Objectivist Conferences™

Conferences for the rational mind™

Optional Courses

All optional courses are available in both Session 1 and Session 2, so attendees can maximize the number of courses they plan to attend. Optional courses are letter-coded (A–D, see our Conference Schedule) by daily time slot and duration. For instance, "A" courses meet four times during each session, 9–10 AM, for a total of four hours of class time. Remember that you can only select one course from each letter group, A–D, per session, so if you want to attend two "A" courses, for example, you must attend one in Session 1 and one in Session 2.


Number Course Title Presenter
(S1=Session 1; S2=Session 2)
Four 60-minute sessions, 9–10:00 AM  
Writing Objectively Keith Lockitch
Luck in the Pursuit of Life: The Rational Egoist's Approach to Luck Diana Hsieh
Music in the 20th Century: Some Highlights and Low Points Thomas Shoebotham
The History of Ancient Greece: Athens in the Fifth Century John David Lewis
(S1=Session 1; S2=Session 2)
Three 90-minute sessions, 1:20–2:50 PM  
Modern Physics and Objective Reality Eric Dennis
The Distinctiveness of an Egoistic Foreign Policy Elan Journo
Ayn Rand's Other Literary Treasures: The Hal Wallis Screenplays Dina Schein Federman
Aristotle's Theory of Knowledge Greg Salmieri
(S1=Session 1; S2=Session 2)
Four 70-minute sessions, 3:05–4:15 PM  
The Films of Howard Hawks: Integrity, Intelligence, Inspiration Shoshana Milgram
Moral Development in Education Ray Girn
The Enlightenment and the American Founding C. Bradley Thompson
Economics (part 2): The Price System, Economic Coordination, and the Division of Labor Brian P. Simpson
(S1=Session 1; S2=Session 2)
Three 90-minute sessions, 4:30-6 PM  
Ancient Greek Conceptions of Love: Aphrodite to St. Paul Robert Mayhew
The Morality of Trade: An Intellectual History Eric Daniels
Making Poetry Part of Your Life Lisa VanDamme
Reformation and Religious Wars (1517–1648)
A Lesson in Faith and Force
Andrew Lewis


Course Descriptions

A1S1, A1S2
Writing Objectively
Keith Lockitch

Fans of Ayn Rand’s ideas are often highly motivated to advance Objectivism in the culture through writing. Drawing on six years of experience teaching writing to Objectivist students, Dr. Lockitch offers guidance on how to write effectively and objectively.

This course covers the basic principles and methods of nonfiction writing, focusing on what Ayn Rand called “middle range” writing—writing that is neither purely journalistic, nor purely theoretical, but which applies philosophical abstractions to concrete issues and events.

Topics include: how to choose a subject and theme, how to assess and respect the audience’s context of knowledge, how to organize one’s thinking during the writing process, how to make effective use of motivation and contrast, and how to analyze an article to identify its theme and logical structure. Particular emphasis is placed on the importance of objectivity in writing.


A2S1, A2S2
Luck in the Pursuit of Life: The Rational Egoist's Approach to Luck
Diana Hsieh

When most people speak of a businessman’s wealth as “good fortune” or wish a student “good luck” before an exam, they are not speaking in mere idioms. People commonly regard their lives as driven by luck. That’s wrong, yet luck undoubtedly affects us. So what is the practical significance of luck?

To answer that question, this course surveys common false views of luck, focusing on their effects on a person’s ideas and actions. It then develops a proper view, drawing on the insights of Aristotle and Ayn Rand. While Rand’s remarks in her essays are brief, a rich view of the role of luck in life can be unearthed from her novels.

By focusing on the ethics of luck, this course offers fresh insight into the practice of the Objectivist virtues and reveals common errors about luck that hinder us in our pursuits.


A3S1, A3S2
Music in the 20th Century: Some Highlights and Low Points
Thomas Shoebotham

The twentieth century presents the listener with a tremendous variety of musical styles. It includes some of the greatest works ever written—and some of the worst. Names such as Strauss, Rachmaninov and Barber appear alongside Schoenberg, Boulez and Cage, creating contrasts unprecedented in music history.

This course presents an overview of twentieth-century art music—the good and the bad—and also looks at some of the broader philosophic ideas that influenced composers during the last one hundred years. No technical or theoretical knowledge is presupposed, although a brief review of the basic elements of music will be made in the first lecture.

The course closes with an examination of promising trends in music toward “neo-Romanticism,” and the increased interest by some recent composers in writing music that is accessible to general audiences of classical concerts.


A4S1, A4S2
The History of Ancient Greece: Athens in the Fifth Century
John David Lewis

Athens in the fifth century BC was fueled by enormous intellectual and artistic energy, guided by the world’s first citizen government, and defended by a magnificent navy. She was the intellectual center of the Greek world, the “school of Hellas.” This course first considers the political events of this century, beginning with the establishment of the Athenian democracy ca. 508 BC, moving through the growth of the Athenian naval empire, pausing on its defeat in the Peloponnesian War and ending with the death of Socrates in 399 BC. After establishing this political timeline, the course places a special emphasis on cultural events, including the great tragedians and comedians, before turning to the philosophical conflict between the new learning and the traditional belief in the gods. (Recommended reading: Aristophanes’ Clouds)


B1S1, B1S2
Modern Physics and Objective Reality
Eric Dennis

The received story of modern physics features a pioneering group of quantum theorists (Bohr, Heisenberg, Born, Pauli) who showed that critical aspects of the atomic world are observer-created, vindicating subjectivism by reference to what has become a bedrock of experimental science. This story, however, is undermined by a parallel lineage of physicists (Einstein, de Broglie, Schrödinger, Bohm, Bell) whose climax came with David Bohm’s reformulation of quantum mechanics in terms of an objective micro-world.

We contrast these two approaches to quantum theory in layman’s terms, focusing on how they each explain key experiments and on what premises about the nature of explanation itself they each proceed from. Examining the response of Bohm’s opponents will locate the real source of their worldview not in experimental discoveries, but in avant-garde philosophy, which will help to elucidate contemporary disputes about scientific methodology at the frontier of physics.


B2S1, B2S2
The Distinctiveness of an Egoistic Foreign Policy
Elan Journo

In the area of foreign policy, almost all leading thinkers claim to seek our national interest—but what is that, exactly? And which, if any, among the mainstream approaches in foreign policy can actually secure our interests? Surveying major challenges and threats confronting the United States, this course considers the answers offered by prominent voices in foreign policy and compares them to an approach informed by Ayn Rand’s ethics of egoism. The aim is to identify the contours of an egoistic foreign policy and situate it alongside other views in current debates—mapping out areas of similarity and difference.

Reading Winning the Unwinnable War prior to the course is strongly recommended. The course covers new material that builds on that book.


B3S1, B3S2
Ayn Rand's Other Literary Treasures: The Hal Wallis Screenplays
Dina Schein Federman

In the 1940s Ayn Rand was under contract to famous Hollywood producer Hal Wallis, writing screenplays based on other authors’ novels for possible film production. The purpose of this course is to acquaint the audience with these new treasures, which sometimes differ so much from the originals that they arguably constitute new works of fiction.

Depending on time, the course covers some or all of the adapted screenplays: “The House of Mist,” “The Crying Sisters,” “You Came Along” and “Love Letters,” as well as the original work “Top Secret.”

Each screenplay bears the unique Ayn Rand stamp: an exciting plot, an unusual situation, larger-than-life characters who are passionate valuers, and a serious, fundamental theme. Dr. Federman discusses these issues, examines how the screenplays differ from the novels, and asks what a novel had to have in order for Miss Rand to agree to use it as the basis of her screenplay.


B4S1, B4S2
Aristotle's Theory of Knowledge
Gregory Salmieri

More than anyone else, it was Aristotle who taught mankind to think. It is for this reason that he is, as Ayn Rand once described him, “the philosophical Atlas who carries the whole of Western civilization on his shoulders.” This course is an essentialized survey of Aristotle’s theory of knowledge. It relates it both to Objectivism and to the false alternative between rationalism and empiricism and brings out some Aristotelian insights that are useful for directing one’s own thinking.

Topics include: Aristotle’s theories of perception, concepts and the intermediate stage of “experience”; the distinctively human, causal perspective on the world enabled by concepts and epitomized by science; his distinctions between essence and accident, and between necessity and contingency; the methods of induction, deduction and definition, and the crucial concept of a “middle term”; and his view of hierarchy and the related distinction between dialectical and demonstrative arguments.


C1S1, C1S2
The Films of Howard Hawks: Integrity, Intelligence, Inspiration
Shoshana Milgram

Howard Hawks has been acclaimed as the only movie director to achieve greatness in every genre—from Westerns to war stories, from effervescent comedies to intense dramas. His pictures are entertaining and uplifting. In the Hawksian universe, happy endings are more than a Hollywood cliché: they are earned.

The course, which offers an overview of Hawks’s body of work, focuses on four films that illustrate the triumph of efficacious rationality over arduous obstacles—To Have and Have Not, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday and Rio Bravo—and on two films (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Monkey Business) featuring Marilyn Monroe, whose performances, according to Ayn Rand, projected a “radiantly benevolent sense of life, which cannot be faked.”

By grasping the meaning, method and merits of these classic American movies, we sharpen our understanding, enhance our enjoyment and acquire skills and standards that enrich our appreciation of films as art.

[Substantially revised version of a course offered in 1999]


C2S1, C2S2
Moral Development in Education
Ray Girn

Morality is everywhere in K-12 education. It’s in a recess supervisor’s injunction to “be fair”; it’s in a literature teacher’s emphasis on particular character traits; it’s in a principal’s decision to admonish certain forms of self-expression and ignore others. No matter what school a child attends, in every lesson, academic policy, teacher interaction and playground rule, he encounters some implicit standard of what it means to be good.

Is this a problem? Or is moral training inherently a part of a child’s education?

Drawing on anecdotes from his own experience as an educator, and focusing on the trait of independence, Mr. Girn investigates the relationship between a child’s schooling and his moral development. He demonstrates that while it is improper for schools to explicitly teach moral theory, there is nevertheless a fundamental integration between a child’s cognitive and moral development, and that a proper educational system facilitates this integration.


C3S1, C3S2
The Enlightenment and the American Founding
C. Bradley Thompson

The Declaration of Independence is, as Abraham Lincoln once said, “the central idea” of America “from which all the others radiate.” This course is an in-depth analysis of the Declaration and the moral foundations of the American republic.

Dr. Thompson offers a close textual analysis of the Declaration within the broader context of the Enlightenment and the American Revolution. He examines how Jefferson and the other Founders understood philosophical concepts such as necessity, natural law, self-evident truths, despotism, justice, freedom, natural rights, equality, prudence, self-interest, individualism, rule of law, sovereignty, representation, republicanism and constitutional government.

The course concludes with an examination of the flaws, inconsistencies and contradictions in the Founders’ moral-political philosophy and the philosophic requirements necessary to correct their errors and complete the promise of the American Revolution.


C4S1, C4S2
Economics (part 2): The Price System, Economic Coordination, and the Division of Labor
Brian P. Simpson

In Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff says capitalism is perishing because of a lack of a rational philosophy, not because of a lack of knowledge of economics. Given this, why should Objectivists study economics? One reason: knowledge of economics can be integrated with Objectivist moral philosophy to strengthen the defense of capitalism. This is part 2 of a multipart course on basic economics. The course is equivalent to an introductory undergraduate economics course—taught from an Objectivist perspective. It refutes many fallacies taught at the universities and demonstrates why it is important to have an understanding of economics. Part 2—which does not require knowledge from part 1—will focus on how the actions of millions—even billions—of individuals are coordinated in the division of labor. Topics include: the factors on which the division of labor depends; how prices are determined; uniformity principles; and how rights violations undermine coordination in the economy.


D1S1, D1S2
Ancient Greek Conceptions of Love: Aphrodite to St. Paul
Robert Mayhew

Ayn Rand wrote that “one of the most evil consequences of mysticism . . . is the belief that love is a matter of ‘the heart,’ not the mind, that love is an emotion independent of reason, that love is blind and impervious to the power of philosophy.” This course will present a history of this conception of love in the ancient Greek world, and of the unsuccessful but influential attempts by philosophers—Platonic, Aristotelian and Hellenistic—to resist it.

The course focuses on the following six (sets of) texts: archaic Hymns to Aphrodite; Euripides’ Hippolytus; Plato’s Symposium; selections from Aristotelians; selections from Hellenistic philosophers; and St. Paul’s First Corinthians. It highlights both crucial differences between Greek and Christian worldviews, as well as those features of the former that made the latter possible.


D2S1, D2S2
The Morality of Trade: An Intellectual History
Eric Daniels

Throughout Western history philosophers have debated the morality of trade, laying the foundation for people’s evaluation of capitalism. Commerce in all its forms—from exchanges of goods in a marketplace to complex derivative contracts—is central to the moral status of capitalism. As Ayn Rand observed, the moral evaluation of commerce predated capitalism’s development—and has been used to damn it ever since.

This course surveys the intellectual history of trade, illustrating how a legacy of suspicion and hostility led capitalism’s pseudo-defenders to abdicate the moral case for capitalism. Capitalism’s pseudo-defenders embraced utilitarian arguments about efficient social outcomes to avoid confronting the moral condemnation of trade. Only Ayn Rand provided the proper answer in her rousing defense of trade and the trader principle as the essence of morality. By highlighting Ayn Rand’s unique defense, the course shows how the justification for trade is its morality, not merely its consequence.


D3S1, D3S2
Making Poetry Part of Your Life
Lisa VanDamme

Thanks to Ayn Rand, we understand the purpose of art and have experienced it profoundly in her novels. But beyond her novels, many don’t know where to turn for literary spiritual fuel. And few turn to one of its richest sources: poetry. Because of the failure of American education, many regard poetry as remote, erudite and inaccessible.

The goal of this course is to help people make poetry part of their lives. To demonstrate its power to give eloquent voice to their every mood, experience and conviction. To show that the world of poetry is a lavish treasure house of artistic inspiration.

The focus is not on the history, the forms or the internal structure of poetry—but rather on why poetry has the power to enhance your life, and how to harness that power.


D4S1, D4S2
Reformation and Religious Wars (1517–1648)
A Lesson in Faith and Force

Andrew Lewis

The Renaissance was interrupted by a reactionary religious movement—the Reformation—which attempted to return Europe to Dark Age asceticism and mysticism.

Martin Luther ignited the Reformation, but he was neither the first nor the only thinker to propose reforming the Catholic Church. This course examines why and how Luther succeeded where others had “failed.” It compares the Protestant Reformation in Germany—essentially a religious phenomenon—with the Anglican Reformation—a political one. Together, these schisms broke the Catholic Church’s hold on Europe and unleashed centuries of religious war.

Covering events from 1517 to 1648, this course traces the Reformation from its scholastic roots, through the story of Martin Luther, to the bloodshed that followed. It examines the practical consequences of religious conflict, the lasting effects of these disputes and the inevitability of force among the faithful. (This course continues Mr. Lewis’s series on European history; prior courses are not a prerequisite.)


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