In Memoriam: Joel J. Kupperman

[This memorial notice is an abridgement of a memorial minute by Professor Emerita Diana Tietjens Meyers on the American Philosophical Association website.]

Joel J. Kupperman (1936-2020)

With deep sadness we report the death of Joel J. Kupperman, University of Connecticut Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor Emeritus. He died in Brooklyn NY on April 8, 2020.

Joel received both his AB and MA from the University of Chicago and his PhD from Cambridge University.  He joined the Philosophy Department at the University of Connecticut in 1960.  Except for visiting Trinity College as a lecturer in 1970, two years supported by NEH fellowships, and fellowships at Clare Hall, Cambridge and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, he remained at UConn until his retirement from teaching in 2013. In addition to these major national and international awards, Joel received the Faculty Excellence in Research award from the UConn Foundation in 2004.

A widely recognized and influential scholar, Joel specialized in ethics, aesthetics, and Asian philosophy.  He published numerous journal articles and chapters in all three fields. Two early books resist subjectivism in ethics (Ethical Knowledge. London:  Geo. Allen & Unwin, 1970, reprint Routledge, 2002 and The Foundations of Morality. London and Boston: Geo. Allen & Unwin, 1983, reissue from Routledge, forthcoming, 2022). In his monographs, Joel’s longstanding interest in Chinese philosophy first became prominent in Character (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991) and Value… And What Follows (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1999).

Joel’s scholarship in Asian philosophy long predated the recent professional awakening to non-Western philosophical traditions. Initially, he studied Chinese philosophy with H. G. Creel at the University of Chicago; in 1967, he traveled to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan to continue his studies; no later than 1985 Joel was offering an introductory course on Asian philosophy; and sometime thereafter, he originated an upper-level undergraduate course on Chinese philosophy and a graduate seminar that covered Indian, Chinese, and Japanese philosophy.  His scholarship and pedagogical initiatives were visionary.  Before long, universities everywhere were scrambling to develop “multicultural” courses, and comparative philosophy conferences grew in frequency.

Regarded as a classic by many in the field, Learning From Asian Philosophy nimbly integrates insights from classical Chinese and Indian philosophy as well as Western philosophy into nuanced accounts of the self, choice, moral psychology, moral requirements, and interpersonal communication (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999; Chinese translation, Renmin Press, Beijing, 2009). That Joel was invited to give the keynote lecture at a conference honoring the ninetieth anniversary of the Peking University Philosophy Department is but one measure of the importance of this book.

In addition, Joel published books that not only would be valuable to professional philosophers, but that also would reach college students and the larger educated public.  Notable among these are Theories of Human Nature  (Indianapolis:  Hackett, 2010), Ethics and Qualities of Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), Six Myths About the Good Life: Thinking About What Has Value  (Indianapolis:  Hackett, 2006), Classic Asian Philosophy: A Guide to the Essential Texts (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001; second edition, 2006).

Joel received the Faculty Excellence in Teaching award from the UConn Foundation in 1973.  Upon his retirement, two of his PhD students, Li Chenyang and Ni Peimin, celebrated his career by publishing a festschrift containing chapters by leading scholars (Moral Cultivation and Confucian Character:  Engaging Joel J. Kupperman. Albany NY: State University of New York Press, 2014).

Among his many contributions, Joel regularized the department’s weekly brown bag seminar in which we present work in progress to each other. The tradition has continued for over 50 years. Joel also had an early and steadfast commitment to gender equity and diversity in general. For quite a while late in the twentieth century, our faculty included an unusually high percentage of women for a philosophy department in those days.

Joel is survived by his wife, Karen Ordahl Kupperman, his two children, Michael Kupperman and Charlie Kupperman, and a grandchild, Ulysses Kupperman Dougherty, to whom we extend our deepest sympathy.