Teach Objectivism in a philosophy class as "truth" or as "another approach?"

Marty's picture
Submitted by Marty on Sat, 2005-12-03 09:43

Should an objectivist philosophy professor teach objectivism as "the truth" (which it is, of course) or as "another point of view?"

I maintain that the latter is the correct approach. Present the objectivist position as clearly as possible (the theory of concept formation, for example) and hope that the intelligent student who seeks truth will come to realize its validity.

( categories: )

proofs and applications

Marty's picture


The folly of teaching calculus without showing applications to physics amazes me! More generally, tunnel vision seems to have infected academia to the extent that many professors do not appreciate links between disciplines. To make matters worse, in the frenzy to publish before tenure, professors become specialists at the expense of ignoring the big picture. Some never recover.  

"We need proofs and we need

Robert's picture

"We need proofs and we need applications. Theory and practice go hand in hand."

Excellent Marty. Now when you've got a moment I've got several thousand academic scientific researchers that need to be taught this lesson. I'm at a loss as to know how to begin. I was thinking about manditory tatoos on their foreheads...

I tell you the contempt some of these - otherwise hyper-intelligent - guys (& gals) display for applied science is palpable!

Theory and practice

Marty's picture


 We need proofs and we need applications. Theory and practice go hand in hand. I try to show applications, even when I teach number theory. It demonstrates the efficacy of math and of the human mind. At times, there is a lag between theory and practice, to wit, the almost 2,000 year interval between the development of the ellipse in the third century BC and Kepler's planetary laws.

The site

Marty's picture

Andrew: I posted a short article on that site.

Your remark to your students on the infinite is hysterical.

The Practicality of Mathematics

Sam Erica's picture

With a degree in Applied Science (Engineering) I totally agree with Mike Erickson's observations. I was privileged to have professors who taught calculus by way of practical examples and solving of problems. This grounded us. In third year engineering we had a number of transfers from other universities who were taught by mathematicians. They could derive all the proofs but were at a loss to solve any problems — and is was always a problem-solving exam. How these guys graduated and were able to function as engineers is beyond me.


Mike Erickson's picture

One of the things that struck me when I was taking the calculus series at a community college was the total disconnect one of my instructors had with the actual USE of the calculus. During one particular hard section [third semester calc] I was struck by the beauty of the equations and their difficulty and asked "what is this method USED for". My instructor didn't know what I was talking about. I told her that there must be some problems in physics that use these methods and I wondered what they were. She actually looked annoyed when she told me "that's APPLIED mathematics" you have to take another kind of class for that. And she was a very good mathematician I've heard. Gives presentations at national math seminars. I went away with the feeling "some people are good at crossword puzzles, some are good at math". Doesn't necessarily mean they know how to do anything useful with it. I think continuously making the connection between mathematics and science and engineering is a way to introduce objectivism [objectivity] into the teaching of mathematics.

One of the things I love

Andrew Bissell's picture

One of the things I love about studying mathematics is that it's a discipline that so starkly demonstrates the primacy of reason and utter uselessness of faith. "The square root of 2 is irrational because, like Kierkegaard, I have made a leap of faith to believe it" just wouldn't fly on an abstract math midterm.

Over the past few months I have noticed several online discussions that demonstrate the decency and rationality of the Objectivist movement, especially compared to the raving, dismissive, and condescending adherents of altruism and collectivism. Here is one: http://www.newwest.net/index.php/main/article/4106/ This is another great example. My compliments, Marty.

I wish there was some way to work Objectivism into my calculus problem sessions ... a lot of my students are freshman, Christian, and conservative, and probably ripe for the change in worldview so common when students move to college. (Plus, the girls have the hots for me, so I have a certain "sway" over them, heheh ....) The best I've done so far has been to remark, "the infinite does not and cannot really exist" in a discussion of limits. Somehow it flew right over the believers' heads.

Absolutism of reason

Marty's picture

I agree that there can be no debate on the efficacy of reason. In fact, one would have to use reason on either side of such a "debate." (A debate entails an exchange of arguments.) As to teaching, say, the objectivist ethics along with the ethics of altruism, it suffices to explain these approaches, stressing Ayn Rand's observation that altruism substitutes the question Who shall be the beneficiary of values? for the question: What are values and why does man need them? At this point, the student is being taught how to think about ethics. He will see the flaw in altruism but he will eventually come to undersand how to reason in philosophy.

When I teach mathematics, I assume that my students understand that reason is the coin of the realm. While I have met Platonist mathematicians who maintain that mathematical truths do not apply to this world (they are "theoretical" truths in Plato's prefect world, the world of universals), they nevertheless employ reason and reason alone, in developing and proving theorems. Sadly, the academic world of philosophy is a cesspool of absurdity. The student must be trained to think for himself, thereby enabling him to analyze faith-based doctrines and to see through the errors, the first being a dishonest advocacy of feelings over reason.

When preaching to the unconverted, to the young minds distorted by years of Platonic and Kantian notions (to name just a few), care must be taken to represent all ideas fairly and then to gently guide the student toward the truth - identity in metaphysics, reason in epistemology, rational egoism in ethics, and laissez-faire capitalism in politics.

Respect for truth

AdamReed's picture

I agree: "respect your audience." And, of course, respect the truth, the contextuality of knowledge, and the rare but real achievement of certainty where it has been achieved. Do not claim certainty without grounding. But also do not, after demonstrating that some idea has been objectively disconfirmed, pretend that the disconfirmed idea is still tenable, respectable, or coherent with reality. You would not do it in any other science, so why in philosophy?

Perhaps Relatively True, Depending on Who You Are ...

milesian's picture

Go for it!

Right now, there is a "Musing" up that is apparently about Wittgenstein. You would have no problem saying that you agree with W. You could yea-say and rubberstamp a dozen others Husserl, Roty, take your pick. Oh, but, never mention Ayn Rand?

We have all had professors abuse the classroom. Back in 1967, I had one English prof actually read aloud to us, his Honors class, from the New York Review of Books for 40 minutes, to make sure that we all got this important essay about Vietnam. You certainly can teach the efficacy of reason.

The only caveat I offer is that if you are preaching the writings of Ayn Rand, you are going to have to resolve some apparent contradictions in her opinions on why it is all right for a woman to climb into the cockpit of an airplane wearing a miniskirt, but wrong for a woman to be President of the United States. That might be a toughie... On the other hand, A is A, and the other fundamentals are a breeze.

I just wrote an outside essay for my Logic instructor, a rationalist. She demands that A be A, but thinks that physics could be anything. I showed that to set up gravity as an inverse-cube would be to deny the law of identity. That might or might not convince her, but I accept that she will read all five pages. If they started out with a condemnation of Kantian social metaphysicians and their moocher Attila supporters, she might not finish the first sentence. In short: respect your audience.
"I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings."

Teaching Objectivism

Jeff Perren's picture

You don't specify whether you are orienting the class at Freshman or grad students, or somewhere in between.

But, consider this. If you were teaching General Relativity, would you teach it as "the Truth" or as "another approach"? Likely, the correct answer is neither choice is accurate, but the former is closer to "the truth".

"The Truth" inevitably has the ring of intrincisist dogma, but "another approach" is inescapably subjectivist.

As with Objectivism, look for a third way.

I agree - otherwise it would

Robert Malcom's picture

I agree - otherwise it would be then beconsidered as dogma... that said, there is a craveat - the issue of reason as an absolute, as the only means of KNOWING reality, must be firmly grounded, else it would become considered as just another in a variety of options...

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.