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John Hospers, 1918-2011

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#21 BaalChatzaf



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Posted 14 June 2011 - 05:23 AM

"Hospers appeared to have had a long an productive life. That is something to celebrate, not to grieve.

There is something worse than dying after a long full life, and that is not dying and wearing out and dwindling until just a thin husk still lives. That is something to grieve."

Well said, Ba'al.

The Japanese Samurai had an interesting image: They said that the cherry blossom falls at the moment of its perfection. We are all going to die. Perhaps it is better if we fall at the moment of our perfection rather than wearing out, dwindling and in the end become (as Tolkien says) unmanned and witless.

Ba'al Chatzaf

אויב מיין באָבע האט בייצים זי וואָלט זיין מיין זיידע

#22 Reidy



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Posted 14 June 2011 - 05:34 AM

For what it's worth, the LA Times says Hospers retired in 1988 at 70. He taught night classes at the UCLA Extension after that.

#23 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 14 June 2011 - 05:42 AM

It was through The Personalist, edited by John Hospers, that I first heard of libertarianism. I saw the issue on display at my university library. That would have been around 1971. The issue included papers from a forum in which defenders of the institution of government defended only a quite limited government, very like I had picked up from Rand. The opponents in the debate were anarchocapitalists. It was in that issue that I learned of the individualist anarchist position. One contribution on the limited government side was from someone named Robert Nozick. I remember thinking to myself: “Ah, that’s the bright one.” A few years later he would become famous as the author of Anarchy, State, and Utopia.

Soon I was reading in The Personalist essays on ethical egoism by Eric Mack and by Nathaniel Branden. I joined the Libertarian Party in 1972, read Hosper’s book on libertarianism—which was very educational for me—and in the voting booth wrote “John Hospers” for President in that year.

In the ’70’s a gay friend mentioned to me that Hospers was gay, but that I should not make that information public. I have never mentioned it until now. I was surprised to read in the Reason link above that Hospers was “openly gay” way back when. Incorrect, I’m pretty sure.

In the ’90’s I was at one of David Kelley’s summer seminars, in Boulder, in which Prof. Hospers was a participant. One of the sessions was a panel discussion on the dispute: limited government v. anarchism. The only proponent of the latter position to be on the panel was George Smith, who neglected to show that morning. That left the session pretty much stranded. But there was something from Hospers near the end, which I sure wish I could recall more specifically. It left a sour note, as it was some variety of skeptical doubt in epistemology.

My last memory of Hospers was at a banquet at the end of that seminar week. I was seated at a round table. Hospers and a woman friend were sitting across from me. A physicist and his wife were to their left. To my left was Robert Bidinatto. To my right was a man from Connecticut, who struck up a conversation. Upon learning I was gay, he recounted some old “Objectivist” arguments against it, including N. Branden’s old remarks that it was a mental illness and that romantic love was only possible between man and woman. I had not heard such thinking for many years. I rolled off the ancient rejoinders. Hospers and I would look at each other across the table, direct, serene.

#24 Reidy



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Posted 14 June 2011 - 06:25 AM

If Hospers stories be the order of the day, here's mine.

About five years ago I attended a meeting of the LA Objectivist Network at which he held court. At one point he told the story that Rand was convinced that every mainstream academic philosopher in the last 200 years was a "subjectivist," by which she meant, nearly enough, a solipsist. As an exemple, she insisted that Hospers himself believed that sense qualities are subjective creations of our minds, not properties of the objects themselves. He replied that he had no trouble saying, to the contrary, that blueness or roughness or hotness are properties of things, which we proceed to recognize. This reminded me of what Rand later said about essence and value, so I asked him if she'd gotten the idea from him. Could be, he said, but she'd never said so.

#25 George H. Smith

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Posted 14 June 2011 - 09:09 AM

Jerry, despite his many accomplishments and his remarkable gifts as a teacher who was beloved by his students, John paid dearly for his espousal of libertarianism. He was forced to retire from USC at the age of 65. There was no question in his mind that his dismissal was the result of his political convictions.

Before this, John was also forced out of his position as Chairman of the USC Philosophy Department, though he continued teaching after that. (I believe this was around the time of his presidential campaign.)

I was never personal friends with John, though I saw him frequently during the 1970s and occasionally thereafter. We had a long and pleasant conversation at a conference around six years ago. He looked frail, but he was still sharp as a tack.

Not long after I moved to the L.A. area in 1971, I sat in on some of his classes. He was an excellent teacher.



Addendum: In 1975, in Larchmont Hall in Hollywood, I debated John on the topic of anarchism versus limited government. (This was one of my monthly events for the "Forum For Philosopical Studies.") It was a very interesting discussion. I wish I still had a tape of it.

#26 Martin Radwin

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Posted 14 June 2011 - 12:23 PM

[...] despite his many accomplishments and his remarkable gifts as a teacher who was beloved by his students, John paid dearly for his espousal of libertarianism. He was forced to retire from USC at the age of 65. There was no question in his mind that his dismissal was the result of his political convictions. (Other teachers of the same age were not compelled to retire.) John loved teaching above all else, and it broke his heart to have to abandon it. It was a pain that never went away, and he would often refer to it as the great tragedy of his life.

I never knew this until now. I'm immensely saddened for him, though not at all shocked or surprised.

What makes this a redoubled tragedy is that the University of Southern California — as I still find to not be universally known, among friends and contacts — is not a government institution, but a private one. That this kind of apparent ostracism and group-think extends to private colleges, ones that are widely presumed to be more insulated from them, shows that such philosophic diminution and decay goes far beyond the realm of political funding struggles.

I'm sure Barbara could cite examples of this at New York University, also private, on the other coast. I can testify to it at Northwestern University, between the two in Illinois. Avoiding direct government funding is no guarantee of a campus culture of truly independent thought.

The problem is that even allegedly "private" universities are all recipients of huge quantities of government money, generally in the form of research grants. As far as I know, the only private university in the entire country that does not take federal funds is Hillsdale College. And even Hillsdale, I believe, is the recipient of government funds at the state and local level. Without government, in the context of a totally free market, universities as they exist today would not exist at all. Whatever shape they would take, they would look very different than they do now. So modern universities are overwhelmingly creatures of the state.

I have no doubt but that USC is the recipient of millions of dollars of government research grants. So it's not terribly surprising that a libertarian like Hospers who comes out against such things would not be very popular at a university that is a massive recipient of government largesse.


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