Saturday, July 10, 2010

Upon the Retirement of Dr. Leonard Peikoff

Today at his final lecture of OCON 2010, Dr. Leonard Peikoff announced his formal retirement from philosophical work. There will be no more books, lectures, courses, or long treatises from him. He will continue to issue podcast episodes as he indicated that this work is a great enjoyment to him as a way to deal with the practical day to day application of philosophy to everyday problems. In essence he enjoys being the Dr. Laura of Objectivism.


He received a standing ovation that lasted several minutes upon completion of his lecture, and I suspect that many others in the room were as emotional as I was becoming. I have only seen Dr. Peikoff twice, and I have never spoken to him, but that really is unimportant to me. In the mid-90’s when I was the only Objectivist in a small town in Michigan, and when I thought we were so few that I might never meet another one, it was his voice, and the knowledge he imparted to me through his courses that kept me motivated and kept me going. The Art of Thinking, Introduction to Logic, The Principles of Grammer, Introduction to Objectivism, Understanding Objectivism, Eight Great Plays; it was his confident voice, imparting rational ideas that was in inspiration.


In my course on poetry this week with Lisa Van Damme, we studied what is already one of my favorite poems. Its theme seems appropriate to today and so I post a few excerpts from it, in honor of a man whose work, next to Rand’s, changed my life, and who helped me take an abstract philosophy out of the pages of the literature I loved and craft it into a practical method of living my own life.


Thank you, Dr. Peikoff.




from Ulyssess – Alfred Lord Tennyson




I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy
3.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.


Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles
4,
And see the great Achilles
5, whom we knew
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

OCON Update #2

It’s Wednesday morning and Session 2 has started at OCON. I’ve got a few minutes before the General Session starts and I thought I’d dash off an update.

Session 2 finished strong. It seems that one or two of the lectures in each class for me contain the “ah-ha” points, and the lecturers are so good at essentializing their analysis that when those moments of discovery come, they are very forceful. You’ll many times exit a class, talk amongst the participants afterward and they all agree that a particular lecture was very impactful.  The energy around those lectures is palpable.

David Lewis finished off his course on Ancient Athens in 5 B.C. by looking at the intellectual factions within Athens, and the aggressive nature of the Athenian democracy which ultimately led to its downfall. Lewis is a marvelous lecturer with his dry wit, and a real excitement and passion for the power of history to inform us.

Eric Daniels finished off his course on the Morality of Trade with another such lecture, comparing modern consequentialists theorists with Rand ethical basis, showing how a consequentialist view (trade is good because it results in the greatest good, or more efficient outcomes) necessarily leads to statism because it is unable to defend itself against any empirical argument. He then delved into Rand’s theory of trade, rooted in her objective theory of value, and ultimately man’s rational nature. Rand’s approach to a moral defense of capitalism is unique in that it focuses on the requirements of the process of trade, rather than attempting to justify trade based upon its outcomes. Yes it is true that capitalism may be the system that works the best, but that is not the fundamental basis to defend it.

Leonard Peikoff continues with his series of Lectures on his DIM Hypothesis, that the fundamental trends in Western history can be looked at and determined by the way in which each culture viewed the nature of human knowledge. After two lectures completing his survey of ancient cultures, his last lecture launched into a fascinating discussion of the factors by which cultures shift from one mode of action to another. This lecture was incredibly dense and action packed as he attempted to survey all six major historical eras and review the change both coming into and out of each one. I was typing furiously the whole time. He’ll continue in his last lectures by looking at our society today and teasing out issues and factors that one needs to consider based upon this hypothesis.

Beyond that, the conference has been full of social activities, catching up with old friends, and making new ones. I also had great conversations with Lin Zinser and Keith Lockitch. Lin helped me understand some of her plans for the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, and also differentiated ARC from ARI’s activities. Keith and I discussed our common interest in environmentalism, and in addition to helping me with some writing I’m working on, he also put me in touch with a few conference attendees who also have an interest in chemistry, the chemical industry and environmentalism. Hopefully those networks turn into a small nucleus of expertise in these areas.

After a spa day at the pool yesterday which included some decadent lounging and a massage, I am ready for Session 2!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

OCON Update

OCON is off to a roaring start this year!

I’ve got a little time before the next lecture; I’m lounging by the pool as a hot desert wind seeps across the Red Rock resort in Las Vegas. The venue this year is one of the best I’ve seen for an OCON yet.

Yesterday consisted of the opening banquet, and general catching up with old friends. Each year I come, the handshakes and hugs become more numerous, stronger, and the excitement of seeing old friends wells up greater. So many this year… OAC classmates, fellow Obloggers, and friends I’ve made over the years of interaction with Objectivists online; from California to Colorado, NYC to Michigan. OCON is as much about the social as the intellectual.

My first session coruse schedule is a little lighter than in previous years (to make room for, well, lounging at the pool…) Thought not planned, it seems that I’m opening with a focus on the classical period.

John Lewis Ancient’s course this year covers Athens in the 5th century B.C. This is the zenith of Athenian society and saw the establishment of Athenian democracy and of the advent of philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. And of course you can’t ask for a better lecturer than John Lewis, which is energy and dry wit.

The general sessions are dominated by Leonard Peikoff’s second course series on his forthcoming book on the DIM hypothesis, his hypothesis that western society can be viewed in terms of it’s approach to human knowledge, and from this one can even begin to make predictive conclusions for the progression of societies. His focus this week will be on looking at early societies from the Greeks through the Medieval period through this lens.

David Harriman gave a great general session lecture on the inductive method in scientific discovery, looking at science’s inability to characterize and articulate the essence of it’s epistomological method, and it’s suffering as a result of this inability. He then focuses on the effect of Rand’s seminal theory of concepts on the ability to accurately characterize the scientific process, and what this means for the future of scientific education. This is the focus of his recently released book, The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics, which represents collaborative work between him and philosopher Leonard Peikoff. I’m excited to read the book, and will be ordering it soon!

Finally, Eric Daniels, in his usual witty style opened up his course on the Moraltiiy of Trade, examining this fundamental aspect of capitalism, and surveying historical views of trade. Today it was the Ancient’s characterization of trade. His intent is to look at various common objections to trade itself given by both opponents and defenders of capitalism.

Tonight’s lecture is on the state of the Ayn Rand Institute, offering up an enthusiastic look at the progress the Institute has made in changing the culture over the past year. Afterward, a cocktail party with OActivists.

Couple of notes. The Twitter hashtag #OCON is hot. Numerous attendees are tweeting and you can get great updates by the minute. The netbook is working wonderfully, and I’ve almost gone entirely paperless this year.

I also wanted to give a shout out to my friends in Atlanta who have put together a budget version of OCON, called MiniCon, put on by the Atlanta Objectivist Society. As always there are so many Objectivists who I miss seeing each year. Here’s to you. Hope to see you at a future conference, and I hope that the various updates keep you tied in and make you feel like you were here, as much as we wish you actually were.

All for now; onto the next event1