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

Spring 2004

T C 301 • Values in the Philosophy and Fiction of Ayn Rand-W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
39605 TTh
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
WAG 419
SMITH

Course Description

The name “Ayn Rand” typically provokes either passionate admiration or scathing ridicule—but rarely indifference. While Rand’s novels continue to sell hundreds of thousands of copies decades after their initial publication, her philosophy is often dismissed as simplistic or sophomoric. In the last several years, however, scholars have begun taking a closer look at Rand’s work. This course will examine Ayn Rand’s work primarily from the perspective of philosophy. It will focus on the “value” dimensions of her thought—her ideas in ethics, politics, and aesthetics—as we read some of Rand’s fiction, non-fiction, and critics in order to understand the arguments beneath her controversial positions and to assess their strengths and weaknesses. Insofar as our investigation is philosophical, students will be introduced to the methods of philosophical analysis as well as to some of philosophy’s basic questions. E.g., in ethics, 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 would it require? What are its implications for charity, or benevolence, or friendship, or love? In politics: What is the proper function of government? What rights do individuals possess? And what are the implications of such rights for equality and justice? 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? We will also consider Rand as a novelist, however. What features of her fiction make her work so compelling for some readers and so “over the top” for others? How important is the fiction to her presentation of her philosophical views? Is her fiction realistic? In what sense should fiction be realistic? How does Rand’s fiction reflect her views about aesthetics? Is it propaganda? Overall, the course is designed not only to offer students an in-depth examination of this particular author’s work, but to introduce 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.

About the Professor: Tara Smith is an Associate Professor of Philosophy specializing in moral and political philosophy. She has published two books, Moral Rights & Political Freedom, and Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality, as well as articles on such topics as personal justice, forgiveness, love, and pride. She is currently working on a book on the major moral virtues. Outside the classroom, she enjoys playing tennis, following football, listening to fine music (no pretensions of knowledge here, just the pursuit of joy), and reading. Especially people who can write.

Grading Policy

Attendance, participation, oral presentations 15% Midterm exam 15% Paper 10% (3-4 pages) Paper 20% (4-5 pages) Paper 20% (6-7 pages) Final exam 20% In-class drafts of papers

Texts

The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand, ed. Douglas Den Uyl & Douglas Rasmussen By Ayn Rand: Atlas Shrugged (students must read 2/3 of this long novel before the beginning of the semester) The Virtue of Selfishness Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal The Romantic Manifesto A few pieces by others explaining and/or criticizing aspects of Rand’s philosophy (e.g., Lou Torres on issues in aesthetics, Leonard Peikoff, Craig Biddle, David Kelley on issues in ethics and politics)

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