Tara Smith, one of my favorite Objectivist speakers, presented a very interesting lecture called “No Tributes to Caesar: Good and Evil in Atlas Shrugged.” Upon a re-reading of Atlas Shrugged, Dr. Smith was struck anew by the “either/or”-ness of the novel - that is, that there is no refuge from the absolutism of the basic alternative of life or death. Objectivists are naturally familiar with the axiom of non-contradiction - that something cannot be both A and non-A in the same respect. But here, Dr. Smith is emphasizing a less common, but crucial perspective: the law of excluded middle. Something must be either A or non-A; it cannot fall somewhere in between. Dr. Smith illustrated the point with several examples from Ayn Rand’s novels.
Allan Gotthelf presented his lecture “Hallmarks of Objectivism: The Benevolent Universe Premise and the Heroic View of Man.” I found this material to be quite fascinating. It included many interesting facets of Ayn Rand’s thinking, including a description of how she developed her heroic view of man. One idea in particular was new to me and struck me as quite profound. At one point, Ayn Rand realized that it is not necessary to defend mankind as a species; indeed, this might be difficult or impossible to do without inventing some sort of deterministic “original virtue” to contrast with the “original sin” posited by Christians, which of course would be an unjustifiable departure from reality. All that is needed to see man as heroic is to see what an individual is capable of. This alone (I hope I’ve gotten this right. While Dr. Gotthelf was making the point, my mind started racing on the implications, but I believe I’ve captured his point faithfully.)
Onkar Ghate had an excellent lecture on the topic of “The Separation of Church and State.” He pointed out how the three main arguments addressing the “wall of separation” today - namely, those of the religionists, the secularists, and the compromisers - are all mistaken, and none have a proper view of the role of the state with respect to individuals. Dr. Ghate then presented the proper, principled defense of the separation of state and church (and for that matter, of the separation of state and economics).
Beyond these general lectures, I am enjoying some of the optional courses. In “Ibsen the Iconoclast,” Lisa VanDamme is analyzing three masterpieces of the Norwegian playwright. We’ve already competed the remarkable Brand and have moved onto A Doll’s House. In “The Financial Crisis: What Happened And Why,” Yaron Brook is debunking the preposterous popular account that pins the financial crisis on the free market by presenting the real underpinnings of the current recession.
LB is taking a couple of interesting courses as well: Craig Biddle’s “Moral Rights and Metaphysical Law” and Thomas Bowden’s “Property Rights - and Wrongs.” Hopefully, she is taking good notes because I want to get the essence of both of those topics! From what she has told me so far, both classes have been of great value to her.
Overall, we are having a great time. It has been very inspiring. We have met some old friends (in particular some former Massachusetts friends that I had not seen for many years), some new friends, and have met many people whose writings we like and in many cases greatly admire.