The Institute for Objectivist Studies

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The last word (more or less)

I’ve decided to end the existence of the Institute for Objectivist Studies. In some ways, I suppose, it was a good idea, but I’ve come to learn that in most ways, it wasn’t.

I’ve greatly enjoyed meeting and conversing with many people here, and I’m conscious of the fact that in some cases (most notably that of commenter “djr” on moral luck), I’ve issued promissory notes on responses that I haven’t been able to deliver on.  For now, all I can say is that I’ve learned a lot from those comments, and will incorporate them–with credit–into anything I publish on the subject, but simply lack the time to respond in this forum. I’m gradually closing down all of the comment boards, and will close down any that I’ve missed in the very near future. The site will stay up–if you wish to see its monument, click around–but only as an archive. I don’t intend to add to it, and don’t intend for others to do so, either.

I’ve been skeptical for a long time of the Objectivist movement, but have until recently thought there was some way to work “within” it and “reform” it. I no longer think so. Putting aside how I characterize my own philosophical views, I see no value whatsoever in operating “within” anything that calls itself Objectivist–or libertarian–or anything but philosophical.  My advice to anyone who sees himself or herself as operating “within” Objectivism would be to get out. But that is a claim I can’t explain here, and I suppose it’s a discovery that has to be made, in each case, on one’s own.

I certainly have a deep and abiding respect for many of the people, Objectivist and otherwise, who have commented here, so please don’t take the preceding comments as a blanket condemnation. And I don’t mean to imply that I will henceforth not deal with Objectivists. That’s just silly. Nor am I repudiating some specific Objectivist doctrine. I’m simply saying: organized Objectivism in every form I’ve ever encountered is a harmful waste of time–including the form of it that I’ve tried to lead.

Please accept my apologies for any disappointed expectations–some of them, I’ll readily admit, justifiable. But I am a professor, a department chair, a pre-law advisor, the director of an ethics institute, and the co-editor of an academic journal. It’s not as though I have nothing else to do with my life. I certainly have no shortage of thoughts on Objectivist topics, but I don’t think a blog is the forum for them. In fact, I know that it isn’t.

The truth is that–on the whole–the Objectivist “milieu” is not worth the time I’ve given it. To coin a phrase, I have better things to do than deal with it. There are more worthwhile audiences and interlocutors elsewhere. If you disagree, feel free to create your own Objectivist institute, and run it as you please. If you agree…well, I’m sure our paths will cross soon. Not that they won’t cross in the first case. They just won’t cross at some specifically Objectivist function. Because I won’t be there.

In any case, I’m done. And since IOS depends on my work, it’s done. Of course, I can’t end with the cliche “It was good while it lasted.” If that were true, after all, I wouldn’t be ending it. I can only say that I tried to make it good while it lasted. If I failed, surely part of the failure is mine. But part of it, I’m quite sure, was the nature of the enterprise as such. I don’t think that an Institute for Objectivist Studies of the sort described on the main page could have succeeded.  But others can debate the relevant counterfactual conditionals. For now, I tip my hat to the critics behind the scenes who told me at the outset that the task was itself quixotic: I was wrong, and they were right. The great thing about thought, however, is that you get to learn from your mistakes. I’ve certainly learned from mine–and frankly, that’s all I’ve ever really asked of them. You get what you pay for, and I’m gratified to say that I’ve done both.

Irfan Khawaja

P.S.: I wrote the preceding note on my own, and made the decision to close IOS on my own, but I’ve cleared the decision with Carrie-Ann Biondi, its Founding Director, who–in acknowledgement of the work I’ve put into IOS–put the power of decision in my hands.

P.P.S, October 26, 2013: To respond collectively (for the moment) to some emails I’ve gotten, none of the preceding criticisms should be construed as applying to the IOS Fall Seminar that ran on September 28, 2013 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. I should have been clearer about the fact that I regarded the seminar as fun, productive, and an enormous success (if a small-scale event can qualify as an “enormous” success, which, qualitatively speaking, it can). The seminar was a real bright spot, and I enjoyed dealing with each and every one of its participants. I have no objections to continuing something like it of an informal variety–annually or biannually or whatever–but not under Objectivist auspices, not even Objectivist auspices that I’ve created and run (or co-run). (I don’t mean that the topics discussed can’t be Objectivist, just that the auspices or institutional framework shouldn’t, as far as my participation is concerned.) But I’ll be in touch with individual people about this in due course. We don’t need an “Institute” to be able to meet and talk philosophy together, and it was a cardinal mistake to think we did.


Crazy architecture: an Objectivist in the UAE (by Matt Faherty)

Abu Dhabi 1

Abu Dhabi 1 (Photo credit: slleong)

[This is a guest post by Matt Faherty, a senior history major at the University of Chicago.]

During my third quarter of my junior year at the University of Chicago, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Istanbul. While there is plenty to say about Turkey, the most memorable part of the trip was my excursion to the United Arab Emirates. I spent four days in Abu Dhabi (the capital) and five days in Dubai. Pretty much everyone has heard of Dubai and knows a little bit about it, but nothing can compare to a firsthand experience. Here I will share my thoughts about the country’s peculiarities, and why it was the most interesting place I’ve ever been to.

Dubai, UAE | Dubai Creek ¦ #2

Dubai, UAE | Dubai Creek ¦ #2 (Photo credit: Åndrey)


I flew into Dubai and immediately took an hour and a half shuttle to Abu Dhabi, which was later repeated in the opposite direction to fly out of Dubai again (for the sake of saving money with a roundtrip flight). The first thing I noticed about the cities were the roads. I assume this is a common occurrence in all wealthy, oil-flushed, Middle Eastern cities, but the country is filled with a lot of very large roads. Dubai has six and eight lane highways running right through the center of the city while Abu Dhabi has a grid structure filled with wide, two lane roads throughout. Undoubtedly, with cheap oil prices most people in these cities drive everywhere all the time. And despite seeing plenty of cars on the road, the abundance of lanes and routes seems to chronically keep both cities free from traffic jams.

The downside to this infrastructure obsession is that it makes both cities massive and sprawling. I was used to traveling to cities where all of the interesting attractions were in walking distance from each other (Prague, Belgrade, at least a chunk of Istanbul), but it took me a day in each city to realize that it wasn’t feasible to explore the cities of the UAE on foot. It didn’t help that it was between 95 and 110 degrees every day without a cloud in the sky.

My solution was to take taxis to areas where I could walk between a small clusters of objectives. Taxis were extremely cheap as it cost only about $10 to $12 (in UAE Dirhams) to travel all the way across Abu Dhabi. Most rides I took only cost between $4 and $7.

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are unrecognizable from what they were ten years ago. Both have the appearance of being randomly built in the middle of the desert. Abu Dhabi looks kind of like a sea-side resort city (complete with beautiful beaches) with a lot of tall finance buildings thrown in. When I went to the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, it really did look like someone had randomly plopped a modern city into the middle of the desert. There are not suburbs or shorter buildings that trail off, just massive skyscrapers, shorter buildings in between them, and an old town. Beyond that there is only pure desert with a few housing developments in the distance.

Both cities have by far more skyscrapers that any cities I have seen outside of the US (or specifically New York and Chicago). The UAE is well known for its bizarre architecture and I was not disappointed. The Burj Khalifa is currently the tallest building in the world and utterly dominates the skyline of Dubai, looking like an alien pillar sticking out of the ground (it might actually be cooler if it had cloud cover to obscure the top). I spent a good deal of the trip stopping to gawk at the crazy designs. My favorites include:

  •           A (presumed) office building next to my hotel which was completely dark red due to its tinted windows
  •           A Chinese/Japanese Pagoda looking thing (I think a hotel)
  •           The Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Hotel – a cluster of four tall, twisty towers
  •           The Hotel Emirates Palace – quite literally a palace
  •          The Infinity Tower – which looks like God grabbed a normal skyscraper and twisted it around


Abu Dhabi skyline

Abu Dhabi skyline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Country as Country Club

If I had to sum up the UAE as succinctly as possible, I would say: “country club.” Much of both cities (but especially Dubai) was constructed for the sole purpose of serving tourists and it shows. An army of blue jumpsuit-clad, male immigrant workers roam the cities doing maintenance and construction work in sweltering heat. Everything from the roads to the sky scrapers to the ubiquitous gardens is remarkably well-maintained. Dubai and Abu Dhabi have notoriously lax building codes and zoning laws, but they certainly make an effort to keep everything looking immaculately clean.

The feeling is also pervasive due to its immense, high quality shopping network which is forever over-seen by a legion of ultra-polite and helpful customer service workers. It is not an exaggeration to say that the commercial store workers and random cashiers are of the highest discipline and quality I have ever seen. All of them speak multiple languages (usually three or four, if not more) and manage to be extremely helpful but never annoying. It dawned on me that the quality of these workers probably comes from the intense competition for these jobs. Like the blue jumpsuit street workers, they are all immigrants, but far better paid and have a far higher quality job.


Everything you have ever heard about the money in Dubai and the UAE is true. There is a level of wealth and extravagance there unlike anything I have ever seen before.

I am fairly well traveled, having been throughout Western and Central Europe (minus Iberia and Scandinavia) as well as Serbia, Turkey, and Canada. Something which has always stuck with me during my travels is how much poorer the rest of the world is compared to America. This is not a comparison between the impoverished in these countries and the relatively affluent people I live amongst, but a comparison between the basic life styles of Americans and other people in the Western world.

Americans have bigger cars, bigger homes, cheaper gas, cheaper everything, more stuff, and especially more commercial variety. It is rare to see anything like a Walmart or big-chain grocery stores outside of a few concentrated locations in Europe. Gas stations are a great point of comparison; I used to be excited when I was younger to walk into a gas station to be confronted by an overwhelming variety of snacks, candy, and drinks. Elsewhere in the world, the selections are far smaller with mostly local brands sitting beside a few international products.

The UAE is the first country I have been to where it feels like much of its people are just as wealthy as Americans. Granted, I was in the country’s two wealthiest cities, and I hit many tourist locations, but the vast majority of people in these cities were immigrants (which I’ll expand upon below), and most of them appeared to possess both a standard of living and level of extravagance unrivaled outside the US.

This is a photo of a public space in the cente...

This is a photo of a public space in the center of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on 27 December 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is the basis for my comparison? The cars on the road were nearly all very large with plenty of SUVs. Gas was about $1.25 per gallon (which a cab driver complained to me about because it’s more expensive than in Qatar or Saudi Arabia). The only homes to be seen were nice apartment buildings, suburban-style houses within the cities (where the poor immigrants lived), and mansions outside of the cities. There were more shopping malls than I could count (including the Mall of Dubai, the largest mall on earth) with a selection of stores to rival even America’s largest malls. Portion sizes were also comparable to the US.

Then there’s the luxury, which far surpasses even the US. In the absence of ruins or old culture, my primary tourist activities consisted of seeking out the greatest extravagance that I could. I saw an indoor ski mountain, I walked on an artificial island which ended with a massive luxury resort with its own private aquarium, I rode on the fastest roller coaster on earth at Ferrari World (a Ferrari amusement park), I saw an ATM which only pays in gold, I walked the biggest malls, saw the Lamborghini car dealerships, and saw the absurdly expensive tourist products that couldn’t have been made for more than a few dozen people on earth. Highlights include:

  •           A selection of prayer beads made with materials of questionable legality, including rhino horn ($20,000), “mammoth tusk” ($6,000), whale bones ($6,000), ivory ($4,000), and walrus tusk ($4,000)
  •           Gold plated iphones, ipads, and Black Berries (I didn’t see a price tag and was too afraid to ask)
  •           $600 entrees at a restaurant
  •           $10,000 to $20,000 cell phone cases
  •           A $36,500 Ferrari coffee table book

The People

The UAE is still the middle of transitioning to modernity. By my very rough estimates, about 25% of the people I saw wore traditional Islamic clothes. That means all black for women, including a face cover, and all white for men with a head scarf thing. Rough one third women and 75% of men wore ordinary modern clothing, and then rest of the women wore something in between the traditional and the modern. What was most interesting is that there didn’t seem to be any behavioral difference between the groups. It was strange seeing women dressed in ultra-traditional Islamic garb going to the movies and shopping in Ikea. Men and women wore normal bathing suits and bikinis at the beach.

Taxi in Abu Dhabi / U.A.E.

Taxi in Abu Dhabi / U.A.E. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Through my interactions with other people and conversations with tour guides and cab drivers I was able to get a pretty good handle on the social structure of the place. Only 12% of the UAE’s population is native while the rest are immigrants. The racial/ethnic lines seem close to nonexistent in terms of general interactions on the street, but in employment and economic terms, there are sharp divides. Here are the groups:

–          The Natives – At first I thought the wealthy Arab guys walking around in traditional garb were natives, but one of my tour guides corrected me. Apparently very few Natives live in the cities, but rather prefer to live in mega mansions in the desert to be close to their roots. While the UAE is basically very capitalistic, the Natives live in a perpetual state of very well-funded socialism. They get extremely high quality, state-provided housing, healthcare, education, and jobs. Most either don’t work or get high-up, cushy office jobs in the oil, finance, or government sectors. Because they barely interact with the rest of the immigrants, the Natives are basically neither seen nor heard (aside from the government).

–          Non-Native Arabs – These were the wealthy guys I saw walking around in tradition garb. They immigrate from Saudi Arabia, Syria, or one of the other wealthier Arab countries and tend to do quite well in the UAE. They are the most socially conservative and seem to be the only ones I ever saw praying. They run businesses, work in finance or oil, or get fairly high-up government jobs. According to my tour guide, nearly the entire police force is Non-Native Arab

–          East Asians (mostly Chinese) – East Asians are extremely common. A lot of tourists are Japanese and many immigrants are Chinese. By my assessment, the East Asian immigrants constitute most of the middle class in the UAE. Stores in malls are employed almost exclusively by Asian women (though owned by Arab men), while Asian men often work behind the counter. Some of the cheaper stores are owned by Asians as well.

–          Indians/Pakistanis/Nepalians/Bhutanians – These guys do most of the grunt work. They wear the blue jumpsuits to do landscaping and construction work and they also drive all of the taxis. Nearly all of the personal conversations I had in the UAE were with these guys (taxi drivers and tour guides). The taxi drivers were very eager to talk about home and describe their immigration processes. All of them I talked to described the UAE as infinitely better than wherever they came from. Some had family back home who they were hoping to bring to the UAE after a few years.

Local Cuisine

There is none. I asked two taxi drivers in Abu Dhabi where I could get local food, and they both directed me to a mall food court. As far as I could tell, everyone eats fast food all the time, of which there is a huge selection of American and international chains. Oddly enough I saw multiple Hardy’s, which is a burger chain popular in the Southeastern United States which I hadn’t eaten at in years. I try to eat at least one nice meal in every foreign country I go to but there didn’t seem to be any options between fast food and outrageously expensive tourist cuisine.

Having just spent seven weeks in (Muslim) Turkey, I thought I might get a chance to eat some ham in the touristy UAE. Subway restaurants are very common in the UAE, but instead of ham, they serve turkey ham, which is literally identical in appearance and taste to me.

The UAE loves ice cream. Maybe it’s the heat, but there are an absurd amount of Cold Stones (in the wealthier areas) and Baskin Robbins (in the less wealthy areas). The ice cream prices are about equivalent to American prices, but quite expensive for the UAE.

Random Oddities

  •           I saw a Green Bay Packers head set in a mall. Are there Green Bay Packers fans in Dubai?
  •           I saw a lot of men holding hands. Maybe an Arab custom?
  •           Everything outside of the malls shuts down between 10AM and 2PM due to the heat. This is very annoying for tourists.
  •           While the store owners were always extremely polite, the traditional souk salesman were far more aggressive than their equivalents in Istanbul. They marked me for a tourist immediately. On two instances my arm was grabbed and I was forcefully pulled over to a stall. In another instance an old man physically blocked my way through an alley until I bought something.
  •           In a super fancy hotel I saw a fat Arab guy in traditional garb surrounded by four gorgeous women.
  •           The UAE has extremely high speed limits but draconian penalties for violations. For every 5 kilometers per hour over the speed limit, a fine is levied of $150. At a certain point it becomes a felony and jail time is pretty much automatic. Driving with any level of drug or alcohol intoxication is also a felony and pretty much guarantees jail time.
  •           The UAE seems to have little concern for its own history. I went to two historical monuments and both were extremely underwhelming:
  • The first was a tiny “Williamsburg, Virginia”-esque town set up to mimic old style towns built by the nomadic Natives. All of the stalls and display areas were vacant, and I only found one employee in the whole place. He let me hold a falcon and then told me afterwards that it costs 10 Dirham.
  • The second was an old fort with a history of the UAE detailed by text and artifacts. It was better than the village but still pretty weak by UAE standards. The most interesting part was that the presented description of the UAE over the past fifteen years was enormously positive. It is probably a form of state propaganda, but the text gives the impression that things really have gotten a lot better since modernity took place and elevated the UAE out of cultural and economic backwardness.

 Matt Faherty

Announcement: book reviewers sought

The journal Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines is looking for reviewers for the new fourth edition of David Kelley’s The Art of Reasoning. Contact the journal if you’re interested.


PS., 12:45 pm: OK, never mind; they found a reviewer within an hour of making the announcement. Who knew that academic book reviewing was so much like shopping at Best Buy on Black Friday?

“Will we see an esthetic Renaissance in our time?” Not in Qatar.

“Will we see an esthetic Renaissance in our time? I do not know. What I do know is this: anyone who fights for the future, lives in it today.”

–Ayn Rand, Romantic Manifesto, p. viii.

It’s commonly thought that art is incompatible with the application of reason, but there are times when just a touch of common sense might prove beneficial to the denizens of the “art world.” Last week, The New York Times ran a triumphant story about the unveiling of Damien Hirst’s latest–and, we’re told, deeply “daring”–creation in Qatar.

“The Miraculous Journey,” is what it’s called, and frankly, it looks to me more like a gigantic, bronzed mock-up of something out of a textbook of obstetrics than anything I would want displayed in public. A very expensive, state-subsidized mock-up, I might add.

DOHA, Qatar — For weeks, 14 giant balloons had been mysteriously parked in front of the Sidra Medical and Research Center, a hulking steel, glass and white ceramic building devoted to women’s and children’s health that is to open on the outskirts of this city in 2015.

At 7 on Monday evening, to the amplified sound of a beating heart, members of Qatar’s royal family, government officials and local artists watched as each balloon, bathed in purple light, opened like a giant flower to reveal an unusually provocative public artwork. Called “The Miraculous Journey,” it consists of 14 monumental bronze sculptures, by the British artist Damien Hirst, chronicling the gestation of a fetus inside a uterus, from conception to birth, ending with a statue of a 46-foot-tall anatomically correct baby boy.

I don’t know what’s worse: that the use of purple was a joke, or was intended in all seriousness.

Even for a Persian Gulf country that is aggressively buying its way into modernity, this installation takes official acceptance of Western art to a new level. Local women still adhere to centuries-old Islamic traditions, wearing the abaya, a long cloak, and niqab, or face covering; images of women are routinely censored in books and magazines. Even the representation of the human form is unusual.

I like the juxtaposition of the last sentence and the clause just preceding it. Images of women are routinely censored; even the representation of the human form is unusual. The contrast on either side of the semi-colon is not, so to speak, obvious at face value. The intended idea, of course, is that photographs of women are censored, and painted depictions of human beings are unusual. But that isn’t what the words on the page actually say, and it somehow doesn’t surprise me that the relevant distinctions would be lost in the breathless excitement to suggest that something of aesthetic consequence had just happened in Doha.

To commission such an audacious work of art is considered a particularly bold move for Sheikha al Mayassa Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, 30, chairwoman of the Qatar Museums Authority and a sister to the new emir of this oil- and gas-rich state. The sculptures are reported to have cost $20 million.

No one seems able to ask Sheikha al-Thani: why is it that an oil- and gas-rich state is obliged to have state-sponsored art in the first place? Are there no private patrons in a state so rich? Of course, asking these questions might in turn oblige us to ask why an oil- and gas-rich state is obliged to remain a monarchy at all. Is a state so rich unable to educate its citizens for self-government? That, in turn would oblige us to ask why any state is obliged to remain a monarchy, and what rights are violated by the existence of one. And that in turn would take us on a journey worth traversing.

To avoid asking these questions–whose legality as questions is itself questionable in Qatar–we’re somehow obliged to pretend that Sheikha al-Thani is an emblem of courage because she’s paying Damien Hirst $20 million dollars to take us on a miraculously lucrative, amnio-fetal journey involving a series of butt-ugly sculptures whose only claim to fame is that they’ve “daringly” been installed in an Islamic country. I don’t think so.

“To have something like this is less daring than having a lot of nudity,” said the sheikha, interviewed on Monday morning in her office at the Museum of Islamic Art, a modern, sun-filled space with sweeping views of the gulf. “There is a verse in the Koran about the miracle of birth,” she said. “It is not against our culture or our religion.”

Yes, Sheikha al-Thani, thanks for making all that clear: so now we know that the Renaissance has no chance of making it to Qatar anytime in the foreseeable future. Raphael, Michaelangelo, Botticelli: I mean, who’s that daring? Incidentally, it seems that few in Qatar are pious enough to see the “daring” in Sheikha al-Thani’s casual equation of “culture” and “religion.” Nowadays, even the theocrats think that God’s word sits on all fours with the will of the majority, and the same aristocrats who profess devotion to religion flout the dictates of religion in just about everything they say.  Not that anyone minds. Well–except the Taliban.

Mission Impossible: Destination Doha

Mission Impossible: Destination Doha

May I, in all the humility I can muster, suggest something cheaper and more transgressive to the sheikha? How about, let’s say, a miraculous journey into the precincts of free speech? Could that perhaps be contemplated or arranged before deciding to spend tens of millions of more dollars on pointless sculptures arguably incompatible with the requirements of public health? it is one thing to imitate “the West.” But it takes a little more than a fat check to Damien Hirst to do it properly. Some day, the royalty and aristocracy of the Gulf States will figure this out. The question is whether they will figure it out in the way that, say, John Locke did, or, they will “figure it out” instead, in the fashion of Marie Antoinette.


“A day so happy”: a transcript of Ayn Rand’s long-lost seminar on happiness

Sometime in the late summer of 1965, not long after the publication of The Virtue of Selfishness, a small handful of philosophy professors (well, two of them) held a little-known seminar with Ayn Rand in her spacious but regrettably smoke-filled and cat-filled living room. The topic? The nature of happiness. It was a very interesting evening. I was there (I was either “Professor I” or “Professor K,” I no longer remember which); I reconstruct the seminar below in its entirety, from memory.

To be sure, I wasn’t yet born in the summer of 1965, so like so many reminiscences of Ayn Rand, my memories of that evening are a self-aggrandizing composite of plausible inference, confabulation, and wishful thinking—in short, fiction narrated by an unreliable narrator. But you might still be interested in them.

For some reason, the two professors are known only by their code names, “Professor I” and “Professor K.”

Ayn Rand: I am very happy to see you all here. Well, both of you. On second thought: where is everyone, anyway? What kind of conversation are we supposed to have in the company of two dubious philosophy professors and a bunch of cats? Where is Lenush? Where is Nathan?

Professor I to Professor K (sotto voce): “Lenush”? WTF is she talking about?

Professor K (to I): “Lenush” is Leonard Peikoff’s nom de guerre.

Professor I (to AR): I think Nathan scheduled some kind of dance tonight. We can’t dance, so we decided to come here.

Professor K (apologetically): We just really value your work. [Pause] To be absolutely honest with you, we’re from New Jersey.

AR: You really need to get a life.

Professor K: That’s for sure–to speak of “value” apart from “life” would be even worse than a contradiction in terms (VS, p. 18).

AR:  Jesus, I need a cigarette already.

Anyway, ‘happiness’ is our topic of discussion tonight. As usual, I begin by quoting myself, from “The Objectivist Ethics”:

The irrational is the impossible: it is that which contradicts the facts of reality; facts canot be altered by wish, but they can destroy the wisher. If a man desires and pursues contradictions—if he wants to have his cake and eat it, too—he disintegrates his consciousness; he turns his inner life into a civil war of blind forces engaged in dark, incoherent, pointless, meaningless conflicts….

Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s own values. If a man values productive work, his happiness is the measure of his success in the service of his life. But if a man values destruction…his alleged happiness is the measure of his success in the service of his own self-destruction. It must be said that the emotional state of all those irrationalists cannot be properly designated as happiness or even as pleasure: it is merely a moment’s relief from their chronic state of terror. …

I quote from Galt’s speech: ‘Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy—a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values, and does not work for your own destruction….Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desire nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values, and finds his joy in nothing but rational action.’ (VS, pp. 31-32)

Clearly, in the passage, I’m taking ‘valuation of productive work’ and ‘valuation of destruction’ as fundamental, inescapable, and exclusive options such that any agent must choose one or face the other, and most of the other choices he faces reduce to that one. Anyone who doesn’t value productive work in the right way is to that degree valuing his own destruction. And of course, I’m presupposing that the agent forms the concept of ‘production’ in the right way. All trivial stuff, which I leave as an exercise.

Also en passant: The preceding passage provides the rationale for and limitation on my non-conflicts of interest thesis; in other words, the thesis asserts that there are no conflicts of interest between happy people qua happy. Unhappy people are another story altogether, each—along with his family—unhappy, conflictual, and conflict-producing in his own way. Spend some time in Hebron or Peshawar, and you’ll see what I mean. Granted, neither the 1967 Arab-Israeli war nor the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has happened yet, but once they do, the point will become obvious enough.

Well, that settles that, doesn’t it? I mean what else is left to say on the subject? Questions?

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Professor I: Yes, Ayn…may I call you “Ayn”?

AR: No.

Professor I: OK, Miss Rand. I just wanted to see whether I understand what you mean by ‘non-contradictory’ joy. So my procedure here was going to be to quote some passages from classic works discussing happiness, and see whether the happiness described by the author satisfied or failed to satisfy your description.

AR: Sounds like a pretty stupid procedure if you ask me. I just finished writing three of the greatest novels of all time, and now you’re quoting some other mediocre authors at me. I get more respect from my cats. But go ahead. I’ve got a whole pack of Marlboros here, and I can see it’s going to be a long night. There’s nothing worth reading in modern literature, I’ve read it all.

Professor I: Well, I could have quoted Philip Larkin, but here’s a passage from Nabokov’s Lolita. The narrator is Humbert Humbert, a pedophile. And I take it that despite the reference to happiness, this is a classic case of hedonic failure. In other words, this is what happiness is not:

Oh, do not scowl at me reader, I do not intend to convey the impression that I did not manage to be happy. Reader must understand that in the possession and thralldom of a nymphet the enchanted traveler stands, as it were, beyond happiness. For there is no other bliss on earth comparable to that of fondling a nymphet. It is hors concours, that bliss, it belongs to another class, another plane of sensitivity. Despite our tiffs, despite her nastiness, despite all the fuss and faces she made, and the vulgarity, and the danger, and the horrible hopelessness of it all, I still dwelled deep in my elected paradise—a paradise whose skies were the color of hell-flames—but still a paradise (Lolita, Second Vintage International edition, p. 166).

AR: Great, Larkin or Nabokov: we’re really spoiled for choice here. You have the nerve to quote Lolita at me? Didn’t you read what I said about that filthy excuse for a novel in my Playboy interview of June 1964?

Professor K: You were in Playboy? I’m pretty sure I have that issue.

AR: It was an interview. What kind of girl do you think I am?

Professor K: Oh, no wonder I missed it—I only subscribe to Playboy for the pictures.

Professor I: Could we get back on topic, please?

AR: Yes, well, Nabokov is a brilliant stylist, and he has a certain psychological acuity, so the passage is a brilliant depiction of a contradictory attempt at joy, depicting someone  who desires effects without causes, and plunges himself into the civil war I was talking about. Some idiot—I think it was Lionel Trilling—described Lolita as a “love story.” But there is no such thing as romantic love in the context of force between moral non-equals—e.g, between a child of twelve and a man of forty—and the attempt to force love, as Humbert does, is exactly the kind of contradiction that would lead to a psychological state like the one described. He thinks he is in love, but by the nature of the case, he can’t be in love. So the description of ‘happiness’ comes out as a self-contradictory distortion. No effort of will could make Humbert happy in my sense because no effort of will could turn the relationship into love, and only love would make them happy. The contradiction couldn’t be clearer, and neither could the subversion of happiness, no matter what he says. A “hellish paradise” is as explicit and grotesque a contradiction in terms as any imaginable.

Professor I: Beyond just the asymmetry between the two of them, Humbert’s sexual desires aren’t exclusive to Lolita anyway, even during the time he spends with her. So it’s unclear how his wild diffusion of (pedophilic) sexual attractions is supposed to be compatible with love. And beyond that, Lolita is miserable, and Humbert knows she is, so his “happiness” is purchased at the price of her unhappiness. When he brings that fact to self-consciousness, his happiness evaporates, but when he doesn’t, he deceives himself, and purchases happiness at the price of self-deception. He spends the whole novel oscillating from one alternative to the other.

AR: I wouldn’t know. I didn’t get that far.

Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov

Professor K: Actually, the Nabokov passage—the novel as a whole—sounds a lot like the depiction of vicious self-hatred in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics IX.8. A bit like the end of Plato’s Republic and the Gorgias, too.

AR: I love that Aristotle!

Professor K: Maybe that explains why the plot of the novel of Lolita is such a joke. You really couldn’t successfully plot a novel consisting of nothing but the depiction of a reprobate headed on a downward moral descent, followed by an ad hoc upward redemption of about a paragraph at the very end, as in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment–no matter how beautiful the paragraph. That’s why Nabokov finds himself, plot-wise, with nowhere to go with Humbert, and has to invent the ridiculous “Quilty” conceit to drive the plot to its conclusion.

Professor I: Yeah. But Crime and Punishment is otherwise well-plotted. There’s more going on there than in Lolita, Russian as they both are.

Professor K: Debatable.

Professor I: Isn’t there an irony here? Miss Rand’s critics love to haul Lolita out as an example of literary genius that so obviously exceeds hers. But the irony is: the more successfully Lolita depicts Humbert’s inner state—or depicts a Humbert-like moral agent—the more it confirms Miss Rand’s conception of happiness. That doesn’t seem to be a fact they’ve grasped, but the more loudly they insist on Nabokov’s genius, the more unwittingly they defend the Objectivist Ethics.

AR: Yes, and my aesthetic views, too, which are not yet part of history, but will be (Romantic Manifesto, pp. 82-87). But feel free to waste your time on such depravity studies as Lolita.

Professor K: I guess we already have.

Professor I: Anyway, I’ve got another passage, a subtler one. I think it’s another paradigmatic case of what happiness is not. It’s from Hobbes’s Leviathan.

‘Continual success’ in obtaining those things which a man from time to time desireth, that is to say continual prospering, is that men call ‘felicity’—I mean the felicity of this life. For there is no such thing as perpetual tranquility of mind while we live here, because life itself is but motion, and can never be without desire, nor without fear, no more than without sense. What kind of felicity God hath ordained to them that devoutly honour Him a man shall no sooner know than enjoy, being joys that now are as incomprehensible as the word of schoolmen ‘beatifical vision’ is unintelligible. (Leviathan I.6, near the end)

The subtlety here is that you vehemently reject Hobbes-type views (VS, pp. 33-34), and yet there seems to be a certain overlap between Hobbes’s views and your own, Miss Rand. Isn’t there?

AR: Do you intend to insult me all night? I’m almost out of cigarettes already. Don’t make me reach for the Benzedrine. Only an immoral cretin would dare to equate Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, with the so-called philosophy of that Attila-ist mystic of muscle, Thomas Hobbes.

Professor K: Are you sure you’re not on Benzedrine already?

Professor I: Look, be reasonable. There’s an overlap, or at least an apparent one, between Hobbes’s account and yours, and it stems from your description of the conditionality of life. You say in “The Objectivist Ethics” that life requires a constant process of self-generated and self-sustaining action, and that stillness is the antithesis of life. That sounds rather neurotic, at least on a literal, face-value reading (of the kind you yourself recommend as the right method for reading a text). It almost sounds as though you think that happiness requires manic activity incompatible with tranquility or rest—just like Hobbes.

In fact, having heard you speak about “sense of life” in the past, you sometimes sound as though you’ve integrated mania itself into your sense of life, and turned that mis-integration into a moral imperative. I once heard you condemn as indicative of a lack of self-esteem the positive emotional associations that people have for the folks next door, family picnics, known routines, humble people, old villages, foggy landscapes, folk music, and comfort (RM, p. 27). The common denominator there was supposed to be “the undemanding safety of passivity” (RM, p. 27). But that judgment really seems to presuppose a manic conception of the relation of activity to passivity. Why would comfort or an old, quaint village evoke so intense a condemnation? The connection between them and passivity must be direct, and passivity itself must be something approaching evil, regardless of context.  Both you and Hobbes have a peculiar intensity on this topic.  But you both just seem wrong. You sound like refugees from a civil war or something.

Professor K: Bro, I see your point, but folk music? Give her that one.

Professor I: So how do you differentiate your view from Hobbes’s at the level of moral psychology, even before we get to Hobbes’s views on survival, the state of nature, the state, and so on?

AR: Well, you needn’t continue with your psycho-biographical speculations. Why not just try reading more carefully? I also said that what’s required for survival is determined by an organism’s nature, and that only in a fundamental sense, is stillness the antithesis of life (VS, p. 17).

Professor I: How does that help?

AR: Well, man’s nature could be such as to require stillness in some less-than-fundamental way, or to require some weaker analogue of stillness that fell short of being literal stillness. If that was so, everything I said could be right, and you might just dislike my examples. But not much turns on that. Supply your own examples. I’m sure you can come up with your own examples of an objectionably passive lifestyle.

Professor I: That’s a long way to go in your reliance on the concepts of ‘nature’ and ‘fundamentality’. And pretty hair-splitting about “stillness.”

AR: What’s wrong with that?

Professor I: Nothing, I guess, but it suggests that there are a lot of blanks to fill in, and lots of hairs to split, before Objectivism has very much determinacy as philosophical systems go. You don’t say very much about any of the three concepts–nature, fundamentality, or stillness–and I’m predicting you never will. And yet all three concepts are crucial to getting clear on what you’re saying. A person who didn’t get clear on them might easily call himself an Objectivist but espouse Hobbesian views.

AR: No kidding. Who ever said otherwise? You’re acting like I’m writing up some kind of closed system or something. Do I really look like Leibniz to you? Or Spinoza? Or Hegel? I mean, really. I started the book by saying it wasn’t a systematic discussion of ethics, just a series of essays on those ethical subjects which needed clarification (VS, p. xii). All I did, and claimed to do, was to provide readers like you with a consistent philosophical frame of reference (VS, p. xii). The rest is up to you. Now you’re complaining that I didn’t hold your hand through all the details and doctrinata of the metaphysics of morals. What am I, your philosophical babysitter? You have Ph.Ds. Figure it out your damn selves! Why do I have to do everything?

Professor I: Well, Miss Rand, I really think you’re trying to have it both ways at once. I’m sorry. Sometimes you write as though you were just preparing the ground for the great philosophical labors of the future; sometimes, you write as though Galt’s Speech was the last word in philosophy, and Objectivism was carved in stone there. You can’t have your philosophical system and eat it. First you have to write it. Then you can have it. I wouldn’t advise eating it.

AR: How dare you? That you should presume to slither across the river from the uncivilized hinterlands you inhabit–into this, our City–and speak in this way to the author of Atlas Shrugged!

Professor K:  I think he’s just asking: if we use your essays as a “frame of reference,” and come up with our own discoveries about metaphysics and its relation to ethics–and they’re true–those discoveries need not be ratified by some authority figure to count as elements of the Objectivist Ethics–would they?

AR: Of course not. But check with Nathan before you say anything too overly original and decide to call it “Objectivism.” I mean, there are limits. Objectivism is the name of my system, my achievement, my work—my name rhymes with mine for a reason—and we can’t have a bunch of crazy people going around using “Objectivism” for their own idiosyncratic purposes. That’s why I have to put its guardianship in the hands of a trustworthy person like Nathaniel Branden. Or, well, in the hands of the Collective. Better several pairs of hands than one. After all, what if Murray Rothbard decided to call himself an Objectivist?

Professor I: That doesn’t sound consistent. Philosophically, it almost sounds like a suicide note.

AR: No, my naive friend. You don’t seem to realize that Nathaniel Branden is a genius, in fact, the handsomest genius ever to walk the planet. Trust me, there are different rules for handsome geniuses like him. Get used to it. I have.

Professor I: “Different rules for handsome geniuses”: Is that official Objectivist doctrine?

AR: I just finished telling you there aren’t any official doctrines in Objectivism. We’re philosophers here, not commissars. Anyway, let’s back up and figure out what’s wrong with Mr. Hobbes.

Yes, life requires continual success in obtaining the objects of our desire. And yes, we’re focused on the felicity of this life; there is no other. But Hobbes mistakenly thinks that there’s a valid inference from ‘life itself is motion and can never be without desire’ to ‘there is no such thing as perpetual tranquility of mind.’

Set aside the red herring of perpetual tranquility of mind. Hobbes isn’t merely denying the possibility of perpetual (or eternal) tranquility but of tranquility as such. The issue is the possiibilty of tranquility as such, not perpetual tranquility. If there were no tranquility, it is unclear how there could be such a thing as happiness. An utterly non-tranquil happiness doesn’t make sense. Without tranquility, there would be no conscious acceptance of the world as it is. A person not at civil war with himself must at some level be at peace with himself. And Hobbes’s moral psychology seems incompatible with such a peace.

Hobbes concedes the claim that tranquility is to be gotten in some other realm, if such a realm exists—but he’s awfully cagey about whether or not it does exist. And we all know that it doesn’t. The result is a moral psychology from which tranquility has been banished. He then conceives of happiness as a quest for a form of ‘felicity’ which is never satisfied. That really is neurotic. A series of means going off into a progression toward a nonexistent end is a metaphysical and epistemological absurdity, even if the progression involves a merely finite series (VS, p. 17). And Hobbesian felicity satisfies that description.

Hobbes assumes that an agent’s possession of a desire is by that fact alone incompatible with the agent’s enjoying tranquility. To have a desire is to be pushed or pulled toward some object requiring satisfaction, but the minute you satisfy it, or seem to, another desire springs up based on the one you just satisfied, pushing or pulling you once again. Hobbes treats this story as a conceptual truth about the nature of desire, but the story seems driven—so to speak—by his physics, which ends up being his psycho-physics. We’re always in the grips of desires that keep demanding further satisfaction, as though the desires were quasi-homunculi with their own various agendas for us, whereas no agent has a single integrated agenda of his own for his desires.

For there is no such finis ultimus, (utmost aim), nor summum bonum (greatest good), as is spoken of in the books of the old moral philosophers. Nor can a man any more live, whose desires are at an end, than he whose senses and imagination are at a stand. Felicity is a continual progress of the desire, from one object to another, the attaining of the former, being still but the way to the latter. The cause whereof is, that the object of man’s desire, is not to enjoy once only, and for an instance of time, but to assure forever, the way of his future desire. (Leviathan, I.11)

This is a weaker way of putting the earlier point, but problematically equivocal. On a strong reading of the just-preceding passage, it just assumes what Hobbes needs to prove—that every desire is phenomenologically future-oriented (feels that way), so that there couldn’t be a desire whose satisfaction consisted in securing instances of time that allowed for the tranquility of full satisfaction in one’s current situation and possessions. Well, why not?

On a weak reading, it’s trivial. Yes, if we allow for the possibility of desires for genuine tranquility, the desire has a future orientation: tranquility is a need of a temporally-extended agent, and it makes a causal contribution to the preservation of the agent’s agency in the future. Just compare a full night’s sleep with extended insomnia. A good night’s sleep tonight will, to be sure, help you perform tomorrow’s business better than a bad night’s sleep. Insomnia makes you miserable tonight and tomorrow. But sleep in some sense involves a cessation of desire, no matter what dispositional reading you want to give to the desires that the agent retains while asleep. (Do I still want to be a writer while I’m asleep? It depends what you mean by ‘want to be a writer while asleep.’) Hobbes can hardly deny that some desires come to an end in sleep compatibly with the life of the agent.

Suppose you decide to go to bed at 11 pm with the aim of getting up at 8 am. You do so in the knowledge that deciding to go to bed is not quite the same as deciding to sleep, and setting the alarm for 8 is not quite the same as spontaneously getting up at 8. Ideally, the first two italicized terms would coincide perfectly with one another, as would the last two. But neither of the second items in each pair is directly in your control.

The decision to go to bed at a certain time of night is justified by the contribution to alertness it makes to waking life the next day. But if you fixated all night long on that thought, you’d never go to sleep. Consciousness of the teleological function of sleep has to be compatible with letting go of conscious thoughts and desires about the teleological function of sleep, and about everything else. And what’s true of sleep can be true in a weaker form of other things, like tranquility or repose.

So are your desires “at an end” when you go to sleep, or fall asleep? It’s an equivocal question. In one sense (the teleological sense), your desires realize their end when you fall asleep: you need to sleep, and you satisfy that need; in principle, if you get a good night’s sleep, you can satisfy the need fully. In another sense, in sleep, consciousness temporarily ceases, and with it, desire. So in that sense, in sleep, desire is at an end in the sense that it temporarily ceases to exist. In the first sense, in sleep, you realize your end, and consciousness ceases, in order to bring about a further end in the future—a fact you may fully cognize when you go to bed, but have to stop thinking about in order to go to sleep. But this first sense itself involves a desire. The extinction of desire through sleep (sense 2) is the realization of that future-oriented desire (sense 1). It’s just that you aren’t conscious—and can’t be—of the future-orientation of the desire while it’s being satisfied.

Long story short: what’s true of sleep is true, mutatis mutandis, of tranquility. It’s just a requirement of our nature that we’re obliged to take stock of phenomena like our circadian rhythms. Our circadian rhythms are as much part of our nature as anything else about us, and it would be a mistake to act as though they weren’t there. But our circadian rhythms demand rest.

Why couldn’t some analogue of circadian rhythms in our nature require tranquility? Pace Hobbes, why can’t we have a desire for tranquility, one satisfied by the real, wholehearted experience of tranquility itself—just as we do in the case of sleep? Why can’t that desire be an ineliminable part of our nature—a need of human consciousness analogous to circadian rhythms in the more biological case? We need to come to rest, and be entirely still. We can desire that rest, and when—on appropriate occasion—the desire is satisfied, we experience stillness as stillness, which, after all, is what it is. It may have a future orientation as well, but we don’t focus on that, because if we did, we wouldn’t be tranquil. It’s not self-deception to have an appropriate sense of what is worth focusing on at a given moment and what isn’t.

Sometimes we just come to a full stop—the kind that traffic law requires at stop signs—and need to, in order to keep moving later in the right direction. So contrary to Hobbes, life may require continual success, but one of the successes it requires is the cessation of motion—where the cessation has the teleological function of being for the sake of the continued capacity to generate optimal action.

Of course, you can–if you want–stress that even this “full stoppage” involves a kind of action. We remain conscious. Consciousness is identification, and identification is a conscious action. So even when we come to a full stop, we are doing something. We aren’t shutting down. But my point is that this consciousness is perfectly compatible with the sort of tranquility Hobbes is denying, and that tranquility is essential to happiness.

So Hobbes’s inference from the existence of desire to the impossibility of tranquility is just a non-sequitur.

Czeslaw Milosz

Czeslaw Milosz

Professor K: Actually, there’s an interesting discussion of this topic in Richard Kraut’s What Is Good and Why, published—or, well, it will be published—in 2007 (pp. 158-61). Once you identify Hobbes’s assumption about the perpetual -motion quality of felicity, you see it throughout the entire British ethical tradition. You almost wonder whether it explains the famous neuroticism of some of the British intellectual class.

Professor I: But wait, it’s 1965 right now. Your reference to Kraut is anachronistic. Come on, stay in character. This isn’t “Pulp Fiction.”

Professor K: Sorry.

AR: When I said fundamentally, stillness is the antithesis of life, I didn’t mean to suggest that all forms of stillness are the antithesis of life, full stop, so that you’re obliged always to be in motion, and never to be completely still. What I meant is: as a causal fundamental, life requires action. At that level of causal fundamentality, consciousness itself is active. Mental drift really is fundamentally the antithesis of life, and since consciousness is active,  if consciousness really ceased, life itself would cease. (Metabolic details aside, people in irreversible comas are dead.) Further, productive work has to be in the causal driver’s seat of a rational life. Fundamentally, production is the essence of life, just as Marx thought: Homo sapiens is Homo faber. If you put leisure in the causal role that production is supposed to fill, you would reverse the correct normative priorities, and be led to disaster. Politically, you would get aristocracy, and some coercive form of parasitism–in other words, slavery.

But contrary to the way you’re reading me, I didn’t mean to deny that stillness plays a non-fundamental but causally important role in life. Within the context I’ve just specified, stillness may be as valuable as you’re insisting. You seem to be having trouble with that italicized phrase, but the distinction between causal fundamentality and causal non-fundamentality is not a distinction between the important and the unimportant.

Professor I: Well, this is news to me. You don’t ever come out and say that anywhere. I mean, sorry, but your writing can be very confusing. Imagine saying “sleep is fundamentally the antithesis of life.” The competent English reader would infer that sleep was somehow bad, and that insomnia was to be prized. You could not legitimately correct such a reader by saying, “Well, what I meant was that life is activity, and sleep is inactivity, so sleep isn’t fundamental in the way that ordinary activity is, but it’s still vitally important because it facilitates those activities, and anyway, there’s a sense in which sleep is an activity, since we typically have to decide to go to bed, and further, metabolic activity is taking place during sleep, so there’s a sense in which it ends up active.” That would turn the activity of reading you into something like the activity of reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics Z-H, where every crabbed line requires hundreds of pages of clarification before anyone knows what it really means.

AR: Yeah, well that’s why I never said that sleep was fundamentally the antithesis of life. I spoke of stillness, not sleep. Anyway, I am an Aristotelian, and the Metaphysics is my favorite book, so what’s the problem? Are you an anti-effort personality?

Professor K: You’re evading the issue. The demands you’re making of the reader are presumptuous and unreasonable. For instance, Aristotle refers to ‘hos epi to polu’ generalizations–generalizations that hold “only and for the most part.” You castigate Aristotle for his failure to make ethics an exact science (VS, p. 14), and yet you yourself seem to be endorsing some such conception as his. These references to “fundamentality” all turn out to be epi to polu generalizations with millions of complex qualifications. I doubt even half of your readers realize that, and you almost write as though you didn’t want them to make the realization. Yet you don’t talk about “epi to polu” generalizations at all in your work–you don’t supply the qualifications or write in a qualified way–and your writings often seem at odds with the spirit of what you say about Aristotle and about certainty.

AR: Spirit, shmirit. Stop whining. Some day, go re-read my work with your mind in focus and make a list of the sheer number of times the word “complexity” recurs. I never spare a moment to stress the complexity of the world. Frankly, I’ve always thought that man is his own most bewildering enigma (RM, p. 20). Wow, I like that phrase, actually. I should use it someday.

And I never said a word in criticism of Aristotle on ‘epi to polu‘ generalizations, so stop putting words in my mouth. Listening to you, you’d expect me to have written in Attic Greek. You should hear what I’ll have to say about the contextual character of exactness in my epistemology seminars someday (IOE, pp. 190-96). Again, you seem to be insisting that I supply my readers with common sense and a knowledge of the history of philosophy. I have no such obligation. I had no idea that my actual readership would turn out to be so devoid of capacities for philosophical inquiry–as you two evidently are. So you’ve read some Aristotle and figured it out for yourself. Good for you. So have I. What do you want, a medal?

Professor I: But your writing is a little misleading, if you want my honest opinion. It misleads people into thinking you’re a less subtle thinker than you really are. And it just lacks clarity and explicitness at certain crucial points.

AR: Yeah, well, that’s their problem—people, I mean. I do—or will—discuss the concept of importance in The Romantic Manifesto (a couple of years from now, p. 28). And what I say there is perfectly consistent with what I say about the rule of fundamentality in my epistemology book (also to be published a couple of years from now, p. 45). They’re just two different concepts. No one will have any trouble discerning that my rule of fundamentality is Aristotelian. So if they realize that I’m an Aristotelian, they can read me accordingly, and the problem is solved. I mean, I’m sorry if you bumpkins are so easily confused by things, but I’m not, so I don’t see why I have to cater to your confusions just to straighten you out. I’m not an altruist, you know.

Professor K: It’s not a matter of altruism; it’s a matter of having the patience to offer an exposition commensurate with the cognitive needs of your audience. They aren’t stupid; they just often have no way of knowing WTF you’re talking about. Which is a problem.

AR: What does “WTF” mean?

Professor I: Never mind. I’d like to end with one last passage that seems to capture the nature of happiness as non-contradictory joy.

AR: So are you going to quote Galt? Or Roark?

Professor I: Neither, actually. I was going to quote a poem of Czeslaw Milosz’s called “Gift.”

AR: Czeslaw Milosz? That Catholic-Communist scumbag and hero of my mortal enemy, William F. Buckley?

Professor I: Exactly. Here it is. It’s an excerpt; I don’t know the whole poem.

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early. I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over the honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw blue sea and sails.

AR: It’s actually kind of beautiful—stylistically, anyway.

Professor I: I thought so. So it captures the nature of non-contradictory joy, right?

Professor K: Right?

Professor I: Sorry, Miss Rand, I didn’t quite hear you…

I never did hear what she said. At that point, Nathaniel Branden and Leonard Peikoff walked in, so we figured that it was time to leave. We walked a few blocks up and over to Port Authority, and took the bus back home to Jersey, watching the skyline of Manhattan recede into the distance.


P.S., October 14, 2013: I’ve cleaned up a few grammatical mistakes in the original, and added a few links.

Work in progress (6): David Kelley’s Art of Reasoning, 4th ed.

I just got a flyer in the mail from W.W. Norton announcing the imminent publication of the long-awaited fourth edition of David Kelley’s The Art of Reasoning: An Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking. I’m using the third edition of Kelley’s book right now in a critical reasoning class, and have–when not forced to use Hurley’s Introduction to Logic by various department chairs–typically used The Art of Reasoning in logic and critical reasoning classes I’ve taught at the undergraduate level. I generally find Kelley’s book more user-friendly than other textbooks, and much prefer his treatment of definitions and explanation to those I’ve seen elsewhere.


The new edition looks really good. I certainly like the new cover better than the old; judging from the table of contents, all (or most) of the old material is still there, and there’s a new and much-needed chapter on probability. (I can’t tell whether the old material on Fred Sommers’s “cancellation method” of assessing the validity of categorical syllogisms is still included, but I think not.)

The announced publication date is November 2013, just in time for spring textbook orders.


ARI, the Anthem Foundation, and the long arm of rationalization

From The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 13, 2007:

It is not every day that a foundation offers to pour tens of thousands of dollars into a humanities department at a small regional institution. But this past spring, the philosophy department at the San Marcos campus of Texas State University received such an offer — and turned it down.

The invitation came from the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship, a California-based organization that promotes the ideas of the late Ayn Rand, whose much-loved and much-loathed novel Atlas Shrugged will mark its 50th anniversary in October. The foundation offered Texas State a long-term grant to pay the salary of a visiting professor whose specialty would be objectivism, as Rand termed her philosophical system.

Since its creation in 2001, the Anthem Foundation has donated roughly $400,000 annually to support research, conferences, and lecture series.

[skipping a few paragraphs…]

Mr. Fulmer and some of his colleagues also had specific worries about the world of Rand scholarship, which has occasionally been marred by schisms and accusations of scholarly foul play. In particular, the Ayn Rand Institute, a nonprofit organization with which the Anthem Foundation is closely associated, has sometimes been accused of enforcing rigid ideological conformity — and even of failing to acknowledge the work of scholars associated with rival organizations.

[skipping a few paragraphs]

The foundation also makes smaller-scale grants to support conferences and lecture series. One recipient is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose philosophy department contains no objectivists.[*] The department has also received grants of more than $500,000 from the BB&T Charitable Foundation to hire visiting instructors or postdoctoral fellows whose specialities are “Aristotle and theories of human nature, ethics and economics, social and political philosophy, or objectivity and values.”

Neither Anthem nor BB&T has meddled in the department’s curriculum, says Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, the department’s chairman. “They’ve been utterly nondirective,” he says. “They’ve both been wonderful.”

[skipping a few paragraphs…]

While researching the objectivist world online, Ms. Raphael began to fear that Anthem’s grants were given only to a narrow range of scholars associated with the Ayn Rand Institute. No Anthem grants appear to go to scholars associated with David Kelley, a former Vassar College philosophy professor who broke with the institute in 1990 amid a personal and ideological dispute that concerned, among other things, whether it is appropriate for objectivists to speak at events organized by libertarians. Mr. Kelley, who now directs the Atlas Society, an objectivist group in Washington, says he can understand that the institute might not want anything to do with him personally. But he believes it is absurd for the institute to demand that its associates “repudiate” any and all scholars who “tolerate” him — a formulation that often appears in objectivist blog posts.

Mr. McCaskey, the Anthem president, says that Ms. Raphael’s concern about narrowness is unfair and unfounded. Many of the Anthem Foundation’s grants, he points out, go to institutions like the University of North Carolina, where there are no objectivists on the faculty.[*] And Mr. Gotthelf noted that he himself has historically had an arm’s-length relationship with the institute. (David Glenn, “Advocates of Objectivism Make New Inroads, ” [requires subscription])

*Actually, that changed in 2008, when UNC-Chapel Hill hired Gregory Salmieri.

From a letter to me written by Yaron Brook, and co-signed by Leonard Peikoff and John McCaskey, dated Jan. 29, 2008:

Dear Mr. Khawaja,

I am writing in response to your recent emails to ARI and to Dr. Peikoff inquiring about ARI’s position on “Fact and Value” and whether agreement with it is a prerequisite for employment as a staff intellectual at ARI. Dr. Peikoff has shared with me your email. With his authorization, I am replying on behalf of both him and ARI.

I have also discussed your emails with John McCaskey, president of the Anthem Foundation and board member of ARI, since you indicated by email that he was one of the “representatives of the Ayn Rand Institute and the Anthem Foundation” with whom you spoke. I will in this letter speak for Dr. McCaskey as well. If there were other ARI or Anthem representatives with whom you spoke, I would appreciate knowing.

Although ARI encourages its board members and other associated with it to let job seekers know about our constant search for talented employees, only a hiring manager is of course in a position to offer someone a job at the Institute. No offer is made without an authorized signature. So to be clear: ARI has not extended to you an offer of employment and is not at this time considering doing so.

Now to address your specific inquiry. To be employed as an intellectual representative of ARI requires a demonstration that one understands and agrees with Ayn Rand’s philosophy and ARI’s mission. Since the philosophic claims made in “Fact and Value” are to be found in Ayn Rand’s philosophic work and form part of her philosophy, an inability to understand those claims is certainly relevant to employment as a staff intellectual at ARI. Outright rejection of those claims, which you state is your position, is incompatible with such employment.

There is no disagreement on this matter between ARI, Dr. Peikoff, or Dr. McCaskey. Thus I do not believe that I, Dr. Peikoff, Dr. McCaskey, or any authorized representative of ARI would say that someone’s current understanding and acceptance of “Fact and Value” are, as you put it, “irrelevant” to employment in an intellectual position at the Institute. No one I have spoken with about this matter believes he ever said or implied that.

Past misunderstanding or disagreement with “Fact and Value” (or with any of the other principles of Objectivism) does not, of course, necessarily preclude someone from employment in an intellectual position at ARI. So if your evaluation of “Fact and Value” changes fundamentally, feel free to let us know.

Finally, let me clear up a couple of misunderstandings you seem to have. You refer to “membership in ARI” and “participation in its activities.” ARI is not a club. It has no “members.” Anyone can participate in its activities by, for example, becoming a donor or attending one of our public lectures or summer conferences. Also, you refer to “activities sponsored by the Anthem Foundation.” Anthem makes grants to universities, and the grants support a wide range of scholarly activities. Someone “vehemently . . . rejecting” a tenet of Objectivism, as you say you do of “Fact and Value,” would not qualify for any direct and substantial grant from Anthem itself. But the criteria for participation in activities conducted by grant recipients — whether classes, workshops, lectures, colloquia, edited volumes, etc. — are left to the discretion of the grant recipient and his or her university. We hope this helps you understand the organizations.


Yaron Brook
President & Executive Director

The Ayn Rand Institute
2121 Alton Parkway
Suite 250
Irvine, CA 92606

Here’s the correspondence with Brook in full.

I would be curious to know whether Geoffrey Sayre-McCord would be willing, in light of the preceding, to re-affirm the claim he made in the CHE article about UNC Chapel Hill’s not being directed by an external non-academic funding source. Whether he realized it or not, he was flat wrong, and his association with the Anthem Foundation compromised the academic integrity of UNC Chapel Hill’s Philosophy Program. That is a scandal, and it deserves to be more widely known than it is. Professor Raphael (quoted in the CHE article) turned out to be entirely correct about the consequences, intended or unintended, of UNC’s association with Anthem, and by implication, with the Ayn Rand Institute.

Anyway, feel free to draw your own conclusions and act accordingly.


P.S. When I said that Peikoff and McCaskey had “co-signed” Brook’s letter, what I meant was that he spoke for them in the letter with their (apparent) authorization.  I didn’t mean that the letter literally bore their signatures.

P.P.S. By the way, I must apologize to Yaron Brook for keeping him in the dark all these years about who it was that told me that agreement with “Fact and Value” was irrelevant to employment in an intellectual position at the Ayn Rand Institute. It was Allan Gotthelf, in the late fall of 2007. I told him that I rejected “Fact and Value” and everything it implied. He told me that that didn’t much matter to being involved with ARI or Anthem; there were ways of being involved with ARI on the scholarly side without too loudly disclosing my thoughts on such taboo subjects. I told him I didn’t do things that way. We argued about it off and on for the next four years. I’m not done with the argument.

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