A Plug for Front Range Objectivism

 Posted by on 28 February 2005 at 8:09 am  Uncategorized
Feb 282005

A few weeks ago, I posted the following comment in response to a post about creating something like an Objectivist Free State Project on Objectivism Online. Since I always like to brag about all that Front Range Objectivism is doing, I thought I should post it here as well.

I’m not much of a fan of the Free State Project for various reasons, but I do know that life can be a bit lonely without in-town Objectivist friends or a healthy Objectivist community. When I was an undergrad, I knew of no other Objectivists at WashU. (Technically, my then-friend and now-husband, Paul Hsieh, was faculty at WashU’s medical school, but he was more of a sympathizer than an Objectivist at the time.) In other cities in which I’ve lived, the local Objectivist community often consisted of a barely-limping-along discussion group that no one really enjoyed.

It takes a lot of hard work — not to mention careful judgment and commitment to Objectivist principles — to create a thriving Objectivist community, particularly a community of friends. But it is possible — as Front Range Objectivism proves.

Over the years, Lin Zinser has worked very hard to create and maintain a high-quality discussion group, FROG (Front Range Objectivist Group). In 15 some-odd years, FROG has skipped just one of its monthly meetings. Then last year, Lin started FROST (Front Range Objectivist Supper Talks) to bring in Objectivist speakers about six times per year for dinner and a delicious meal. Shortly thereafter, we started up FROLIC (Front Range Objectivist Laughter Ideas and Chow) for social get-togethers, such as our monthly Sunday Dinner and various meals when a FROST speaker comes to town. Lin also recently started a second FROG discussion group, because our first was too full with its 20 active members. I expect that we’ll need to open a third discussion group in a year or two.

As far as I know, no other Objectivist community in the world is as active as Front Range Objectivism. We’re also very serious Objectivists, in that (1) our core group consists of very knowledgeable, longstanding Objectivists and (2) newer people tend to become increasingly interested in deeply understanding and applying Objectivism. (That certainly happened to me. In fact, the culture of FROG was instrumental to my disassociation from TOC.)

None of that is meant to demean the accomplishments of other Objectivist groups. But I am tremendously proud of and excited by Front Range Objectivism. Its success shows all that is possible in a good-sized city — without any crazy Free-State-Project-ish schemes. Nonetheless, I expect that Objectivists will more strongly consider Denver as a place to move in light of its thriving and friendly community of Objectivists in the upcoming years. The fact that the area is such a fabulous place to live for so many other reasons certainly won’t hurt us!

I should also mention that FROST events are often well worth a trip to Denver. So even if you live outside the Front Range, you might want to subscribe to the FROST mailing list in order to receive the event announcements.

On Studying Objectivism

 Posted by on 24 February 2005 at 12:09 am  Uncategorized
Feb 242005

For the third time this week (!), I’ve been asked for my recommendations regarding particularly worthwhile material available from the Ayn Rand Bookstore. Since the most recent request was public (in the comments on a random post), let me make some public recommendations. (Note that links are to CDs rather than tapes where possible. If you want tapes, just search for the title and/or author.)

In perusing my recommendations, please keep in mind that my interests tend toward more academic philosophy. I have little interest in work that is primarily “inspirational” or “practical” in nature; I don’t tend to buy or listen to it. (I regard good technical philosophy as supremely inspirational and eminently practical!) Also, I’m going to focus on lecture courses here, although I’ll mention books as they become relevant. Then I’ll have some more general personal recommendations on studying Objectivism toward the end.

All of Leonard Peikoff’s big lecture courses are consistently interesting and excellent, but the three which strike me as of greatest general significance are Understanding Objectivism, The Art of Thinking, and Unity in Epistemology and Ethics.

Eventually, anyone with a serious interest in studying Objectivism ought to listen to all of Peikoff’s major lecture courses. Those who don’t are necessarily limited to an unnecessarily incomplete and inadequate understanding of Objectivism. I’ve listened to almost all of them in the past year and a half — and it’s been quite an education, to say the least.

The urgency and order of listening to Peikoff’s other lectures will depend upon a person’s particular interests. I was particularly entranced by Philosophy of Education. (For those interested in the topic, Lisa VanDamme’s various lectures provide a very interesting set of real-life appendices.) The History of Philosophy series is excellent; it is particularly critical for anyone in or near a philosophy department. I also very much enjoyed and benefited from Introduction to Logic and Objective Communication. (I’ve only heard part of Induction in Physics and Philosophy, none of Objectivism Through Induction, and none of The DIM Hypothesis.)

This year, I’ve also been slowly and carefully re-reading Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (OPAR). Hearing Peikoff’s various lectures related to the book has been enormously helpful in fully understanding that work. I’ve listened to The Philosophy of Objectivism (the original lectures upon which OPAR is based), Objectivism: The State of the Art (great stuff on hierarchy), and Moral Virtue. I’m currently listening to his Advanced Seminars on Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, a fascinating series of observations about and answers to questions on the Galley Proofs of OPAR. Although I still have a a few personal complaints and confusions about the book, my appreciation for the clarity and depth of the book has grown enormously through the course of these studies. The work really is a tremendous and important achievement.

Clearly, Leonard Peikoff is The Man. But thankfully, he’s not The Only Man. In no particular order:

Those interested in ancient philosophy will certainly profit from the work of both Robert Mayhew and Greg Salmieri. I learned more in Mayhew’s uber-clear and essentialized course on Aristotle’s Metaphysics than in two unhappy semesters of Aristotle classes at Boulder. (He has other courses on Aristotle, but I haven’t heard those yet. Paul and I both enjoyed his course Ayn Rand on Humor, which we listened to while running.) Salmieri’s courses are excellent, although Platonism doesn’t seem to be available yet. Also, I should mention that Mayhew’s anthology, Essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living, is a fine example of what Objectivist scholarship might and ought to be. I’m very much looking forward to his forthcoming anthologies on Ayn Rand’s later novels.

Tara Smith has a substantial collection of always-good lectures on ethics available. Her ability to thoughtfully integrate the theoretical with the practical is particularly valuable to both academic and regular folks. (Really, it’s no wonder that she was a huge hit at FROST this past weekend!) Given my longstanding interest in moral development, I particularly enjoyed her lectures on Perfection and Pride. Her recent lecture on Kindness, Generosity, and Charity was a noteworthy contrast to Kelley’s elevation of benevolence to a major virtue in his Barely-Objectivish-Philosophy. I’d also very much recommend Smith’s second book, Viable Values, as well as the multitude of journal articles that she’s written over the years. (The topics of those articles will be of greater or lesser interest to particular people depending upon their degree of interest in technical philosophy. I haven’t read them all, but those that I have are interesting, thoughtful, and clear.)

Harry Binswanger has a host of lectures available on a variety of technical and fascinating topics, such as psycho-epistemology, consciousness, and the emotions. I don’t always agree with his arguments and conclusions, but I do generally enjoy his ground-breaking explorations.

The depth, substance, and detail of Darryl Wright’s course Advanced Topics in Ethics was a particular delight for me. As I was listening to it, I was desperate to listen to it again immediately so as to take copious notes. (To my great frustration, I haven’t been able to do that yet due to time constraints.) His course on Reason and Freedom was also very interesting. I’m glad to see that he has various lectures that I haven’t heard yet.

Onkar Ghate’s characteristic thoughtfulness, thoroughness, and thorough knowledge of Objectivism is quite apparent in his lecture course analyzing Galt’s Speech. (I’m not alone in being a huge Onkar fan.)

Also, I should mention a few Objectivist intellectuals that generally lecture outside my limited sphere of philosophic interest, but whom I’ve very much enjoyed: John Lewis, Eric Daniels, and Yaron Brook.

Before I move on, I should make a few qualifying remarks. First, I’ve omitted some ARI speakers for totally innocuous reasons, either because I haven’t heard them lecture or because I’m not so interested in their topics. However, I do actively avoid a few for various reasons related to both style and substance. In any case, please don’t jump to conclusions just because I didn’t mention someone. Second, my evaluations of lectures often change upon a second hearing, when I have time to more fully absorb and evaluate the material. So don’t treat my comments here as set in stone.

Now let me offer a bit of advice about studying Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. People relatively new to the philosophy might want to check out ARI’s suggested reading list. For those of you interested in seriously studying Objectivism again, perhaps after a few years of inactivity, here’s what I’ve found useful.

First, reacquaint yourself with Ayn Rand’s writings. Re-read her novels. Re-read her major anthologies. You might want to jot down some interesting ideas here and there, but don’t impose the burden of taking copious notes upon yourself. The goal is simply to help you get your bearings again. You don’t want to make the process so hard that you don’t do it at all.

Next, explore the more promising up-until-now or for-a-long-time neglected Objectivist work. Listen to the lecture courses of most interest to you offered by the Ayn Rand Bookstore, particularly The Big Ones by Leonard Peikoff. Read Ayn Rand’s Letters and Journals. Read the Art of Fiction and The Art of Non-Fiction. Read Viable Values and Essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living. You will be delighted by the unexpected philosophic gems you find in these works. Again, I wouldn’t recommend burdening yourself with the chore of copious notes. You can’t possibly absorb it all at once anyway, so you may as well plan to spiral back upon the better material later.

Meanwhile, re-read OPAR, carefully and actively, perhaps with those related lectures mentioned above. In this case, I would recommend taking two particular kinds of notes. First, within the structure of the chapters and sections, condense each paragraph into a single essentialized sentence. Also, write down any questions on the text that you have, whether concerning confusions, interesting leads, or whatnot. (It’s very easy to structure those notes that in MS Word’s outline mode.) Also, I’d recommend reading a chapter once straight through before reading again to condense and question. (I got the general idea of condensing from Harry Binswanger’s lecture How to Study Ayn Rand’s Writings.)

I started this general process about a year and a half ago (i.e. the summer of 2003). I’m presently in the “next” and the “meanwhile” stages. I’m not in any great hurry, but I am working steadily within the constraints on my time imposed by graduate school. (Given my long commutes, I have lots of time for lectures, but little time for books.) As I move through the material, I do two helpful things. First, I keep track of what I read when, both by marking the date on the material itself somewhere and by noting the date in a darn big spreadsheet. Given the scope of my project, it’s important to know if and when I last read some book or heard some lecture. (I also note the “importance” and “value” of each source in the spreadsheet, to help me decide when and whether to review it.) Also, it’s a lovely feeling of accomplishment to peruse the ever-growing list on occasion. Second, I make a point of talking with Paul about the more noteworthy issues raised in my sources, as that greatly helps me integrate and retain the material. (Paul says that he’s only available for intra-spousal conversations. Sorry!) I’ve also benefited enormously from various other sources of discussion and conversation.

I have some general ideas about what I’d like to do next, after I’m (mostly) done with those two phases. I’d like to listen to the better lecture courses again, taking notes if possible. (If I can’t afford the sit-down time to take notes, I’ll listen to them in my car, pausing to take notes on my digital voice recorder as necessary.) I’d like to read and condense all of the writings in the bound volumes of The Objectivist Newsletter, The Objectivist, and The Ayn Rand Letter. I’d like to work through the methods described in Understanding Objectivism and elsewhere for critical issues and concepts in Objectivism. I’d like to read the bound volume of The Objectivist Forum. I’d like to make a careful study of Ayn Rand’s novels.

As I move forward, I expect that those plans will shift and change in various ways. Despite my Platonic tendency for Excessive Planning, I’ve given up all hope of Rationalistically Plotting a Course of Study That I Must Follow No Matter What Because It Is the Only Right Way to Do It. I also try not to focus too much on all that I have left to do, as it quickly becomes overwhelming. Every once in a while though, I do allow myself the luxury of amazement at all that I have learned in the past year and a half on all fronts: content, method, theory, practice. Those are nice moments, I have to say.

Victorian Feminists

 Posted by on 22 February 2005 at 7:14 pm  Uncategorized
Feb 222005

Some women really are just whiny little girls:

Could Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have another “woman problem” on his hands? Schwarzenegger made headlines in recent months by deriding political opponents as “girlie men” and ridiculing a group of nurses at a women’s conference. Now, an effort to paint the state’s teachers as little more than a balky special interest group has angered many critics, who have begun to question why constituencies dominated by women have been subjected to such tough talk.

Bizarrely, the article never really tells us what Schwarzenegger said most recently to anger the delicate pink powder puffs. But it does say this:

In December, a small group of nurses gathered at a state women’s conference to protest Schwarzenegger’s decision to side with hospitals and delay changes to the state’s nurse-to-patient ratio. With Shriver in the audience, Schwarzenegger responded to the protesters by saying, “The special interests don’t like me in Sacramento because I am always kicking their butts.”

The nurses union denounced his comment, and the attacks on the governor have only escalated since.

“The arrogance of taking on teachers, nurses and other professions where women are underpaid, overworked and vital to society is beyond the pale,” said Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and a frequent Schwarzenegger critic. “But Arnold is someone who treats women as objects, so it’s natural for him to have a tendency to disregard and devalue professions that are made up of women.”

Now that’s just priceless. But at least someone sensible was interviewed for the article:

“To say that women voters perceive Arnold Schwarzenegger as a bully because he’s taking on a reform agenda belittles women,” said Karen Hanretty, a spokeswoman for the California Republican Party.

Really though, I’m not pro-Ahnold, just anti-feminist. And almost all that is claimed today in the name of women is, in fact, demeaning to women.

Just remember, if someone even dares to describe a scientific theory about sex differences that I find to be wrong, I’ll either faint or vomit. That’s how I’ll show that women are up for vigorous and rigorous science!

Pet Peeves

 Posted by on 21 February 2005 at 11:07 pm  Religion
Feb 212005

You know, I hate it when people read over my shoulder while I’m studying. Even when it’s Jesus. Or maybe, especially when it’s Jesus.

Really, the whole web site is focused around two pages (one and two) of bizarre images of Jesus peering over people as they go about their professions. Oddly, this trucker seems a bit perturbed by Jesus’ embrace. And I’d be a bit worried about Jesus contaminating the sterile field, if I were a surgeon.


Oh, but don’t miss the story of how these images came to be:

The enclosed images are from 11×14 pencil drawings that are the result of an undertaking that began on Thanksgiving Day, 1987. I was awakened in the middle of the night with a clear, vivid impression that the Lord wanted me to do some special drawings — drawings depicting ordinary people in their everyday environment . . . . with one important addition: the presence of Jesus Christ and His involvement in those routine activities.

It was also clear that the task would be allotted ten years to produce results — an important consideration, considering the fact that I had never drawn anything before, had no training in drawing, and had never really been interested in drawing.

Truly, I’m speechless.

Don’t Construct Ethics Based on Bizarre Cases

 Posted by on 20 February 2005 at 10:24 pm  Uncategorized
Feb 202005

One of the principles of Objectivism is that ethics should not be based on bizarre or unusual cases. For instance, emergency “lifeboat” situations are not to be used as a basis for forming ethical rules. Nor should one use situations like the baby born with two heads. (The second head was apparently “capable of smiling and blinking but not independent life” and had to be removed for the health of the rest of the baby.) Includes photograph.

Philosophical Gift Idea of the Day

 Posted by on 17 February 2005 at 6:54 pm  Uncategorized
Feb 172005

The classic Brain-In-A-Vat. Only $225. (Via Gravity Lens.)

The Time Travel Gag

 Posted by on 15 February 2005 at 11:51 pm  Uncategorized
Feb 152005

No, I haven’t tried this one yet:

You get some vaguely/slightly futuristic-looking clothes. Make it plausible, somewhat based on current trends, you’re probably aiming for maybe ten years in the future. You can most likely make do with an interesting combination of whatever clothes you currently own. Ooh! Or make a fake tour T-shirt for a band that doesn’t exist and mark it “Wild Tour 2008″ or something. whatever. The point is to make it look plausible that you might come from the future.

Then just run out into the street, select somebody at random and shout at them, “What’s the date today?! Quickly, tell me!”

When they respond, you shout, “What YEAR, man, what YEAR is this?!”

And when they respond again you go, “Noooo! They’ve sent me back too far!” or alternatively “I’m too late! It’s all going to happen again!”

Then you run away again.

(Via Sam’s Archive.)

Presentation on Alternative Possibilities

 Posted by on 13 February 2005 at 10:31 pm  Uncategorized
Feb 132005

I just posted the preliminary paper that I recently presented in my Freedom and Responsibility class to the web site. It concerns the two most common libertarian defenses of the principle of alternative possibilities against the seminal attack by Harry Frankfurt. The paper generally accepts the standard analytic framing of the debate, meaning that it probably grants all manner of wrong premises. I’ll be working on the same topic for my term paper, so I hope to untangle the mess then.

Of course, any thoughts on Frankfurt’s arguments against the necessity of alternative possibilities for moral responsibility would be of great interest to me.

Padded Prices on E-Bay

 Posted by on 9 February 2005 at 5:49 pm  Uncategorized
Feb 092005

I haven’t bought anything on eBay for quite some time. However, I’ve been searching for a decent deal on an iPod remote controller recently, because Apple only sells it bundled with an unneeded pair of earbud headphones. To my great frustration, I’ve noticed an annoying scam on many of the listings. Basically, some sellers are substantially padding their prices with absurdly large “shipping and handling” fees. The hope, I think, is that unsuspecting buyers will focus on the listed price and fail to notice the high shipping charge buried in the description until the item is already purchased.

For example, this iPod remote seems like a really good deal at $8, since most sell for almost $20. It’s a small, lightweight item that would cost about $2 to ship. But in fact, the seller is demanding a $17 shipping charge. For just a few bucks more, I may as well buy the remote plus headphones from the Apple Store for $40.

From what I’ve seen, such padding shipping charges are now ubiquitous on eBay. It is an easy enough problem to fix. EBay could have a special field for shipping price that would be listed alongside or summed with the price. (Update: Such a field does exist in the product description page, but it’s often just used to tell people to look in the description. And the shipping price isn’t shown in the indexes of listings.) And it’s too bad that they haven’t done something like that, since it both disgusts and burdens buyers like me.

I would send this post to eBay, but I don’t see any way to do that. Oh well!


Preliminary Note: Feel free to forward this announcement (officially here) to anyone you think might be interested in attending. If you plan to come in from out of town for the event, you might want to contact Lin Zinser for recommendations on where to stay and what to do, as well as to request notice of other Front Range Objectivism get-togethers that weekend. Personally, I very much enjoy Tara Smith’s work (both in lecture and in print, both as a philosopher and as a person), so I’m really looking forward to her visit to Denver. To hear her speak is a rare treat — and well worth the effort and expense of travel for those of you not lucky enough to live within easy reach of our fine city.

Front Range Objectivist Supper Talks is pleased to announce its next event: A lecture on “Egoistic Justice and Some of its Practical Implications” by Tara Smith on February 19, 2005 in Denver, Colorado.


People frequently complain that injustice results from selfishness. Ayn Rand demonstrated that nothing could be farther from the truth.

This lecture will explore Ayn Rand’s illuminating account of the egoistic nature of justice. After tracing the practical case for being just, we will consider four of the unconventional implications that flow from this: the emphatic need to judge other people; the diametrical opposition between justice and today’s ubiquitous ideal of egalitarianism; the proper place of forgiveness in a just man’s life; the proper place of mercy in a just man’s life. When, if ever, are forgiveness and mercy justified? Is either of them ever not merely permissible, but required?

Since injustice is the result not of too much egoism, but of too little, a fuller understanding of the egoistic character of justice can fortify us to exercise the virtue of justice more consistently and to reap thereby its selfish rewards.

More Details

The “Egoistic Justice and Some of its Practical Implications” lecture will be hosted at the West Woods Golf Club at 6655 Quaker Street, Arvada, Colorado (a suburb of Denver). There will be a social hour (with cash bar) beginning at 6:00 pm, followed by buffet dinner at 7:00, and Dr. Smith’s talk at 8:00. The cost is $45 for adults and $25 for students.

Reservations with Lin Zinser are required by February 15. E-mail lin(at)zinser.com or send your check or money order to FROST, 8700 Dover Court, Arvada, CO 80005.

Anyone is welcome, including interested non—Objectivists. Please contact Lin Zinser for details at lin(at)zinser.com or snail-mail your reservation and check to 8700 Dover Court, Arvada, CO 80005. You may also call her at 303.431.2525.

About Tara Smith

Dr. Smith is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Moral Rights and Political Freedom (Rowman & Littlefield, 1995), a book on individual rights, and Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000). In addition to these books, Dr. Smith has published articles and/or lectured on such topics as self-interest, objectivity, affirmative action, business ethics, pride, justice, forgiveness, and romantic love. Dr. Smith has also presented seminars on clear thinking to businessmen.


FROST is an organization which brings national and internationally known speakers affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute to the Denver metro area to speak on a variety of subjects. For further information about FROST, please view the FROST Page or contact Lin Zinser at lin(at)zinser.com.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha