Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Objectivist Seminar

From Greg:

Truly living well calls for engaging fundamental philosophical ideas and integrating their use into our everyday lives, our everyday actions, our way of being—into our souls. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to get busy with all the urgent things around us, and we can drift, distracted and disintegrated. For those of us who want an ongoing practice in such engagement (and those who want to explore the need for that in the first place), we have created The Objectivism Seminar.

The Objectivism Seminar is a weekly online conference call to systematically work through the philosophy of Ayn Rand via the books of prominent Rand scholars. These moderated, one-hour sessions will be recorded and podcast to allow review, catch-up, and even disconnected participation. The idea is to give people—new and experienced alike—a forum to chew through key Objectivist works and tour the complete system, further clarifying, integrating, and grounding their grasp of the ideas.

Because it is an ongoing seminar, we will have incentive to keep up with the steady schedule of study and stay equipped to consider fresh angles, concretizations, challenges, and applications from other participants. And because life is so full for many of us, We are purposefully keeping the reading load light and the method of participation unobtrusive. The plan is that we will spend almost as much time discussing the ideas as reading about them. Study like this is productive for both experienced students of Objectivism and those new to Rand's ideas: I've read all of these books, some several times, and We would expect to get at least as much out of this as someone going through them for the first time.

If you are interested, please look over the FAQ below and head over to to sign up!

The Objectivism Seminar FAQ:

Q: What is The Objectivism Seminar?
A: The Objectivism Seminar is a weekly online conference call to systematically work through the philosophy of Ayn Rand via the books of prominent Rand scholars. These moderated one-hour sessions will be recorded and podcast to allow review, catch-up, and even disconnected participation.

Q: How much does it cost?
A: The cost is $15 per person per book to participate in or access the recordings of the sessions (and it is refundable in full for any reason whatsoever in your first five sessions). But Objectivist luminaries who have or might produce the sorts of substantive books, articles, and lectures we are studying are only allowed to participate for free.

Q: Do We have to be an Objectivist to participate?
A: No. The purpose of the seminar is to give people a means to critically engage Objectivism and improve their understanding of the philosophy. Anybody who is polite and honest in this effort is welcome; anybody who disrupts others in that endeavor is not. (The process of examining ideas can be challenging enough that we certainly don't need to have someone being rude or beating us up psychologically while we do it!)

Q: What are the books we'll be working through?
A: Here are the books and the order in which we'll study them:

  1. Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist by Dr. Tara Smith

  2. Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Dr. Leonard Peikoff

  3. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology by Ayn Rand

  4. (to be determined)

Q: How much material will we cover per week? (How heavy is the work load?)
A: We all have busy lives, so this is designed to be a slow-and-steady project. We hope we can work through a chapter every two weeks, but depending on the material and peoples' needs and interests, that will vary. In raw numbers, the expected load will be an average of 15 pages of reading and one hour of discussion per week.

Q: When, where, and how do we meet?
A: Sunday evenings 8:00-9:00 Mountain, we'll meet in an online conference call so people from anywhere can join in. For those who miss a meeting (and those who want to join in halfway through a book), we'll have recordings of the sessions archived on the website. The website will also host links to any diagrams drawn in the sessions, and there will be a discussion forum where people can work out issues during the week to bring to the sessions.

Q: What tools will We need?
A: You will need to download and install Skype (and hopefully get a headset for your PC). The sessions will actually be Skypecasts (free Skype conference calls that can include up to 100 people), and we'll use Skype Public Chats to type written asides to each other, to get the moderator's attention, and to share URLs or whatever. Any "whiteboard" drawings can be sketched with the Gliffy web-based drawing tool, and the resulting images can be shared easily during the meeting. (Gliffy also allows for collaborative drawing, if we need it.)

Q: Conference calls can be pretty chaotic and noisy, especially if you have a lot of people on the line...
A: These will not be anything-goes bull sessions—We will moderate the sessions to keep us on track with the agenda and in alignment with the purpose of the seminar. And we'll try to hold the Skypecast noise and conversational chaos to a minimum by keeping everybody muted except for those actively talking. Our Skype Public Chat will allow anyone to signal that they would like to speak (and by giving a hint of what they want to talk about, they'll also help make the session more focused and productive).

Q: What will the structure of the sessions be like?
A: We'll always be trying to improve how we run things, but let's begin with this basic plan:

  • Up to 5 or 10 minutes of follow-up discussion around any past material (good for raising that issue that hit you in the shower after the previous week's discussion, as well as a chance for those who participate by only listening to the podcasts to raise their issues for comment via email to the moderator).

  • Introduction of the current material with the leader's quick sketch of the highlights (good for reminding people of the scope of the discussion and prompting their observations, questions, etc.).

  • Extended discussion of the current material, with people 'raising hands' in the Skype Public Chat to be unmuted (the Chat lets participants give a hint of what they want to raise or follow up on, as well as to second what someone else wants to raise, both of which will let the leader better organize the session). The leader will usually address what is raised, but may also defer to others who can better address it, further clarify what has already been said, or (best of all) correct a confused response.

Q: How did you select the books and their order?
A: The goal is to work through the entire system, and Peikoff's book is the definitive single-volume systematic presentation of Rand's philosophy. Ethics is where the philosophical rubber meets the road in our lives, and Smith's book is the most thorough and enlightening presentation of the substance of Rand's ethics that exists. And Rand's monograph on concept formation is important because understanding the core of her epistemology will strengthen our understanding of her distinctive methodology and the character of her entire system. As for the order, there's a great reason for that, and we're glad you'll ask about it in the first session!

Q: What's the fine print?
A: Here are the details We could think of to keep The Objectivism Seminar sailing as smoothly as possible; other wrinkles will be addressed as they arise.

  • GOVERNANCE: To put it simply, this is not a democracy. The Objectivism Seminar is a benevolent dictatorship. We will work for openness and consensus, and entertain suggestions about how to make this a fun and productive adventure for all—and when there are difficulties We will do our best to be patient and fair (I'm not without experience in this, and also not without room to grow). Ultimately, though, our call will constitute the final word on the forum.

  • REFUNDS: The fee is fully refundable for any reason whatsoever in your first five sessions; after that, refunds will only happen for our failure to similarly conduct the ongoing sessions, and they will be pro-rated by the percentage of the book not yet discussed. (In all cases, Seminar refunds will exclude the cut PayPal took when you made payment.) Potential causes of pro-rated refunds would include: infrastructure difficulties making production of the Seminar too painful to continue, changes in our life that make conducting future sessions infeasible, our changing these terms in a way you don't like, our choosing to exclude you from the Seminar, etc.

  • MEETING TIMES: The regular meeting time may shift to another day or time as life requires, and there will need to be occasional weeks off for holidays, vacation, hospitalization, etc. (Because we don't have the luxury of listening to the podcast and following up at the next session or via written questions.

  • RECORDINGS: Please keep in mind that the session recordings will belong to me and may not be shared, transferred, or distributed in any way without our explicit permission. Also, the recordings may be edited at our discretion to remove segments with, say, disturbing or distracting misbehavior. (Or, if you bribe me well enough, to remove that comment you made and can't bear to have people hearing in ten years.)

[Thanks to Greg Perkins]


The Ayn Rand Lexicon