Reflections on Life and Personal Values

In this collection of talks spanning more than a decade, Leonard Peikoff reflects on a wide range of topics of significant importance to his life, both personally and professionally. Several of these discussions are informal: Peikoff answers written or verbal questions from audience members or reflects on personal anecdotes. Throughout the various talks, the listener will get a keen sense of Peikoff’s own personal values, especially in relation to his artistic interests, his professional life and his history with Ayn Rand.

The Art of Fiction

In 1958, the year after Atlas Shrugged was published, a small group of aspiring writers and fiction lovers gathered in Ayn Rand’s living room for an informal course on literature. Speaking extemporaneously from just a few handwritten notes, the best-selling author discussed the creation and appreciation of literature in twelve recorded sessions.

Illustrating her points with passages from authors such as Thomas Wolfe, Sinclair Lewis, Mickey Spillane, and Victor Hugo—plus her own novels—Rand strove to demystify the creative process, offering practical advice to aspiring authors on such topics as developing plot conflicts, creating characters, uniting action with a broader theme, developing one’s own voice, and avoiding writer’s block.

To help avid readers enhance their enjoyment of fiction, Rand offered illustrative (and entertaining) rewrites of scenes from her own works. She also highlighted contrasts among authors by comparing their depictions of nature and of New York City, discussing differences in tone, approach, theme, meaning and style. In addition, she discussed how to identify the feelings evoked by a story and explained how such effects are achieved.

These are the original lectures on which The Art of Fiction and parts of The Romantic Manifesto are based.

Objectivist Epistemology in Outline

Ayn Rand held that “philosophy is primarily epistemology,” the “science devoted to the discovery of the proper methods of acquiring and validating knowledge.” This class surveys Rand’s “new approach to epistemology” — the most original and least widely understood aspect of her thought. The course emphasizes the structure of the Objectivist epistemology and the central role played by Rand’s theory of concepts. The course covers some applications and extensions of Rand’s ideas (including aspects of Leonard Peikoff’s theory of induction) that illustrate the power of her epistemology.

This course was recorded at the 2006 Objectivist Summer Conference in Boston, MA.

This course includes a handout and transcript.

The DIM Hypothesis I

In this six-lecture course recorded in July of 2007 at the Objectivist summer conference in Telluride, Colorado, Leonard Peikoff discusses the first parts of his then book-in-progress The DIM Hypothesis, published in 2012.

Here is a description of the book from the back cover of the softcover edition:

“In this far-reaching study, Peikoff identifies the three methods of integrating data, as when connecting diverse experiments by a scientific theory, or separate laws into a Constitution, or single events into a story. The first method, in which data is integrated through rational means, he calls Integration. The second, which employs nonrational means, he calls Misintegration. The third is Disintegration—which is nihilism, the desire to tear things apart.

“In The DIM Hypothesis, Peikoff demonstrates the power of these three methods in shaping the West, by using the categories to examine the culturally representative fields of literature, physics, education, and politics. Extrapolating from the historical pattern he identifies, Peikoff concludes by explaining why the lights of the West are going out—and predicts the most likely future for the United States.”

Note: Since the lectures that compose this course predate the book’s completion, the book supersedes the course. If and when there are disagreements between the two, listeners should assume that the published book represents Peikoff’s viewpoint.

(A handout for this course, prepared by Peikoff, can be found here.)

Introduction to Objectivism

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In this video, philosopher Leonard Peikoff presents the essentials of Ayn Rand’s philosophy to a group of students, then answers their questions. Peikoff, who was Rand’s friend and associate for three decades, is the author of Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand and is the preeminent authority on her ideas. This presentation, recorded in San Francisco in 1995 by the Ayn Rand Institute, features a 42-minute lecture followed by a 33-minute Q&A session.

The Anti-Industrial Revolution

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In this 1970 lecture, Ayn Rand analyzes the arguments and underlying motivation of the emerging “ecology” movement, the forerunner of today’s environmentalism. Separating legitimate concerns about pollution from the movement’s deeper animus toward industrial civilization and technological progress, Rand explains her view of the proper relationship between human beings and their environment. Rand addresses such questions as:

  • How did the technological progress that accompanied the Industrial Revolution affect the quality and length of human life?
  • What results can we expect from attempting to “restrict” technology?
  • What are the political implications of the ecology movement?
  • What valid issues are raised by instances of industrial pollution?
  • What are the underlying motives of the environmental crusaders?

Although aspects of the environmentalist movement have changed since the early 1970s, its ideological essence — its fundamental philosophical perspective on man’s relationship to nature — has not changed, leaving Rand’s analysis and critique as pertinent today as it was then.

Note: After this lecture was recorded in 1970, Rand expanded on her initial speech in an essay by the same name. This valuable addition appears near the end of the lecture in a new recording by a voiceover artist.

Philosophy: Who Needs It

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What is philosophy — and how is it relevant to my life? Ayn Rand answered these questions in her address to the senior class of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1974.

Rand challenges the idea that philosophy belongs only in the ivory tower. Instead she argues that, whether we realize it or not, we all hold and act on philosophic ideas — and philosophy is a crucial, practical need of human life.

This illustrated audio lecture is a great starting point for those new to philosophy or to Rand’s ideas. The talk became the lead essay in Rand’s book Philosophy: Who Needs It.

What Is Capitalism?

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This 1967 lecture is Ayn Rand’s flagship talk on capitalism. In it she explains in depth what capitalism is, why it is often misunderstood and why it is the only social system consonant with man’s nature. She discusses the philosophical and ethical roots of capitalism, and contrasts them with the moral-philosophic doctrines that lead to rule by force. She then discusses progress under capitalism and how it is fundamentally different from the so-called progress of a statist society. Along the way, Rand takes up such questions as:

  • What is the essence of man’s nature?
  • What is the fundamental basis for the concept of individual rights?
  • How is capitalism consonant with man’s nature? Why are other social systems not consonant with it?
  • Why is serving “the common good” not a sound principle for governing a free society?
  • What are the different perspectives on “the good,” and how do they inform people’s views on what constitutes a proper social system?
  • What has been the ethical basis of all tyrannies in history?
  • Who prospers on a free market?
  • How does a free market unleash man’s creative abilities?
  • What is so often misunderstood about progress under capitalism?

 

This talk is excerpted from Rand’s substantially longer and more comprehensive essay of the same name. Students interested in mastering Rand’s views on capitalism are encouraged to study the full essay, available here, in addition to enjoying this course.

Introducing Objectivism

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In 1962, Ayn Rand was invited to write a weekly column for the Los Angeles Times. Her first column was a brief introduction to her philosophy, Objectivism. In this short course, based on a recording of Rand reading her column, you will hear her summarize her positions on the nature of reality, the efficacy of human reason, the nature of man, and the ideal political system.

Here are some of the questions this course addresses:

  • What are the basic tenets of Objectivism?
  • What is the nature of reason?
  • What is man’s moral purpose in life?
  • Why is capitalism the ideal politico-economic system for man?
  • What is destroying capitalism?

To get the most from this course, it is recommended that you first complete the short Philosophy: Who Needs It course.