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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Fall 2009

T C 302 • Values in the Philosophy and Fiction of Ayn Rand - W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
43735 TTh
11:00 AM-12:30 PM
CBA 4.342

Course Description

This course will examine Ayn Rand's work in two of the "value" branches of philosophy, ethics and aesthetics. We will read Rand's major work of fiction as well as several essays of her non-fiction in order to understand the arguments beneath her controversial positions and to assess their strengths and weaknesses. To distinguish the precise sort of moral theory that she espouses - "rational selfishness" - we will also study two other philosophers associated with somewhat different brands of egoism, Aristotle and Friedrich Nietzsche.

While the course spans the study of literature and philosophy, its primary orientation will be philosophical, thus students will be introduced to the methods of philosophical analysis as well as to some of philosophy's fundamental questions. In ethics, for instance: what makes certain actions morally right and other actions wrong? What does the whole idea of some things being "valuable" rest upon? How tenable is the brand of egoism that Rand commends? What virtues, if any, does it require? What are its implications for charity, or benevolence, or friendship, or love? In aesthetics: What is art? How can we distinguish good art from bad art? How can we distinguish art from non-art? How crucial are an artist’s intentions to the meaning of his work? What role does an individual’s subjective psychology play in his response to works of art?

We will also consider Rand as a novelist. What features make her fiction so compelling for some readers and so offputting for others? How important is the fiction to her presentation of her philosophical views? Is it propaganda? Is it realistic? In what sense should fiction be realistic? How does Rand’s fiction reflect her views about aesthetics?

Overall, the course is designed not only to offer students an in-depth examination of this particular author’s work, but to introduce certain perennial philosophical issues and to begin training students in the methods that can be most fruitful for addressing them. To that end, we will be critically alert, throughout the term, to aspects of Rand’s method that seem more and less constructive.

Grading Policy

This course contains a substantial writing component.

Paper 15% (3-4 pages)
Paper 20% (5-6 pages)
Paper 30% (6-8 pages)
In-class drafts of papers
Final exam (all essay) 20%
Attendance, participation, oral presentations 15%


Aristotle: Nicomachaen Ethics
Nietzsche: The Genealogy of Morals
Ayn Rand: Atlas Shrugged (Note: because the novel is over 1000 pages, students are urged to read it before the beginning of the semester, if at all possible. Also, it is impotence that all students use the same edition: 50th anniversary small paperback), The Virtue of Selfishness, The Romantic Manifesto
Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand
Possibly a packet of assorted essays.
Recommended (not required): Tara Smith: Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist

About the Professor

Professor Smith received her BA from the University of Virginia and her MA and PhD from Johns Hopkins. She works primarily in moral, political, and legal philosophy. Her current research is focused on constitutional law and proper methodology in judicial interpretation. Smith is author of Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics - The Virtuous Egoist (2006), Viable Values - A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality (2000), and Moral Rights and Political Freedom (1995), as well as a numerous articles spanning such subjects as rights "conflicts," objectivity, intrinsic value, judicial Originalism, friendship, forgiveness, pride, and moral perfection. She currently holds the BB&T Chair for the Study of Objectivism as well as the Anthem Foundation Fellowship.


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