Hooray! I just registered for the 2006 OCON! It’ll be in Boston from June 30th to July 8th. Discount pricing lasts for just a few more days — until March 15th. The schedule looks particularly good this year: I’m particularly displeased that I won’t be able to take two very promising optional courses, thanks to an already-way-too-full schedule. (Yes, yes, that’s a great problem to have. Still, I grumble.) I’ll get those lectures on CD, of course… but they won’t arrive until late fall.
Here’s my first session of optional courses:
The Rise of Totalitarian Islam, Yaron Brook
Today America faces an enemy that most of our political leaders fear to name. This enemy brought down the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11; it has bombed Madrid and London; and to this day it motivates much of the Iraqi insurgency. Our enemy is more than murderous, suicidal terrorists. It’s totalitarian Islam–a lethal ideology calling for holy war against infidels.
In this course, Dr. Brook will analyze the historical development of totalitarian Islam. He will look at its foundation in Koranic teachings; its intellectual development and rise in countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan; its political realization in Iran; and its spread from the Middle East to portions of Europe and now the United States. Dr. Brook will discuss in detail the nature of this ideological threat, as well as the proper methods for dealing with it.
Savoring Ayn Rand’s “Red Pawn” by Dina Schein
Ayn Rand’s movie scenario “Red Pawn” is arguably the most dramatic of her early works of fiction. This course aims to raise the reader’s enjoyment of “Red Pawn” by analyzing it and to teach the rudiments of literary analysis using this work as the model. Among issues to be discussed: how to determine “Red Pawn’s” theme; the essential elements that make this work dramatic; an analysis of the story’s characters; how the events, characters and even descriptive details support the theme; how Miss Rand’s technique of writing in tiers applies to this work. By contrasting “Red Pawn” with its nearest literary neighbor, We the Living, Dr. Schein will shed more light on both works.
The Greco-Persian Wars by John Lewis
In 490 BC some 50,000 Persians landed on the beach at Marathon, and 10,000 Greeks drove them back. The Persians returned ten years later, and “drank the rivers dry” with the largest army ever seen. Against all odds, the Greeks united, ruined the ambitions of the Persian king along with his army, and then drove onto his soil, smashing the threat permanently. These were the single most important battles in all of Western history. The course will consider why the king attacked, on what terms the Greeks united, how they destroyed the king’s ambitions and what lessons this conflict holds for today. We will pay homage to the awesome heroes of the Greeks–the “greatest generation” of their day–who defended their freedom with their lives and made possible all that we are today. (Students should read books 5-8 of the Penguin edition of Herodotus: The Histories.)
Gems of Short Fiction by Lisa VanDamme
One consequence of the decay of American education is that many adults have never been exposed to the classics of world literature. Reading lists from today’s high schools and universities consist primarily of contemporary American fiction or obscure multicultural novels. In those rare cases that the classics are taught, they are analyzed either superficially or from an irrational philosophic perspective.
In this course, Ms. VanDamme will discuss of some of the world’s great works of short fiction, by authors such as Leo Tolstoy, Guy de Maupassant, Oscar Wilde and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Her approach to analyzing these stories will be the one defined by Leonard Peikoff in his brilliant course “Eight Great Plays”: she will discuss the plot (or central event), characterization, theme, underlying philosophy and style of each author. In doing so, she hopes to introduce Objectivists to the powerful events, penetrating insights and memorable characters of stories that they ought to have been taught in school, and that are taught at her school.
Here’s my second session:
Aristotle’s Ethics: Its Critics through History, Marc Baer
Aristotle’s is one of the most rational and developed theories in the history of ethical thought. Yet despite its influence, it has never found broad acceptance among intellectuals. Why? This course explains various historically important–and sometimes justified–challenges to his theory. After setting out his main doctrines, we will survey ancient, medieval and modern criticisms of: the function argument, the doctrine of the mean, his account of justice, and more.
In seeing criticisms of Aristotle’s views, we can see pivotal points in the history of moral philosophy–points which became trends that helped shape the modern world. The course thus provides an understanding not only of the core of Aristotle’s ethical thought, but also of crucial developments in the history of moral philosophy. Both of these are taken as part of the crucial background against which Ayn Rand’s moral philosophy can be understood.
Descartes’s Meditations, Robert Mayhew
Leonard Peikoff once wrote that “To reclaim the self-confidence of man’s mind, the first modern to refute is Immanuel Kant … ; the second is Descartes.” In this course, Dr. Mayhew will conduct a close, critical analysis of Descartes’s most important work: Meditations on First Philosophy (1641). Not only will this acquaint the student with a major, influential work from early modern philosophy, it will also provide him with an excellent opportunity to practice philosophical detection. Topics (i.e., errors) to be covered include: skepticism about the senses and reason; the cogito; the primacy of consciousness; Cartesian dualism; the ontological argument for the existence of God.
Understanding 20th-Century Philosophy–the Case of Quine by B. John Bayer
The late W. V. Quine was one of the most influential American philosophers of the 20th century, and the story of his philosophy is in many ways the story of 20th-century “analytic” philosophy. This course will survey and evaluate central points of Quine’s philosophy.
Inspired by Bertrand Russell and mentored by Rudolf Carnap, Quine was steeped in the early tradition of logical positivism and linguistic analysis. But, in time, Quine came to reject central tenets of the analytic tradition. His critique of the analytic/synthetic distinction and the empiricist criterion of meaning were instrumental in dethroning the orthodoxy of logical positivism, ushering in a new era of “naturalism” in philosophy that persists to this day.
Although Quine portrayed himself as a defender of science and objectivity, his basic philosophic premises imply a skepticism more like contemporary postmodernism than Quine was willing to admit. Understanding this will help explain why even the best of today’s philosophers remain under the sway of ideas that are at odds with science and reason.
Inspiring Heroes: Great Leaders by Debi Ghate, Talbot Manvel and Rob Tarr
Scattered throughout American history are the compelling stories of inspiring men whose leadership resulted in tremendous achievement and progress. Such heroic men can be found in fields as diverse as finance, politics and the military. Yet they have in common their reliance on reason, their unfaltering persistence in the face of adversity, their dedication to excellence and their unerring belief in the integrity and the efficacy of the individual. It is these characteristics that separate the courageous leader from the rest of the crowd. Join us as we tell the compelling stories of three such leaders: Hyman Rickover (presented by Captain Talbot Manvel), Frederick Douglass (presented by Debi Ghate) and Andrew Carnegie (presented by Rob Tarr).
I really wish that I could also take these courses, but at least I’ll hear on-the-spot reports from Paul:
Objectivist Epistemology in Outline by Greg Salmieri
Ayn Rand held that “philosophy is primarily epistemology”–the “science devoted to the discovery of the proper methods of acquiring and validating knowledge.” Therefore, “it is with a new approach to epistemology that the rebirth of philosophy has to begin.” This class is to be a survey of Rand’s new approach to epistemology–the most original and least widely understood aspect of her thought.
Rand did not write a systematic presentation of her entire epistemology, but her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology presents “one of its cardinal elements–the Objectivist theory of concepts,” and she discusses other elements of the epistemology in numerous other articles. Leonard Peikoff has provided a systematic presentation in his Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand. Drawing on these works, this class will highlight the structure of the epistemology, helping students to appreciate how Rand’s theory of concepts forms the core of a distinctive and powerful theory of knowledge.
The course will be a good introduction to the Objectivist epistemology for beginning students, and it will contain new ideas that should be of interest to advanced students.
The Nature of Probability, Its Valid and Invalid Uses by Evan Picoult
Probability and statistics are mathematical concepts used extensively in the physical and biological sciences, in engineering and in finance. Probability has two related but different meanings. One is the assessment of the evidentiary status of propositions along the continuum from false to possible to probable to certain. This course, in contrast, will focus on probability as the measurement of the frequency of occurrence of potential states of random physical and economic processes. Randomness will be explained as an epistemological, not metaphysical, concept.
This course will explain the proper definition and epistemological status of the concept of probability by reviewing its conceptual development in the 17th-19th centuries and by examining its valid and invalid uses across a range of subjects, from games of chance through physics and finance.
Topics will include: the relation of probability, correlation and causality; statistical mechanics, entropy and Maxwell’s Demon; probability and methods for measuring value and risk in finance.
Also, I should mention that I’ll definitely buy this course on CD:
The History of America (part 5): 1920-1975 by Eric Daniels
This course tells the story of America’s tumultuous confrontation with the biggest challenges of the 20th century. During the half-century from the end of World War I to the end of the Vietnam War, Americans confronted a worldwide depression, the growth of New Deal statism, the menace of fascism and communism, and their own internal intellectual fractures. Throughout this period of wars and domestic conflict, American thinkers embraced purer and more consistent versions of the altruist and collectivist ideas their forebears had planted during the Progressive Era. How did these philosophic changes affect American life? How did Americans reconcile the surging prosperity of postwar America with an emerging radically anticapitalist strain of American thought? What led to American successes and failures in foreign policy? In these five lectures, the final part of his five-part series, Dr. Daniels will explain the major events and intellectual trends of American history from the 1920s to the end of the 1960s. The focus will be on illuminating the broad trends in our history.
As for the general sessions, I’m particularly looking forward to:
Motivation in Education, Lisa VanDamme
Few educators understand that offering students the right motivation is essential to a proper education. Many hold variants of the Platonist view that knowledge is an end in itself, desirable for its own sake. On this view, no motivation is necessary. Others regard education as a means to some subjectively desirable goal. On this view, motivation involves simply tapping into the child’s randomly held interests and desires.
On the objective view, education consists of training in the knowledge and skills necessary for one to function as a mature, informed, rational adult, i.e., to efficaciously pursue a fulfilled human life. Knowledge is practical and selfish–to fully grasp something is to understand its power to help one achieve values in the real world.
In this lecture, Ms. VanDamme will discuss why one should offer proper motivation to students and how to do it, illustrating this method and its results with stories from her successful school. She will discuss implications of her view for motivation in adult education.
The Value of Ayn Rand’s Philosophy of Art, Mary Ann Sures
Most people have mistaken assumptions about art, such as: art really can’t be defined or explained; or, art is a matter of subjective “taste”; or, appreciating and responding to art comes from innate talent; or a combination of the above. Consequently, their experience of art is marred by uncertainty and confusion. What difference would it make in their lives if they accepted and applied Ayn Rand’s philosophy of art?
Mrs. Sures will begin with a review of the essence of the Objectivist philosophy of art (the definition of art, and the relation of art to man’s conceptual faculty). Then, using examples from painting and sculpture, she will demonstrate what Objectivist esthetics makes possible in the understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of art, and in the understanding of one’s deepest philosophical convictions.
Unborrowed Vision: The Virtue of Independence, Tara Smith
Howard Roark’s independence has inspired millions. Inspiration without understanding is of limited value, however. The more fully we appreciate the precise meaning and value of independence, the more fully we can practice it–and reap its rewards. This lecture seeks to clarify several dimensions of the virtue of independence.
Dr. Leonard Peikoff has described independence as a primary orientation to reality rather than to other men. Among the questions we will probe: What does this fundamental orientation consist of? What sorts of actions or policies does the exercise of this virtue demand in everyday practice? And why is it important? What elevates independence to the ranks of the moral virtues? In the course of answering, we will also clarify what independence is not by distinguishing it from subjectivist pseudo-independence, by explaining the independent person’s proper relationships with others and by dissecting modern man’s widely alleged “interdependence,” identifying the ways in which man is and is not a “social animal.”
I’m rather excited now!