Teaching Philosophy with Atlas Shrugged: Francisco vs. Hume on Reason and Emotion

Pike's Peak, Colorado Springs. Photo by the author. It's been a while since I last blogged about my class based on Atlas Shrugged. We are now nearly done with two thirds of the semester. This has probably been my most enjoyable teaching experience to date, and not just because I am sympathetic with the philosophy we are discussing. I've fallen in love with the idea of teaching philosophy through fiction. Students are much more intensely drawn into discussing the ideas of a novel whose characters they come to know, even when they do not necessarily agree with the ideas. It…

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Another Critic Who Doesn't Care What Rand Thought or Why She Thought It, Only That She's Wrong

One function of this blog is to address comments made by academics and public intellectuals on Rand's philosophy. Several weeks ago, research psychologist Denise Cummins wrote a piece on a PBS blog about what happens when people attempt to put Rand's ideas into practice. Her aim there was not to engage with Rand's ideas per se, but to discuss what happens when certain ideas are put into practice, and then to explain why these ideas lead to these results. That's a reasonable project to take up with respect to an influential author's views, and since one cannot be a universal…

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A Mostly Bibliographic Note on the Objectivist View of the Arbitrary

In his recent post on epistemic possibility, Ben Bayer attributed to Rand the view that "it is evidence that gives claims their cognitive content, such that without it, there is no claim to be assessed: such 'arbitrary' claims are neither true nor false." This is an idea that often raises a lot of questions and putative counter-examples, some of which have come up in the comments on Ben's post. If there's interest I may address these questions in a future post, but my aim here is different. Since this is an interesting idea that has often (and I think correctly)…

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What's wrong with the concept "libertarian"?

The rejection of the label "libertarian" by Rand and subsequent Objectivists is often met with incredulity. "Of course you're libertarians, whether you admit it or not," we're told; "a libertarian is someone who believes that the government should do nothing but protect people against aggression, if there should even be a government at all, and Objectivism holds that the government's only proper function is protecting rights, which amounts to the same thing as protecting against aggression, so by definition all Objectivists are libertarians (even though, of course, not all libertarians are Objectivists)." To see what's wrong with this line of…

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Recent Work on Epistemic Possibility and the Burden of Proof

It's been a while since I've posted on epistemology. Because I recently came across a paper that touches on a current project of mine in epistemology—one that is also inspired by an idea from Rand—I thought now was a good opportunity to post again about this field. First, the connection to Rand. In the following passage from Atlas Shrugged, Eddie Willers, assistant to Dagny Taggart, breaks the news that a government scientific agency has issued a warning about the safety of a metal that Dagny is using to build an important railroad line: “They . . . You’d…

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Notes on Academic Cordiality

My post in response to Denise Cummins' critique of Rand at PBS appears to have put our new blog on many people's radar screen. In the first few days after the post we experienced something like a 30-fold increase in the level of traffic to the site. The increase in attention to the site has also brought a flood of comments. I'd like to take a moment to explain to commenters how we will handle comments in the future, because this blog is unique compared to other online forums where Rand's ideas are discussed. In response to some commenters on…

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