It Sometimes Begins with Emerson

I just did this survey, “put together by the Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization (PLATO) and the APA Committee on Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy.” (You have to be an APA member to take it.)

https://delaware.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_4McDN9ZhI7GVYCp

It was fun. It gave me a chance to reflect on my first encounter with philosophy, which, contrary to the old saw, didn’t begin with Ayn Rand. It began in a high school English class on American literature, where we read Emerson and Thoreau. I’m not sure contemporary analytic philosophers would regard either of the two as real philosophers, but whatever you call them, they were my first contact with anything describable as philosophy.* I found them pretty enthralling, and still do. As it happens, I’m re-reading Walden for the first time in a couple of decades, and enjoying it immensely. One of my undergraduate teachers, George Kateb, predicted to me back then that I would one day forsake Ayn Rand and return home to the American Transcendentalists. I was offended at the time, but by George, he was right. Continue reading

More on Aesthetics: Nietzsche, Postmodernism, Dewey, and Ayn Rand

A few brief conversations on aesthetics with Anoop Verma: Nietzsche on the idea of “giving style to one’s character“; postmodern art and postmodern philosophy; and Dewey’s philosophy of aesthetics.

Though my promises obviously mean nothing, I’m hoping to post a series of critical reflections here on Ayn Rand’s aesthetics. Of course, having put that hope in print, it’s now likely that I’ll end up reneging or backsliding on my quasi-commitment, and say nothing at all on the subject. But having re-read Rand’s Romantic Manifesto for the first time in several years, I’m struck by how frankly awful a book I find it–much worse than I did on my last reading in 2014, when my marginal notes, though highly critical of Rand’s claims, were not as dismissive of them as I now feel. Right now, I’m having a hard time understanding how anyone could take the book seriously.

So if you think it should be taken seriously, feel free to convince me when the time comes. I’d like to think that there’s more there than meets the eye, but right now, I’m not seeing it. At the moment, The Romantic Manifesto strikes me as one of the worst books of its kind (of any kind) that I’ve ever read.

Originals, Fakes, and Copies: Reductionism and Anti-Reductionism About Painting

I’m re-reading Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto for an upcoming seminar on the topic, so my mind is on art and aesthetics. In that spirit, Robert Campbell, Stephen Boydstun, and I just revived a four-year-old conversation on Rand’s aesthetics, and I’ve been going back and forth with Anoop Verma on Facebook on the supposed aesthetic superiority of  original paintings to their “exact” copies. For whatever it’s worth, I thought I’d reproduce some of that discussion here, in case it was of general interest.

As it happens, I read Verma’s posts on Facebook and responded to them without reading the fuller versions posted on his blog. After I read the fuller blog version, it occurred to me that the response I’d given Verma was very similar to the account of Nelson Goodman’s that Verma himself had quoted in the original post. Great minds thinking alike? Or fools of a feather flocking together? You decide.  Continue reading

My War Against America

Almost thirty years ago, as a callow Rand-intoxicated undergraduate, I bought Ayn Rand’s collection The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought, opening with breathless anticipation to Leonard Peikoff’s anti-academic rant, “Assault from the Ivory Tower: The Professors’ War Against America.” This passage briefly arrested my attention:

If you want still more, turn to art – for instance, poetry – as it is taught today in our colleges. For an eloquent example, read the widely used Norton’s Introduction to Poetry, and see what modern poems are offered to students alongside the recognized classics of the past as equally deserving of study, analysis, respect. One typical entry, which immediately precedes a poem by Blake, is entitled “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane.” The poem begins: “Hard Rock was ‘known not to take no shit / From nobody’ …’ and continues in similar vein throughout. This item can be topped only by the volume’s editor, who discusses the poem reverently, explaining that it has a profound social message: “the despair of the hopeless.” Just as history is what historians say, so art today is supposed to be whatever the art world endorses, and this is the kind of stuff it is endorsing. After all, the modernists shrug, who is to say what’s really good in art? Aren’t Hard Rock’s feelings just as good as Tennyson’s or Milton’s?

Two things struck me at the time about this passage: Continue reading

Reason Papers 39:2 Out (Winter 2017 Issue)

The latest issue of Reason Papers is now out–Volume 39, Number 2 (Winter 2017). The issue includes a symposium on Tara Smith’s Judicial Review in an Objective Legal System, as well as Part II of a symposium on Den Uyl and Rasmussen’s newest book, The Perfectionist Turn. There’s also a revised version of a piece I posted here at PoT on teaching Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to the Americans” (scroll all the way down to “Afterwords”). And other stuff as well–psychological egoism, Nozick on patterned theories of justice, interviews with Nazi filmmakers, commentary on a theatrical production of Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. Enjoy.  Continue reading

Football: The Final Frontier

Much of our national life can be defined according to frontier and hinterland attitudes. Take our two national pastimes, football and baseball. Football is a frontier game, because it has to do with the conquest of territory. The aim of the game is to invade the other team’s land and settle there until you’ve crossed the goal line. As on the frontier, time of possession is everything.

Football is a metaphor for land hunger, a ritualized reenactment of the westward movement, going back to colonial times. Look at the names of some of the teams in the NFL, the Patriots, the Redskins, the Cowboys, the Broncos, the Forty-Niners, the Chiefs, the Raiders, the Buffalo Bills, and the Oilers, all names connected with different stages of the frontier epic. Look at the way a first down is measured. Officials bring out the chains, which are a vestigial replica of the surveyors’ chains and a reminder of the men who marked off the wilderness, dividing it into ranges and townships and sections.

On their hundred-yard-long turf-covered universe, football players act out the conquest of the frontier. And just as they fought the taking of their land on the real frontier, Native Americans today protest the appropriation of their past on the football field, in the use of team names like the Redskins and Chiefs, and in the hoopla of fans painting their faces, wearing chicken-feather headdresses, and waving foam-rubber tomahawks. In the game itself there are emulations of Indian customs, such as the huddle, which is a stylized Indian pow-wow, and the gauntlet that each player must run upon entering the stadium.

Football breeds a defiant frontier attitude, because someone is out to get you and you’re not going to let him. As the late linebacker Lyle Alzado once said: “I don’t think there is anyone on earth who can kick my ass.” Another great linebacker, Lawrence Taylor, once said that his purest joy was to hit someone so hard he could see the “snot bubble out of his nose.” And here’s the Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka defining the frontier ethic as well as the game of football: “It’s people hittin’ each other, that what it’s all about. I’m tired of skill.” Skill gets taken for granted, while there’s a degree of physical punishment reminscent of  life in the wilderness. The limits to that punishment are suggested by some of the penalties, such as “piling on,” “unnecessary roughness,” and my personal favorite, which has a colonial ring in its phrasing, “coming unabated at the quarterback when offsides.”

–Ted Morgan, Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent (1993), p. 14.

Continue reading

Chris Sciabarra on Objectivism and Disability

Here’s a must-read interview with Chris Sciabarra at Folks magazine, on Sciabarra’s  lifelong struggle with Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome, along with his lifelong attachment to the work of Ayn Rand (and Nathaniel Branden).

One doesn’t usually think of Rand or Objectivism as offering much insight into the nature of disability, but Chris clearly does:

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Reason Papers 39:1 (Summer 2017) out

I’m pleased to report that the latest issue of Reason Papers, vol. 39:1 (Summer 2017), is now out. Individual articles can be accessed through the Archives link by scrolling down to the issue. Alternatively, the full issue can be accessed through this link, which takes you to a 152 page PDF.

The issue begins with a symposium on Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen’s recent book The Perfectionist Turn: From Metanorms to Metaethics (Edinburgh, 2016), with commentaries by Elaine Sternberg (University of Buckingham), Neera Badhwar (George Mason), and David McPherson (Creighton), and a response by Den Uyl and Rasmussen. If you’re into (or interested in) neo-Aristotelian libertarianism–and who isn’t?–this is the symposium for you.

The issue then proceeds to a discussion of Stephen Kershnar’s Gratitude toward Veterans: Why Americans Should Not Be Very Grateful to Veterans (Lexington, 2014), with commentaries by Michael Robillard (Oxford) and Pauline Shanks Kaurin (Pacific Lutheran), along with a response by Kershnar. If you thought my criticisms of Khizr Khan here at PoT were annoying, I’m sure you’ll love Kershnar’s book and this symposium even more. Just in time for the 16th anniversary of 9/11 and talk of an American troop surge in Afghanistan…. Continue reading

Ayn Rand on World War I: (In)Decisive Arguments and the Lessons of History

I’ve been prepping to teach a course on international relations this term. In the course of doing so, I decided, on a lark, to re-read Ayn Rand’s essay “The Roots of War,” which I hadn’t read in awhile. On re-reading it, I was startled at how crazy it seemed since the last time that I’d read it–baffling, misleading, exasperating, and confusing.

Here is one of the baffling claims she makes, about the origins of World War I:

Observe that the major wars of history were started by the more controlled economies of the time against the freer ones. For instance, World War I was started by monarchist Germany and Czarist Russia, who dragged in their freer allies (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 33 in the Centennial Edition).

The first sentence is debatable, but the second sentence strikes me as bizarre. Can anyone think of a plausible interpretation of the origins of World War I that holds Germany and Russia jointly responsible for starting it? I’m not questioning the abstract possibility that two antagonists can separately and simultaneously initiate force against one another. That’s odd, but can in principle happen (and does happen). What I find puzzling is why Rand thinks Russia can be saddled with having started this particular war. Continue reading

Welcome to The New Normal (“You Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated”) [Updated]

Readers of this blog know that I’ve been running a series of events on law enforcement issues at Felician. Here’s an event I didn’t run:

12:28 pm: Due to the receipt of an alleged, anonymous threat of a shooting on the Rutherford Campus Residence Halls have been secured. -more

12:29 pm: Police and extra security in place. Classes continue, buses run. We’ll keep you apprised. Carry your ID.

2:28 pm:  If you receive any calls from media sources, please refer them to me at my extension that is  listed below.  If you have additional questions or concerns please contact your dean or Vice President.

9:07 pm: Felician took immediate action in consultation with law enforcement. Classes are in session, campus is open.

Oh, but if we were all toting our Glocks to class, this would have worked out perfectly.

What’s that phrase again? “A hostile work environment”? And I thought I left that behind in Abu Dis! Continue reading