Sunday, July 05, 2009

OCON – Day 1 & 2

It’s lunch time on Day two of 2009 Objectivist Conference. I had intended to blog daily but alas, yesterday was so full, I’ve not gotten to the post until today. In essence that is the theme concretized. This is my third conference and what always amazes me is the level of intellectual stimulation, through presentations, dinners, and the casual side conversations that arise spontaneously.

Highlights from the first few days of Session #1


  1. Craig Biddle’s course on Metaphysical Law and Moral Rights. This is a phenomenal course. Biddle essentially develops Rand’s basis for individual rights, as contrasted with the Founders. In essence day 1 he analyzed the philosophical basis behind the lines in the Declaration of Independence, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights…” Self-evidency and endowment by their creator are not accidents. They trace back to Locke in his ideas of “natural law” and Jefferson’s conception of “moral sense.” Starting with Day 2 he masterfully develops Rand’s contrasting basis for rights from the facts of reality. Biddle’s case is clear and well presented, and I highly recommend this course.
  2. Dr. Tara Smith’s lecture on Atlas Shrugged, entitled No Room for Ceasar: Good and Evil in Atlas Shrugged examines the either / or nature of key hero’s decisions in Atlas Shrugged. It is a powerful look at how the facts of reality give rise to absolute decisions, and how one cannot shirk from making those types of decisions in leading a fulfilling life.
  3. Finally, today Dr. Onkar Ghate presents a tremendous analysis of the philosophical basis of the “separation between church and state” essentially articulating what is meant by the term, and tracing it’s roots back to Locke’s proper conception of rights, and the role of government and the church. He then illustrates how both today’s religionists (“freedom of religion”), and secularists (“freedom from religion”)make incorrect and unfounded arguments for the meaning of this separation. Dr. Ghate is brilliant and this lecture shows it. Highly recommended!


A few themes I see in this year’s conference

    • Several courses are analyzing Locke’s influence on philosophy. Biddle examines Locke’s incorrect conceptions of natural law, and the divine basis for rights, while Dr. Ghate examines his very well formulated concept of the separation between church and state.
    • The courses are increasingly presented in a way that does not require a background in Objectivism to be clear. Biddle’s development of Rand’s idea of rights is inductively based and relies at each step upon observations of the facts of reality.
    • The passion exuded by both speakers and the attendees gives on a sense of how importantly ideas are taken, and how clearly and powerfully those ideas are presented. Whether its Tara Smith forcefully entreating us to commit to live our own lives, or Craig Biddle beginning to tear up as he relates the story of an 11 year-old girl whom the FDA restricted from obtaining experimental cancer drugs, as a way to show that force is anti-life, you see real concrete evidence of the power of ideas and philosophy in living on earth.


  1. Opening Banquet. I always go to this, as it’s a great chance to meet everyone at the start of the conference, and to meet new people as well. I had a great dinner with Paul and Diana Hsieh, and fellow OAC classmate Brian Olive. Paul and I continued a discussion we’d started via email on methods and tips to help get some of my newly written op-eds published.
  2. Dinners. I had dinner last night with my roomy Ray Niles, Richard and Lisa Salsman, and John Lewis and his wife. It was fantastic! Good food, good wine and certainly fantastic intellectual conversation.
  3. I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet several objectivists who I knew only online or who were fellow OAC students. It’s always a pleasure to meet people who I’ve only known electronically, and finally put a personality to the ideas we’ve exchanged.


Just a quick reminder that there should be several bloggers posting on Ocon as well. I saw Paul Hsieh writing a post in lecture just this morning so Noodlefood should have something new. Also, multiple OCON attendees including myself are Twittering their activities at OCON. You can follow them all if you look for the #OCON tag.


Michael Gold said...

Thanks for the commentary and highlights!

Saint Russell said...

Thanks for the update. Why are #OCON tweets showing up in OBloggers RSS feed? I'd rather not be flooded with so many posts.