PHIL U294: Philosophical Themes in Ayn Rand
Loyola University of New Orleans*
Dr. Ben Bayer
Mondays and Wednesdays:
3:30-4:45pm (PHIL-U294-001) and 4:55-6:10pm (PHIL-U294-052)
*Tulane students: You can receive credit for Loyola courses not offered at Tulane.
More information is here.
There is still room in the class, especially in the 4:55pm section. Please sign up on LORA today!
Here is a link to the full syllabus including course policies.
Millions of people have read Ayn Rand’s novels. Few other figures in American culture inspired controversy as she did: Rand could boast both enthusiastic fans and vehement critics. Her influence is felt decades after her death and continues to provoke debate, especially in politics. While Rand was best known for her defense of laissez-faire capitalism, both her fans and her critics too often neglect the system of ideas she developed about morality and human nature, ideas she saw as fundamental to her other views. This course seeks to examine these ideas through the lens of her major work of fiction, Atlas Shrugged.
Though the plot pits various businessmen and women against government oligarchs, the most compelling conflicts it portrays are internal and psychological, usually for the protagonists. Though the novel begins as the portrayal of a political controversy, it gradually unfolds as a drama about morality, the scope of human knowledge, and metaphysics. In the process it illuminates interconnections among these philosophical topics. Ayn Rand described the theme of Atlas as "the role of the man’s mind in existence."
Questions that arise for the protagonists include: What is the moral status of wealth creation, and of human sexuality? What is the nature of evil, and how powerful is it? What basic motives divide good people from evil people? What is the relationship between the mind and the body? Do we have free will, and if so in what choices does it consist? What attitudes toward reality as such are expressed through the choices we make?
We’ll study how Rand’s own views about the answers to these questions can be brought into dialogue with other major historical philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, Marx, Dostoevsky, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Kant, among others. We will especially take care to explore the compatibility between Rand’s worldview and the professed Judeo-Christian worldview of many of her admirers (a question we’ll explore in particular through published critical reviews of Atlas).
For more information, please email email@example.com
- Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (mass market paperback Centennial edition, ISBN 0451191145).
Numerous other editions are available but we’ll work with page numbers from this edition.
- Secondary readings from public domain philosophy sources, on Blackboard
- Quizzes 15%
- Online participation 15%
- Midterm exam 15%
- Paper #1 15%
- Paper #2 20%
- Paper #3 20%
- In-class participation Extra credit up to an extra 5%
Tentative Reading schedule
- Part I, Ch 1-2 (11-47)
The mind-body dichotomy
- Part I, Ch 3-4 (48-87)
- Secondary reading: Plato, selections from Phaedo
Meaning in life and purposefulness
- Part I, Ch 5 (89-121)
- Secondary reading: Aristotle, selections from from Nicomachean Ethics and Metaphysics
Reason and emotion
- Part I, Ch 6 (122-153)
- Secondary reading: David Hume, selections from Treatise on Human Nature
The mind-body dichotomy: Views of production and exploitation
- Part I, Ch 7 (154-202)
- Secondary reading: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, selections from The German Ideology; Aristotle, selections from Politics
Mind-body unity and idealism about values
- Part I, Ch 8 (203-236)
The mind-body dichotomy: Views of sexuality
- Part I, Ch 9 (237-272)
- Secondary reading: Letters of Abelard and Heloise
Choice and chance
- Part I, Ch 10 (273-312)
The mind-body dichotomy: Views of knowledge, wealth and pleasure
- Part II, Ch 1 (315-351)
- Secondary reading: selections from the New Testament, St. Augustine’s Confessions
The mind-body dichotomy: Views of knowledge, wealth and pleasure (continued)
- Part II, Ch 2 (352-391)
- Secondary reading: selections from the New Testament
Justice, injustice, and morality
- Part II, Ch 3 (392-426)
- Secondary reading: Hegel, selection from the Master-Slave dialectic, Phenomenology of Spirit (?)
- Part II, Ch 4 (427-457)
- Secondary reading: Marx and Engels, selections from The German Ideology, and Engels, on the concept of “false consciousness,” Letter to Mehring
- Part II, Ch 5 (458-490)
- Part II, Ch 6 (491-522)
Do all people pursue self-interest?
- Part II, Ch 7 (523-559)
- Secondary reading: selections from Chernyshevsky, from “The Anthropological Principle in Philosophy”
- Part II, Ch 8-9 (560-600)
From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs?
- Part II, Ch 10 (601-640)
- Karl Marx, selections from “Critique of the Gotha Program”
Ubermensch or normal men?
- Part III, Ch 1 (643-688)
- Secondary reading: selections from Nietzsche, Also Sprach Zarathustra: “Zarathustra’s Prologue”
- Part III, Ch 2 (689-746)
The choice to think or not, part 1
- Part III, Ch 3 (747-790)
- Secondary reading: selections from Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground
- Part III, Ch 4 (791-830)
The avoidance of suffering vs. the pursuit of value
- Part III, Ch 5 (831-880)
- Secondary reading: Schopenhauer, selection from “On the Sufferings of the World”
Duty vs. the pursuit of value
- Part III, Ch 6 (881-914)
- Secondary reading: Kant, selection from Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
A morality of life
- Part III, Ch 7, part A (915-947, until “The degree of your ability…”)
- Secondary readings: selections from Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Also Sprach Zarathustra, “On the Preachers of Death”
Choosing the morality of life
- Part III, Ch 7, part B (947-978, from “The degree of your ability…”
- Secondary readings: selections from Nietzsche, Also Sprach Zarathustra, “On the Tree on the Mountainside,” “On Old and New Tablets”
- Part III, Ch 8 (979-1029)
- Part III, Ch 9 (1030-1048)
- Part III, Ch 10 (1049-1069)
- Secondary readings: selections from Nietzsche, Also Sprach Zarathustra, “The Welcome,” “On the Higher Man”
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