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In Memoriam: John Hospers, 93

Emeritus professor contributed significantly to the field of philosophy.

A portrait of John Hospers, emeritus professor of philosophy in USC Dornsife hangs in the Hoose Library of Philosophy. Photo by Ambrosia Viramontes-Brody.
A portrait of John Hospers, emeritus professor of philosophy in USC Dornsife hangs in the Hoose Library of Philosophy. Photo by Ambrosia Viramontes-Brody.

John Hospers, emeritus professor of philosophy in USC Dornsife and the Libertarian Party’s first presidential nominee has died. He was 93.

Hospers died in Los Angeles, Calif., on June 12.

Hospers is widely known for his contributions to the field of philosophy publishing in the areas of ethics and aesthetics and for his role in the Libertarian Party movement, but he is perhaps most remembered by many for his impact in the classroom.

“Of all the dimensions of John’s life, I knew him well enough to say he loved teaching the most,” said Kevin Robb, professor of philosophy in USC Dornsife and longtime friend and colleague of Hospers. “The classroom was where he really shined and he told me many times it was the most satisfying aspect of his life.”

Well-known for his work in the area of aesthetics, his books Introduction to Philosophical Analysis (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956), now in its fourth edition, and Introductory Readings in Aesthetics (Free Press, 1969), have been widely used in universities. Robb studied Hospers’ work during his undergraduate and graduate years before the two met when Hospers began at USC in 1968 as chair of USC Dornsife’s School of Philosophy. He retired and became emeritus professor of philosophy in 1988 at age 70.

Dallas Willard, professor of philosophy in USC Dornsife, noted how Hospers’ reputation in the field paired with his capacity to relate to people across the philosophical world helped the department to thrive as it achieved both national and international recognition.

“He was large in stature and imposing in some ways, but extremely gentle and intelligent. When you talked to him, he really listened to you, he paid attention,” Willard said.

The two would frequently discuss aesthetics and the theory of knowledge in their offices or dine together at the Faculty Center, which has since been renamed the USC University Club. “He was just such a lovely person to be around and it was so encouraging just to banter about things. He had a wonderful presence and I think that is what I will always miss most about him,” Willard added.

Hospers could often be found at a table in Hoose Library of Philosophy or walking the halls with his beloved German shepherd, Salty. Willard arranged to have a portrait made of Hospers, while he was department chair, and hung in the library.

Hospers taught a range of classes at USC in the areas of epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics and the philosophy of law. Dismissing the Socratic teaching method, he spent the first portion of class delivering a well-prepared lecture providing handouts and encouraged students to be critical thinkers.

Hospers’ delight in intellectual conversation led to many evenings at his Hollywood Hills home spent with friends, colleagues and graduate students discussing a variety of topics on ethics, philosophy and law, human freedom and human rights. Conversations lasted long into the night, often carrying over to the next morning. Robb remembers that as guests vigorously argued their points, Hospers remained quiet and calm, delivering his argument lucidly. Hospers’ ability to make complicated issues clear was one of his many strengths both as a writer and as a professor.

“John Hospers was an outstanding professor of philosophy and a great mentor,” said Ross Scimeca, head librarian for Hoose Library of Philosophy. Scimeca took several of Hospers’ classes while pursuing his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1969. “He was an inspiration.”

Joanne Waugh, professor of Greek culture, director of graduate studies and associate chair for the Department of Philosophy at University of South Florida who graduated with her Ph.D. in philosophy in 1980, remembers how Hospers’ regard for his students extended beyond the classroom walls. She recalls how when students in his graduate seminar in aesthetics told him they had not attended a Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra event, he purchased tickets for them.

“John Hospers was a wonderful teacher — learned, conscientious, generous and kind,” Waugh said.


John Hospers, emeritus professor of philosophy in USC Dornsife, served as the Libertarian Party's first presidential nominee. Photo courtesy of the Libertarian Party.

Hospers’ beliefs in human rights and human freedom led the newly formed Liberation Party to nominate him and running mate Theodora Nathan at its first convention held in Colorado in 1972. Running on a platform in support of limited government controls and affirming the right of individuals, Hospers and Nathan received one electoral vote.

“John was a pioneer and very important member of this philosophical movement that was hardly known of at the time,” said Tibor Machan, R.C. Hoiles Chair of Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business and Economics at Chapman University and professor emeritus in Auburn University’s Department of Philosophy. Machan and Hospers co-led a conference on political philosophy at USC in 1970.

Born June 9, 1918, Hospers was raised in Pella, Iowa. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Central College of Iowa in 1939 and a master’s in literature from the State University of Iowa in 1942. Hospers received a Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University in 1946 and led classes in philosophy and humanities at Columbia University, the University of North Carolina, the University of Minnesota, the City University of New York and California State University, Los Angeles. While teaching at Brooklyn College, Hospers befriended Ayn Rand. Their friendship ended, however, when Hospers disagreed with her views on epistemology.

Hospers published extensively on various topics in philosophy. His doctoral dissertation Meaning and Truth in the Arts (The University of North Carolina Press, 1946) was his first published book. His other books include Artistic Expression (Irvington Pub, 1971); Law and the Market (Free Market Foundation of Southern Africa, 1985); Human Conduct (Wadsworth Publishing, 1995) now in its third edition; and Understanding the Arts (Prentice Hall College Div, 1982). His 1971 book Libertarianism: A Political Philosophy for Tomorrow (Nash Pub, second edition, 1971) was one of the first full-length studies of the Libertarian movement. Hospers served as editor of The Personalist from 1968 to 1982, The Monist from 1982 to 1992 and Liberty magazine.

A funeral service is not planned.