John Locke’s Political Philosophy

More than any other Enlightenment thinker, John Locke was responsible for the creation of the United States. His thoughts on the nature of human knowledge, individual rights, and the sacred value of free thought against political authority formed an intellectual legacy embraced by the Founding Fathers, setting the philosophical context that inspired the quest for liberty in America and abroad.

In these lectures, Dr. Harry Binswanger presents and evaluates Locke’s philosophy with an emphasis on his political theory. He begins with an exploration of Locke’s epistemological views which, though largely unoriginal and of mixed value, portray man as intellectually free and independent. He then turns to Locke’s political thought, drawing from both the Second Treatise of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration, where he develops his seminal ideas on individual rights, the essence of government and political authority, and the centrality of property rights and intellectual freedom.

Throughout these three classes, Binswanger compares and contrasts Locke’s approach with Ayn Rand’s philosophical insights, ending with a discussion of how her ideas hold the solution to the problems and challenges faced by Locke.

Aristotle: Father of Romanticism

Could there have been a Romantic school of art if not for the ideas of Aristotle? In this course, Dr. Robert Mayhew addresses this intriguing question.

Plato, the first philosopher with a theory of esthetics, saw art as the product of irrationality and a dangerous force given its emotional power. In his Poetics, Aristotle offers a brilliant and influential reply to Plato, which Mayhew examines at length.

The course covers a range of topics, including: the rationality of art; the nature and importance of plot and characterization; art as the representation of things as they “might be and ought to be”; and the role of art in moral education.

Mayhew identifies Aristotle’s unrecognized influence on Romanticism and his influence on Classicism, which has been historically misinterpreted. Throughout the course, Aristotle’s views are compared to and contrasted with those of Ayn Rand.

This course was recorded at the 1997 Lyceum Conference in Irvine, CA.

This course includes a handout.

Aristotle’s Theory of Knowledge

Aristotle is the father and chief defender of the view that the human mind can achieve a deep and rich understanding of the world in terms of fundamental principles derived ultimately from sense-perception. Aristotle’s theory of knowledge represents a high point in the history of human thought. But the writings in which he expressed that theory are obscure, and most readers find it difficult to appreciate their significance or even understand them.

In this course, Dr. Gregory Salmieri—an expert in Aristotle’s philosophy—guides students through this challenging material. He explains Aristotle’s most important insights into the nature of knowledge and the methods by which knowledge is achieved, and he identifies and discusses the texts in which these insights can be found.

Supplemental materials include Dr. Salmieri’s translations of all the passages he discusses (with ample surrounding context) and recommendations for further reading for those interested in deeper study.

This course includes a handout.

This course was recorded at the 2010 Objectivist Summer Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ancient Greece (Part 3): The Early Fourth Century

The fourth century BC, the events after the defeat of Athens by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War, is often seen as the decline of the Greek world, a mere echo of a golden age. But this view overlooks a vital period of Greece’s intellectual achievements and political maturity. At this time, the Athenians reformed their institutions to turn them into a stable government under decent legal processes, the Greeks developed nascent federal political leagues, new markets flourished, orators brought forth groundbreaking ideas, and the philosophical schools of Plato, Aristotle, and others were established. The Greeks began to contemplate the possibility of a “common peace” for all, based on the autonomy of each city-state.

In this course, historian John Lewis defines the major political and military developments of the first half of the fourth century BC (403 to 355 BC). He emphasizes the main events that define this period: Athens’ return to prosperity and power after the defeat by Sparta and the collapse of the Spartan authoritarian society at the hands of the rising Theban leadership, who set free fellow Greeks held as slaves for generations—one of the most liberating events in all of history. Central to these stories is the concept of autonomy, which greatly influenced attempts by the Greeks to resolve their political conflicts under federal political systems. The course concludes with the political and military developments that set the stage for the rise of the Macedonians under Alexander the Great.

This course was recorded at the 2011 Objectivist Summer Conference in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Ancient Greece (Part 2): Fifth-Century Athens

The apex of classical culture is the intellectual revolution of fifth-century Athens: she was nothing less than the intellectual capital and the exemplar of the Greek world. The political context for this development was set by the establishment of the Athenian democracy (ca. 508 BC) and the successful defense of Greek independence against the Persians (490–479 BC). These events form the background to the rise of the world’s first self-government and the assertion of sovereignty by its citizen Assembly; the creation of the greatest navy yet to be seen; and Athens’s leadership in an alliance that brought unity in the Aegean Sea. But the city’s strained and sometimes violent relations with allied cities—and the failures of an unlimited democracy—set the stage for a tragic result: a suicidal war that swept the Greek world, resulting in the defeat of Athens by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War (431–403 BC).

These political events frame the main direction of this course. But as historian John Lewis explains, the deeper importance of Athens is the intellectual revolution by which two generations of Greeks created architectural, artistic, medical, and philosophical achievements on a scale that has never been surpassed. Through this intellectual revolution, the Athenians created the first philosophical culture, injecting new and critical methods of thinking directly into political affairs. But a clash between the new learning and the traditional norms of law and morality led to a conflict between religion and philosophy in the last three decades of the century, a crisis that culminated in the death of Socrates. The last session of this course demonstrates how these philosophical developments lay at the root of Athens’s greatest successes, as well as its greatest failures.

This lecture was recorded at the 2010 Objectivist Summer Conference in Las Vegas, NV.

This course includes a handout.

Ancient Greece (Part 1): The Archaic Period

Archaic Greece encompasses the three centuries prior to the ascent of classical Greek culture. As historian John David Lewis illustrates, it subsumes intellectual, artistic, and political achievements that are self-sufficient in their own right, but also establishes the foundations of the later classical revolution. The rise of hundreds of autonomous poleis spread Greek culture across the Mediterranean, culminating in the establishment of Athenian democracy and the defense of Greek independence against the Persian invasions. Poets and other intellectuals brought heroism and respect for reason to the cultural forefront.

This course focuses on three aspects of the period. The first class covers the chronological background of the Greeks in the Minoan and Mycenean palace economies, and their emergence from a dark age in the eighth century BC. The second follows the rise of the polis as a political innovation, which embodied the Greek ideal of self-governance and set the stage for the defense of its independence. The third class is both an examination and a celebration of the Greek discovery of the self and passion for excellence, drawing on selections of lyric poetry from thinkers such as Homer, Hesiod, Tyrtaeus, Solon, Xenophanes, and Sappho.

As Lewis shows, the rise of the Greeks is not explained by factors such as environment, military prowess, or migrations. The cause was the Greeks themselves, who chose, on a cultural level, to live with the fullest measure of energy, intellectual acuity, and passion available to them.

These lectures were recorded at the 2009 Objectivist Summer Conference in Boston, MA.

This course includes a handout.

OAC Year 3 / OGC Philippa Foot’s Neo-Aristotelian Ethics

This is an ongoing live course (Jul. – Sep. 2022) of Ayn Rand University, a new kind of university which provides advanced live courses in philosophy and communication from an Objectivist perspective. ARU courses include weekly live classes conducted by videoconference and taught by experts in Objectivism.

To join this or other ARU courses, sign up as an auditor, or apply to be a graded student in ARU’s Objectivist Academic Center!

In the mid-20th century, a dissatisfaction with the stagnation and detachment of existing moral philosophy led a small group of moral philosophers at Oxford to spearhead a new approach, inspired by Aristotle and Aquinas, that focused on understanding human agency within a natural context, taking character and virtue to be central to explaining and evaluating human choice and action. This approach became known as virtue ethics, and flourished in the latter half of the 20th century as a significant alternative to deontological and consequentialist approaches. The most influential of these theorists was Philippa Foot, whose ethical thought culminated in her book Natural Goodness. This course will offer an overview of the development of her thought and a deep exploration of Natural Goodness and its philosophical significance.

Logic: The Cashing-In

Concepts, though fundamental, are only tools—only means to an end. The end is the practical, productive, rational use of your mind to achieve your values, secure your survival, and enhance your life. That is the topic of this course: four classes on using concepts to think—to think in the way that reaches rational conclusions. Thinking is in sentences—i.e., propositions. Combining theory with homework exercises, two classes contrast the logical and the illogical way to form propositions, then two classes deal with integrating propositions to reach new identifications of facts—i.e., induction and deduction. Emphasis is given to working on practical exercises. The course, recorded at OCON 2019, builds on Binswanger’s OCON 2018 course Logic: The Method of Reason.

Atlas Shrugged as a Work of Philosophy

Available with Spanish subtitles!
¡Disponible con subtítulos en español!

Ayn Rand stated the theme of Atlas Shrugged as: “the role of the mind in man’s existence—and, as corollary, the demonstration of a new moral philosophy: the morality of rational self-interest.” This course discusses the manner in which the novel demonstrates a new moral philosophy from the perspective of the protagonists. Follow Rearden and Dagny in their journey as they induce progressively deeper philosophical insights from the events of the novel and see how the philosophical speeches consolidate these inductions to enable further integrations.

The course shows how both Rearden and Dagny struggle with and start to grasp the philosophical principles at the root of their conflict against the looters and within themselves.

Principles discussed include: the sanction of the victim, the spirit-body dichotomy, the difference between motivation by love and by fear, and the nature of morality and why man needs it.

By showing how these principles are presented through the novel’s plot, the course fosters a deeper appreciation of Atlas Shrugged as a work of philosophy and of literature.

This course includes a handout here.

Recommended further reading/watching for this course includes Essays on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which provides further philosophical analysis of Atlas Shrugged. And The Atlas Project, a course led by Gregory Salmieri and Ben Bayer, provides readers of Atlas Shrugged with extensive chapter-by-chapter commentary and analysis.

OAC Year 2 / OGC:
Philosophy of Science

This is an ongoing live course (Apr. – Jun. 2022) of Ayn Rand University, a new kind of university which provides advanced live courses in philosophy and communication from an Objectivist perspective. ARU courses include weekly live classes conducted by videoconference and taught by experts in Objectivism.

To join this or other ARU courses, sign up as an auditor, or apply to be a graded student in ARU’s Objectivist Academic Center!

This course examines the value philosophy of science offers to scientific practice. We will do so by studying a 19th century debate over the nature of induction, and the influence of that debate on Charles Darwin. In the course of our studies, we will look at the works on scientific induction by John Herschel, William Whewell, and John Stuart Mill.