Introduction to Objectivism

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

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.

Understanding Objectivism

This course, originally given by Leonard Peikoff in 1983, is addressed to those who are sympathetic to Ayn Rand’s philosophy, but who experience difficulty in completely digesting it and integrating its principles into their lives. Peikoff argues that to properly understand Objectivism, and philosophy more generally, one needs the right method for understanding philosophical ideas and keeping them tied to reality.

Using a combination of theory, demonstrations and exercises, Peikoff explains the essentials of a proper method, including: the need for concretization; the value (and misuse) of definitions; the importance of reducing abstract ideas to the perceptual level; the need to establish an idea’s context and understand the logical hierarchy of ideas. These processes are used to help reach a deeper and more grounded understanding of several key ideas in Objectivism, including: life as the standard of value, the virtue of honesty, the validation of individual rights, and the evil of the initiation of physical force.

For decades, students of Objectivism have found this course to be particularly helpful in improving their own thinking methodology and their understanding of Objectivism. The course includes periodic homework assignments. In order to get the most out of the course, complete each assignment before progressing to the next lesson.

Disclaimer: Although Dr. Peikoff granted permission for the creation of this course in a new format, he has not reviewed or approved any of its content.

The Fountainhead

What motivates a creative thinker? Is it a selfless desire to benefit mankind? A hunger for fame, fortune and accolades? The need to prove superiority? . . . Or is it a self-sufficient drive to pursue a creative vision, independent of others’ needs or opinions? Ayn Rand’s answer can be found in her portrayal of Howard Roark, an innovative architect who, as she puts it, “struggles for the integrity of his creative work against every form of social opposition.” The Fountainhead is Rand’s tribute to the independent American spirit of individualism.

This video lecture course is an introduction to this classic novel that includes background material on Rand and the era in which she wrote, an overview of the story, an analysis of the principal characters and detailed discussion of the main themes. Among the questions answered in this course:

  • By what principles does the hero of the story, Howard Roark, live?
  • Is Peter Keating selfish — or selfless?
  • What is Ellsworth Toohey really after in his relationships with the other characters?
  • Why does Dominique Francon oppose Roark’s career even though she loves him?
  • Why is Gail Wynand’s pursuit of power doomed to fail?

 

High school students studying the novel will find this course especially valuable, but the material is designed to interest viewers on all levels. You may take the whole course in sequence or choose lessons of particular interest, since each lesson is a self-contained module. Teachers who wish to use the course for classroom instruction are encouraged to select lessons most relevant to their instructional goals.

Spoiler alert: This course assumes that students have read The Fountainhead.

The Morality of Freedom

Do all people desire freedom? If we look at the history of civilization and at popular political movements over the last hundred years, argues Onkar Ghate, the answer is definitely no. The fact that freedom’s value is not self-evident underscores the importance of understanding its actual nature and value, especially for those interested in living free.

This lecture surveys the philosophical foundations of freedom as a moral and political ideal and offers a philosophical analysis of liberty’s rise and decline as a Western ideal. Focusing on the Age of Enlightenment, Ghate argues that the essence of Enlightenment philosophy inspired its leading figures to define and embrace political liberty. Among the questions answered in this course:

  • Why is the Enlightenment best understood as championing reason and rejecting obedience to authority?
  • What is the basic Enlightenment argument for liberty?
  • Why couldn’t this argument withstand increasing attacks from nineteenth- and twentieth-century thinkers?
  • Does Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism provide a new case for the ideals of the Enlightenment?

 

This lecture should be of interest to students of all levels, especially students interested in advocating liberty.

Philosophy: Who Needs It

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.

Ayn Rand: A Writer’s Life

Who was Ayn Rand? What kind of person did it take to create the fictional heroes of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and to develop a new philosophy of reason? This documentary-style course traces Rand’s life (1905 – 1982) from the perspective of her goal of becoming a writer. Photographs, film clips and audio of Rand’s own personal recollections enliven this narrative of her prolific career. Among the questions answered in this course:

  • What motivated Rand’s decision at age nine to become a writer?
  • Why did she think it necessary to flee Soviet Russia?
  • How did she get her start in Hollywood?
  • How did she support herself while working on her unpublished fiction projects?
  • How did she get the idea for the story of The Fountainhead?
  • Why was Anthem first published in England and not the United States?
  • Why did publishers who had turned down Rand’s earlier novels want to publish Atlas Shrugged?
  • Why did Rand turn to nonfiction writing after publishing Atlas Shrugged in 1957?

What Is Capitalism?

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

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.

Anthem

Anthem is Ayn Rand’s “hymn to man’s ego.” It is the story of a young man, Equality 7-2521, who yearns for knowledge. But he lives in a bleak, dystopian future where science and technology have regressed to primitive levels, and where independent thought, personal possessions and romantic love are abolished. Obedience to the group is so deeply ingrained that the very word “I” has been erased from the language. How can Equality 7-2521 free himself from this totalitarian, collectivist society?

This video lecture course is an introduction to Anthem that includes background material on Rand and the era in which she wrote, an overview of the story, an analysis of the characters, a discussion of the story’s themes and brief comparisons to other well-known dystopian works. Among the questions answered in this course:

  • How did Rand think of the idea for Anthem?
  • What is most important about the characters Equality 7-2521 and Liberty 5-3000?
  • What ideas led to the dismal world depicted in Anthem?
  • Why does Rand consider the word “ego” to be sacred?
  • How does Anthem compare to novels such as Brave New World and 1984?

High school students studying the book will find this course especially valuable, but the material is designed to interest viewers on all levels. You may take the whole course in sequence or choose to select lessons of particular interest, since each lesson is a self-contained module. Teachers who wish to use the course for classroom instruction are encouraged to select lessons most relevant to their instructional goals.

Spoiler alert: This course assumes that students have read Anthem.