PHIL U294: Philosophical Themes in Ayn Rand
Loyola University of New Orleans*
Spring 2016
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

Required texts


Tentative Reading schedule


The mind-body dichotomy

Meaning in life and purposefulness

Reason and emotion

The mind-body dichotomy: Views of production and exploitation

Mind-body unity and idealism about values

The mind-body dichotomy: Views of sexuality

Choice and chance

The mind-body dichotomy: Views of knowledge, wealth and pleasure

The mind-body dichotomy: Views of knowledge, wealth and pleasure (continued)

Justice, injustice, and morality

Do all people pursue self-interest?

From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs?

Ubermensch or normal men?

The choice to think or not, part 1

The avoidance of suffering vs. the pursuit of value

Duty vs. the pursuit of value

A morality of life

Choosing the morality of life

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