Remembering Louis Charland

About Louis

A cherished and long-standing member of the Department of Philosophy, Louis died suddenly from a heart attack on May 9, 2021. He was 62.

Louis was one of our own, having earned his PhD in Philosophy from Western under the supervision of Ausonio Marras. After much time away, he returned in 1998 and remained here for the rest of his career. Like many of us in Philosophy, Louis worked across disciplines: in his case, between philosophy and the health sciences. He was jointly appointed with the Faculty of Health Sciences, and cross appointed with the Department of Psychiatry in the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

Louis was a distinguished bioethicist. Prior to coming to Western, he was employed in the Biomedical Ethics Unit of the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University, at the Joint Centre for Bioethics at the University of Toronto, and at the Hospital for Sick Children. While at Western, he acquired an international reputation for important research on decision-making capacity—a key element of informed consent to health care—and on the role that values play in assessing this capacity. He also wrote sensitively and expertly about treatments for anorexia nervosa, addictions, and mental illness. His work attracted the attention of mainstream media, most notably when he argued that anorexia nervosa was best conceptualised as a passion.

First and foremost, Louis was an expert in the history and philosophy of emotions and of psychiatry. Among the many topics he addressed in these areas are whether categories like emotions and feelings track natural kinds, how emotions and passions are understood in the history of philosophy and what contemporary science and philosophy can learn from this history, and the relationship between emotion and cognition. His goal in investigating this last issue was to forge interdisciplinary collaborations between philosophers and cognitive scientists that would advance empirical investigations into the nature of emotions. 

An innovator in the realm of teaching philosophy, Louis valued learning through personal experience and community engagement, and from the wisdom of Indigenous peoples in Canada. For example, he had an assignment in which he asked students to reflect on how they were moved by community events and what insights they could gain from their emotional responses. Recently, he was striving to make students in his courses more aware and appreciative of Indigenous knowledge practices.

In addition to his academic achievements, Louis will be remembered for his gentle and compassionate manner. His attention to other people’s emotions and their mental health was evident, of course, not just in his research, but also in the way he interacted with others. In recent discussions with colleagues, he expressed concern about the toll that the pandemic was having on us and wanted compassion to be—in his words—“felt and echoed” throughout our university.

In most conversations with Louis, he lovingly mentioned his wife Anna and other members of their family. Although his work was clearly important to him, his family and friends meant much more. In this way, he modelled to the rest of us a life that wasn’t dominated by a race for publications or prestige. His wisdom was felt by many of us in Philosophy.

Louis will be sorely missed here at Western and around the world. Thankfully he leaves behind scholarly work that is brimming with insights from which we and future generations of philosophers can fruitfully draw. We are all richer for his teaching, research, mentorship, and friendship.

The obituary appears here.