The College of Arts & Letters is saddened by the passing of one of its longest-serving faculty members, former Associate Professor of Philosophy, James Roper, who retired from Michigan State University in May 2018 at the age of 79 after a 54-year career with the University. Roper died on October 16, 2020. He was 82 years old.
Joining MSU’s Department of Philosophy in September 1964, Roper taught Business Ethics, a course he designed and placed in the curriculum, as well as courses in Moral and Political Philosophy, Philosophy of Science, and Informal Logic.
“My goal as a teacher is to provide my students with some philosophical tools to help them ‘look past all the noise’… to the truth,” Roper said before he retired.
MSU Debate Team Founder
He founded Michigan State University’s national champion Debate Team and was the Director and Head Coach of the team from 1984 until 2000. As the Debate Team Director, he guided MSU to the Elite Eight of the 1988 Cross-Examination Debate Association’s (CEDA) National Championship. From there, he directed the team to many deep runs at the CEDA National Championship, including the 1995 CEDA National Championship Team and the 1996 National Championship for Seasonal Sweepstakes Points. He also directed the team when it placed second in 1994, 1997, and 2000. Under his direction, the team reached the final round of the 2000 National Debate Tournament and the semifinals of the same event in 1998.
In 1992, Roper created the annual Spartan Debate Institute, a summer camp that has reached high school students from all 50 states as well as numerous other countries. The camp will mark its 30th anniversary in summer 2021.
I know of no other professor that spent as much time outside of the classroom helping students learn by actively working with them, whether through coaching his debaters or meeting students at the library to study or prepare presentations and debates.David Zin, friend and former Debate Team coach
“I know of no other professor that spent as much time outside of the classroom helping students learn by actively working with them, whether through coaching his debaters or meeting students at the library to study or prepare presentations and debates,” said David Zin, who was Roper’s friend for the past 31 years and who worked with him on coaching the Debate Team for five years. “His successes with the debate team speak to the merits of that time and devotion. Not many could make a major modification in their field of experience and within 10 years be meeting the President of the United States to receive congratulations on their accomplishments. Like the students and debaters who he coached and taught, I can say my life is far richer for having known him.”
Research and Published Work
During his career, Roper published articles in Philosophy of Science, Synthese, Journal of Business Ethics, International Journal of Ethics, Florida Philosophical Review, International Journal of Intelligence Ethics, American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Teaching, Essays in Philosophy, and many other journals, books, periodicals, and newspapers.
Five encyclopedia articles by him — Robots and Automation; Risk; Monopolies, Duopolies, and Oligopolies; Socially Efficient Regulation of Pollution Externalities; and Revealed Preference — were published in April 2018 in the revised second edition of the Encyclopedia of Business Ethics and Society, a Sage Publication. Three of these entries also appeared in the first edition, in 2007-2008, which received the RUSA and Choice awards. Three other encyclopedia articles, Coercion, Economic Rights, and Individual Rights, appeared in the Encyclopedia of Global Justice, Spring 2011.
Roper published five single-authored books since 2009 — two editions of Dimensions of Informal Logic and three editions of The Covenant of Democracy: Should Government Be Run Like a Business? The latter book argues that government is best justified by a “social covenant,” while large publicly traded corporations are only capable of entering into contracts because they are not members of “the moral community.”
He maintained an unconditional and enduring love for MSU. Willingly and happily teaching for 54 years at one institution, in the Department of Philosophy, always sharing the love of wisdom with all that he encountered.John McClendon, Professor of Philosophy
“The compelling force behind the life of Professor James Roper ultimately remains on how he embraced love as a living principle. He astutely grasped the multidimensional nature of love as Eros, Philo, and Agape,” said Professor of Philosophy John McClendon. “Eros is specifically exemplified in 60 years of loving marriage with his lovely wife Joan. Partners in the art of love, they shared their bountiful experiences with family, neighbors, community, and all others they met. Philo, he instantly understood in the role of philosopher. Consummate teacher, he embraced the Socratic tradition that the essence of philosophy was dialogue and debate. Therefore, his legacy lives on not only via his published works, more significantly, with institutionalizing dialogue by means of the MSU Debate Team.
“Lastly, Professor Roper understood that if Agape was unconditional love, then foremost we must pursue, as our life mission, an ethical life. Moreover, he maintained an unconditional and enduring love for MSU. Willingly and happily teaching for 54 years at one institution, in the Department of Philosophy, always sharing the love of wisdom with all that he encountered. Professor Roper’s enduring love is now cast as an eternal smile, looming over all of us. Fortunately, we can continue sharing his magnetic and compelling spirit of love. For in life, Professor Roper created an enduring legacy of love.”
Roper attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., before completing graduate studies at Princeton University.
A private remembrance of life was celebrated in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on October 21. To honor his legacy, his family is asking, in lieu of flowers, that donations be made to the MSU Debate Team Endowment Fund, which Roper created.