Craig Biddle in Colorado

 Posted by on 18 November 2005 at 8:59 am  Uncategorized
Nov 182005

As announced in October, Craig Biddle traveled to Colorado to give two lectures in early November. At the University of Colorado at Boulder, he lectured on “Ayn Rand’s Morality of Selfishness” to about 100 students. At FROST, he lectured on “Living Purposefully” to about 50 people. As expected, I very much enjoyed both talks.

The lecture on selfishness was an excellent introduction to Ayn Rand’s ethics. It was clear, concretized, and engaging. I particularly enjoyed his list of the six attempted justifications for altruism, all of them fallacies.

  1. God says so. That’s an appeal to (supernatural) authority.
  2. Society says so. That’s an appeal to the masses.
  3. Others need your goods. That’s an appeal to pity.
  4. If you don’t sacrifice, we’ll force you. That’s an appeal to force.
  5. The good of altruism is obvious to the mature. That’s a personal attack.
  6. No decent person could question altruism. That’s the argument from intimidation.

When hearing such introductory lectures, I always try to put myself back in the context of just before I discovered The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. I ask myself: Would this lecture have intrigued me enough to read Ayn Rand? In this case, the answer was definitely “YES.”

Craig’s FROST talk on purpose was more personally interesting to me. As some background context, I should mention that I’ve been struggling with an intense hatred for the inanity of graduate school these past few months. Even though I’ve had the summer and fall off, I’ve found myself utterly without motivation to work on my four incomplete papers, despite forcing myself to do so on occasion. The whole situation has been making me seriously miserable, more generally unhappy than I’ve been in years and years. A few weeks ago, I realized that I faced a very stark choice: Either I finish these papers or I quit graduate school. I couldn’t let my misery drag out for much longer. Knowing that everything I want to do as an intellectual will be much easier (if not possible at all) with a Ph.D, I’ve done some hard thinking and made some changes in my daily routine over the past few weeks. Consequently, I’ve been able to start working on my papers on a daily basis again, although I’m not yet progressing as quickly as I would like.

Happily, I heard Craig’s talk on purpose right in the middle of my hard thinking on this problem — and it was quite helpful. He strongly emphasized the need to be consciously goal-directed in every aspect of life where choice applies. (I’ve tended to let myself drift in various ways, rather than work on my dreaded papers.) He talked about the need for a clear hierarchy of values to guide purposeful daily action. (Until recently, I haven’t been clear about the choice I face.) He suggested some helpful standing orders that he uses, e.g. GAYB or “Go About Your Business” — meaning don’t allow yourself to be distracted away from your considered purposes by immediate feelings or pleasures. (I’m far too easily lured away from important but unpleasant work, I think.)

Given my struggles with graduate school, Craig’s talk was of particular interest to me. But I wasn’t the only one who thought he brought some fresh insight into the topic, as I heard much praise for the lecture, including from Paul.

In preparation for Craig’s visit, I started reading his book, Loving Life. I finally finished it yesterday. (It’s not a long book; I just got busy with other tasks.) As with his lectures, the book is a clear, engaging, and well-concretized presentation of Ayn Rand’s ethics. It’s not excessively technical, nor is it rationalistic. So it’s a good short introduction to Ayn Rand’s ethics, particularly for people who find Ayn Rand too heavy, too dense, or too polemical. I particularly enjoyed Craig’s discussion of physical force as invalidating an individual’s judgment in Chapter 7, as it was a very clear discussion of a point that students often struggle to understand. So I expect that I’ll make good use of the text when I teach that topic, whether as class reading or source material for lectures. (I suppose I should mention a few technical quibbles with the book, most notably the inverted structure in the discussion of the virtues of rationality and productiveness. Those were minor problems, however, unlikely to cause any significant confusion in the mind of the reader.)

Finally, I should mention that I really liked Craig himself. He was a pleasure to be around, particularly since he clearly has all manner of interesting philosophic ideas brewing in his head. (He was even good enough to tell me about Kant’s amazing views on sex and masturbation — but I’ll save that delight for another blog post.) So in my book, Craig is a Really Good Guy. On that note, here’s a picture of Lin, Craig, and me after the FROST talk.

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