nature of the trinity, three deities who are one, with traits of omnipresence, yet have assigned seating at the throne(s) in heaven. Priceless. His life was examined; of this I am certain. Rest in peace, good sir.


  7. I took every class the Chuck offered during my time at USU. When registering for classes, those were the ones I picked first. I have a million stories about how great he was, but my favorite thing is that at the beginning of every semester, Chuck would stand at the front of the classroom and say, “There will be no eating or drinking in this classroom.” Then he would take a drink of his coffee. He loved to talk about Lewis Carroll and, of course, Wittgenstein. Even his email address was I also remember that he would give us the argument for why God existed, and how it was logically sound, but he always wanted to find a way to disprove it. Chuck is hands down the reason I majored in Philosophy. He made it fun, exciting, and funny. I never really knew him well, even though I took so many classes with him, but he was still the best teacher I ever had and someone I loved. Here is an email that he sent me once. (I had sent him an article that was not logically sound)

    HA! So, nothing could happen.

    A couple of years ago a news program reported that president Bush didn’t say
    he wouldn’t invade Iraq. Thinking of Catch-22, I wanted to ask, “When didn’t he say
    it? And, was that the only time he didn’t say it?”



  8. Last I heard Chuck was talking about how a pharmaceutical company had come up with a new drug that would make you believe in religion. He hoped the drug really worked since he wanted to believe for quite some time but could never bring himself around to it naturally. (<– typical of the type of humor I remember from Chuck)

    I only took a few classes from Chuck. I wish my Wittgenstein obsession had happened earlier in college; we would have had more to talk about (or maybe we would have just sat in silence together?).


  9. Wittgenstein wrote once that humor was a way of looking at the world. Chuck was always ready with a pun or a quip. You have to have a sharp mind for that, and Chuck did; but if Wittgenstein is right on this you also have to have an outlook that embodies your whole being. I think Chuck had that outlook and those who knew him all benefited from it.

    During the time we were colleagues at USU I remember him talking about his first experience at the Austrian Wittgenstein conference in Kirchberg. In particular, I remember him talking about how, at the end of the conference, when the participants had all gotten on the bus to leave the small town for the airport, a number of schoolchildren lined up to sing and to wave those on the bus good-bye. I recall him being moved by the sweetness of it all, in a way that only someone who was sweet himself could be moved. Chuck blended sweetness, silliness, and seriousness in a way that was….well, pure Chuck. I am truly sorry that he is gone.


  10. After one day in Chucks class I knew I had to take as many courses from him as was humanly possible. Those courses were some of the brightest memories of my college experience. Many of his stories still reside in my memory. My favorite dealt with turn signals and how logic seemed not to apply to those who drove in Nibley. I too remember the constant mug by his side and the wonderful humor. Chuck you will be missed.


  11. Chuck’s office was right next to mine for over 15 years. I used to hear him talk to himself a lot. Eventually I sat in his aesthetics class for two semester, just because I was curious to hear what he has to say. His style of teaching was so not in style…meaning that he was writhing on the blackboard (I guess by that time it was whiteboard and markers) endlessly and always needed to erase to make more room for more writing. But he was without fail entertaining and thoughtful. I learned a lot from him.
    He loved to be hugged and I loved to hug him. He was tender and in away had a child-like quality of pure soul. For that last few years I missed hearing him murmuring. But I am somewhat relieved knowing that he is in better place now. I only wish I could have shared one more cup of coffee with him…


  12. Absolutely the best teacher and best mentor I ever had. When I chose to teach at a Catholic high school after graduation from USU, Chuck was one of my few adamant supporters. He was overjoyed when I started on my theology masters and overjoyed again when I graduated. He was quick to answer an email, and always had a laugh to share.

    I remember his hysterical views on this world foibles, and how Wittgenstein could only make it better. He told our class once that he added the number 3 to his name so as to destroy the ability for phone solicitors to call him back. “My name is Chuck,” he would re-enact for us. “That’s a C, an H, a U, a 3, a K, a…. What was that? You can’t put numbers where letters go on your screen? But that’s how I spell my name! Please don’t call if you can’t spell my name correctly….”

    My life is better having known him. Certainly I would not be able to teach without having taken every class I could from him. But mostly, I am a kinder, gentler, more compassionate person having been in his kind, gentle and compassionate presence. Truly, he taught what matters most.


  13. I am finding this note about Chuck’s passing long after the fact. It’s been eight years since I was in Chuck’s class, and it’s been far too long since I talked with him in person. Like many others who have commented here, I thought of Chuck as my mentor and friend. He instilled in me a healthy, Wittgensteinian skepticism about academic philosophy, and he influenced how I approach the teaching of philosophy today. I regret that I never had the chance to tell him that I had acknowledged him in my dissertation (in May, 2009). I’ll miss him greatly. I thank all of you for sharing memories of Chuck–it was nice to remember those mannerisms, jokes, and stories.


  14. What a gut check to read that. My daughter is attending USU and I was wondering if Chuck was still teaching so I decided to look for him. I enjoyed all my philosophy classes but the main reason I have a minor in philosophy is because Chuck was so entertaining I kept taking classes from him. Truly one of the best professors I ever had. I still tell stories about his little quirks/mannerisms as well as the jokes and stories he’d tell the class, although in today’s PC climate I’m sure his story of sneezes and the central nervous system would land him in trouble. I loved how he’d set something up one class, then next class he’d unobtrusively drop the punch line. One time I literally laughed out loud. My friend sitting next to me didn’t pick up on it and just looked at me like I was an idiot. Finding out of his passing at this time is rather interesting, the past two Sundays in church I’ve been drawing his droodles for my junior high and high school aged kids to keep things from getting boring. I also started to re-read A Clockwork Orange. That was one of the three books we read in his philosophy in lit class. I still remember the picture of Alex in the Korova Milkbar hanging above the black radiator on his black wall. Chuck was a great addition to USU and a true one-of-a-kind, he will be greatly missed.


  15. Wow. I moved to the east coast in Jan so I didn’t even know until today. Chuck graduated from life on my grandma’s birthday. I dated Chuck. I lived with him in Hyrum for some time. We almost got engaged. He never got mad. He was a complete romantic and a gentleman.
    Chuck wrote a philosophy book and it was published. I think it is 2 volumes.


  16. I am trembling at the knowledge Dr. Johnson has passed. To say he was my favorite professor falls far too short – he was my friend and my mentor. I took all his classed during the 1982-84 years. I remember his keen ability to command attention or intrugue with a single word. His antidotes and “doodles” sketches were absolutely priceless. During those years, he was known around campus as “the Phantom” because he exclusively wore black. However, when confronted on the subject, he would simply display is gray sox or a red hanky or something else to show he did not “only wear black”. Often, he and I would met after class (a museum), or at his home in Hyrum (another museum) and engage in the most interesting discussions. He loved art (if it was in black and white). He constructed a very large painting of the poster from the move “All that Jaz” – which he loved and hung in his hiving room. I’ve never seen him so happy as the day I gave his a poster of ‘Knight, Death and the Devil’ – an etching by Albrecht Durer. His mastery of logic coupled with his work to embrace the complexity of linguistics, metaphysics and the human experience… truly speaks of his own personality. Outward, he displayed black and white (truth/false); but inward, he was a dazzling mix of wonderful colors. I am sad for students that did not know “Chuck”; they will never experience the fine-tuned mix of his mild manner and depth and enthusiasm for the material he taught. He was a gentleman, an educator and he mastered his field. Many people did not know it, but Chuck was also an American patriot. He had a poster tacked on the back of his office door that stated “Duty, Honor, Country”, from MacArthur’s final address at West Point. Chuck was a graduate of West Point. Well, I was a bit depressed when I graduated and moved on to my Air Force career, knowing I would not interact daily with Chuck. I contacted him after Desert Storm, when I was serving in Kosovo, and just after 9-11 (that was the last time we spoke). I will morn today.


  17. Ah, Chuck. This world is far better for your life and the way you lived it. My own life especially. Thank you.

    Truly ‘oo-ly.’

    I’m sad to learn so late of your passing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: