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  • Joel J. Kupperman, 1936–2020
  • Diana Tietjens Meyers (bio)

It is with deep sadness that I report the death of Joel Kupperman, University of Connecticut Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor Emeritus. He died in Brooklyn, New York on April 8, 2020.

Joel received both his B.A. and M.A. 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, Oxford 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: Allen & Unwin, 1970; reprint Routledge, 2002) and The Foundations of Morality (London and Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1983; reissue from Routledge, forthcoming in 2022). In his monographs, Joel’s long-standing 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, and in 1967 he traveled to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan to continue his studies. In the 1980s he created Asian philosophy courses at all levels of the UConn undergraduate and graduate curriculum. His scholarship and pedagogical initiatives were visionary.

Regarded as a classic by many in the field, his 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, Beijing: Renmin Press, 2009). That Joel delivered the keynote lecture at the [End Page 1] conference honoring the ninetieth anniversary of the Peking University Philosophy Department as well as the keynote lecture at the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy’s 2011 meeting in Hawai‘i are two measures of the importance of this book.

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Joel Kupperman (1936–2020) during his keynote speech at the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy 43rd annual conference, May 25–28, 2011 in Honolulu.

In addition, Joel published books that would be valuable to professional philosophers and that would also 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), and Classic Asian Philosophy: A Guide to the Essential Texts (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001; second edition, 2006).

When it became possible for Chinese students to come to the United States to study, Joel attracted some of them to the UConn philosophy department. Like all the graduate students, they studied Western philosophy. But thanks to Joel, they were able to study Chinese philosophy as well. Joel received the Faculty Excellence in Teaching award from the UConn Foundation in 1973. Upon his retirement, two of his Ph.D. students, Chenyang Li and Peimin Ni, celebrated his career by publishing a festschrift containing chapters by leading scholars: Moral Cultivation and Confucian [End Page 2] Character: Engaging Joel J. Kupperman (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2014).

Joel is survived by his wife, Karen Ordahl Kupperman, his two children, Michael Kupperman and Charlie Kupperman, and a grandchild, Ulysses Kupperman Dougherty. His colleagues and many students join me in sympathy over their loss. His singular voice and distinctive presence are irreplaceable.

In honor of Joel and his philosophical legacy, the department and Joel’s family have set up a graduate fellowship fund in his name to provide some financial support for Ph.D. students in the UConn Philosophy...


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