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Work in progress

Elsewhere on this site, I’ve suggested that what Objectivism needs is a much fuller development as a system of thought and practice. In my view, the key to that development will have to be a significant increase in output by Objectivist scholars.

For reasons worth exploring, self-described Objectivists have been very slow to produce and publish high quality work. As I see it, most of the best work by self-identified Objectivists in the last decade has been done under the auspices of the Anthem Foundation, and/or the Ayn Rand Society. As good as some of this work has been, however, it raises troubling moral questions. The Anthem Foundation is explicitly governed by the strictures of Leonard Peikoff’s “Fact and Value” and Peter Schwartz’s “On Sanctioning the Sanctioners” and “On Moral Sanctions[1]; meanwhile, both co-chairs of the Ayn Rand Society agree with those strictures, and in an apparent sign of the Society’s tilt toward the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), the Society has invited ARI Executive Director Yaron Brook to speak at its meeting in December 2014 at the American Philosophical Association’s conference in Philadelphia. Those who find ARI’s strictures morally unacceptable face the unpalatable options of sanctioning those strictures by working with the equivalent of scholarly front groups for that organization, or else retreating into relative isolation.

I don’t mean to deny, of course, that there’s been good work done on Objectivist-related themes or topics outside of those institutional settings. My point is that relatively little of that scholarship has been done by people who explicitly identify themselves as Objectivists. Nor do I mean to suggest that isolation is necessarily fatal to a scholar’s capacity for productiveness. I just mean that in most cases, scholarship thrives on discursive interaction involving a community of scholars. Unfortunately, Objectivist intellectual culture has not on the whole been conducive to the creation of such a community. Part of the problem derives (as I’ve been arguing on this blog) from attitudes we’ve inherited from Ayn Rand herself. Another part of the problem is institutional: given TAS’s turn to popular advocacy, non-ARI Objectivist scholars have lacked a supportive institutional setting within which to interact.* One implication of this lack of supportive setting has been that non-ARI Objectivists haven’t quite gotten the word out about the work they have done, and are doing. One goal of the “News and Reviews” part of this blog is to bring such work to light in a more sustained and systematic way.

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

I’m happy to be able to say that I’ve been sitting on some good work in progress for a while:

1. Carrie-Ann and I have been invited by Sari Nusseibeh, the President of Al Quds University (Jerusalem), to present papers to students and faculty there this June. Carrie-Ann will be presenting a critique of Will Kymlicka’s multiculturalism (“Protecting Individuals: Multicultural Citizenship versus Freedom of Association”), and I’ll be presenting a paper that defends what I call a graduated one-state solution to the Israel/Palestine problem (“Annexation, Immigration, and Political Rights: A Defense of Sari Nusseibeh’s Heretical Proposal for Israel/Palestine”). Prior to our lectures in Jerusalem, Carrie-Ann will be presenting her paper to The Atlas Society’s Online Research Seminar on May 30th, and I’ll be presenting mine in early June at a meeting of the Canadian Jacques Maritain Society at the University of Victoria (Victoria, Canada). Both of our papers develop themes from the conception of government defended in Rand’s “The Nature of Government” and “Government Financing in a Free Society” (The Virtue of Selfishness).

2. David Kelley (Atlas Society) has recently released two lectures (two hours’ worth of material) on the perception of causality, extending epistemic insights discussed in his book, The Evidence of the Senses: A Realist Theory of Perception (LSU, 1986), to new topics. Kelley’s lectures dovetail nicely with similar material in Rick Minto’s doctoral dissertation on causality, Foundations for a Realist Theory of Causality (Western Ontario, 1997), as well as in the just-published Ayn Rand Society Philosophical Studies volume, Concepts and their Role in Knowledge: Reflections on Objectivist Epistemology (Pittsburgh, 2013).


3. Shawn Klein (Rockford College) and Tim Sandefur (Pacific Legal Foundation) have just (separately) published book chapters in Stephen Dilley’s edited collection, Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism: Theories in Tension (Lexington, 2013). Shawn’s chapter is on free will (“Volitional Consciousness and Evolution: At the Foundations of Classical Liberalism,”) and Tim’s is on the relationship between classical liberalism and evolution as such (“Classical Liberalism and Evolution”). The book also features chapters by Logan Paul Gage, Bruce L. Gordon, Peter Lawler, Roger Masters, Angus Menuge, Michael J. White, Jay W. Richards, Richard Weikart, John West, and Benjamin Wiker.

Shawn, incidentally, blogs on sports ethics at The Sports Ethicist; Tim blogs on a variety of topics at Freespace—both worth bookmarking.

4. Rick Minto (Institute for Effective Thinking) is doing a commentary at the Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation (OSSA) on a paper by Dmitri Bokmelder on “Cognitive Biases and Logical Fallacies.” The OSSA conference takes place May 22-25 at the University of Windsor (Ontario, Canada). Rick runs The Institute for Effective Thinking, where he maintains a blog and offers courses in critical thinking. Like our Institute, Rick’s Institute is just getting off the ground, but its website is definitely worth bookmarking and paying attention to.

5. Finally, The Atlas Society’s Atlas Summit offers a bunch of talks and seminars worth looking into (more than I can single out here).

I’m sure I’ve missed some stuff here, but I’ll be updating these “Work in Progress” reports periodically, so feel free to send suggestions to I’ll also have some more to say about Objectivist-relevant discussion around the blogosphere (e.g., at BHL and elsewhere on non-initiation of force, etc.) as soon as I can manage.


*In an earlier version of this post, I had written “non-ARI Objectivists.” I’ve now corrected the sentence.

[1] Agreement with “Fact and Value” entails agreement with Schwartz’s essays. Peikoff begins “Fact and Value” by expressing his full agreement with Schwartz’s “On Sanctioning the Sanctioners,” and Schwartz’s “On Moral Sanctions,”  was published as an addendum to “Fact and Value” itself.


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