Martin Johansen, “On the Productive Scope of the Computer”

By design, the computer has a certain range of applicability in which its use is productive and in which it has a comparative advantage over human labor. Despite enormous efforts, creating computer programs with human intelligence remains an unsolved challenge. Is this a coincidence? What were the main attempts, and why have they not succeeded? (Please note that Martin Johansen is giving a different course at this year's Objectivist Summer Conference in Chicago.)

James G. Lennox, “Axioms and their Validation: Aristotle and Ayn Rand”

On the 'About the Author' page at the end of Atlas Shrugged, after acknowledging her philosophical debt to Aristotle, Ayn Rand wrote: "You will find my tribute to him in the titles of the three parts of ATLAS SHRUGGED." Those titles allude to the Laws of Non-Contradiction, Excluded Middle and Identity, at least the first two of which Aristotle identifies as axioms in Metaphysics Γ.  But in her own metaphysics Rand identifies three axiomatic concepts, Existence, Identity and Consciousness, only one of which is directly related to the traditional Aristotelian axioms.  In this lecture, I defend a certain interpretation of Aristotle's defense of metaphysical axioms and explore the relationship of his defense of those axioms to Rand's defense of her axiomatic concepts, drawing primarily on the second edition of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.  Understanding her choice of concepts rather than propositions, and of those three concepts in particular, and comparing her discussion of the cognitive role of axiomatic concepts with Aristotle's defense of metaphysical axioms in his Metaphysics is of critical importance for understanding Ayn Rand's place in the history of the Aristotelian tradition.

Jason G. Rheins, “Bringer of Fire: Prometheus in Myth and Philosophy”

In this lecture, I begin by noting the simple but remarkable fact (which has gone overlooked) that in all three of the works of fiction that Rand wrote after beginning The Fountainhead: i.e. Anthem, Think Twice, and Atlas Shrugged, the hero of the story is a scientist who discovers a new form of energy but withdraws his achievement from mankind rather than allowing it or himself to be sacrificed on the altar of their altruistic moral code. Although the three works tell different stories and dramatize different themes (individualism / the sacredness of the ego, the evil of sacrificial “charity”, and the role of the mind in human life), each is centered around Rand’s reworking of the Prometheus myth, and thus each expresses the theme common to her late fiction: the declaration of man’s moral independence from the sacrifice of reason and self.

The myth of Prometheus has always been both immensely popular and powerfully resonant; the philanthropic titan has served as a symbol for countless different causes and ideologies. I argue that this is because the core of the fire-bearing myth is profoundly dramatic: a divine figure offers the greatest possible good (knowledge/civilization) and then suffers the worst possible fate. I briefly survey the history of the ancient Prometheus myths and then a selection of their most significant adaptations. In Hesiod he is a trouble-maker, who brings suffering to mankind as punishment for his temerity in challenging the authority of Zeus. To Aeschylus he was a symbol of Athenian democracy and anti-tyranny, to the enlightenment he represented the advancement of humanity through reason, and to the Romantics he was a Christ-like figure who sacrificed himself to save mankind. To Rand, the traditional Prometheus myth, like so many other myths of its type (e.g. the expulsion from Paradise, the fall of Icarus, etal.) symbolizes hatred of the mind and the men who embodied it by the very societies that they had made possible and bequeathed with their gifts. In other words, Prometheus’ beneficiaries and his persecutors were one and the same. (See, for instance, Roark’s speech at his second trial in The Fountainhead and “The Age of Envy”).

The heroes of Rand’s fiction from The Fountainhead on are men whose independent minds are the fires that make human advancement possible. Yet Rand was not content to leave her heroes to the eternal torment of altruism’s sacrificial code. She wished to give the myth a new moral, but to do so she needed to change its ending. Thus she developed the “New Prometheus” who, “after centuries of being torn by vultures in payment for having brought the fire of the gods,…broke his chains and…withdrew his fire — until the day when men withdraw their vultures.” Yet John Galt is not the only “Prometheus who changed his mind” in Rand’s later fiction. Although the mythical figure of Atlas is the better-known of her mythical allusions because of his prominent place in the title of her magnum opus, Prometheus is used in a much more extensive, programmatic fashion, as he is evoked directly by the fire or light bearing inventors, Steve Ingalls and Equality 7-2521 as well Galt himself.

Identifying this programmatic allusion which runs through Rand’s late fiction is invaluable for understanding the place of Atlas Shrugged in her corpus. Men of the mind going on strike and the presence of new inventions that play the same symbolic role as Galt’s motor are to be found in the plots of her other late works. Therefore, we can appreciate Atlas Shrugged not as the development of her work in a new direction but as the culmination and crystallization of a theme and plot-theme she had already been reaching for, but finally realized and vastly augmented in her magnum opus.

Tor Mikkel Wara, “Reflections from an ex-politician”

Who have the most influence on Norwegian politics: The people, the intellectuals or the politicians? The answer to this question is decisive when attempting to change the politics in the right direction. And what role does popular movements, youth-organizations, media, and academia play? In this talk Tor Mikkel Wara will be reflecting on his experience as a politician, both at the Oslo City Council and the Norwegian Parliament.

Barry Wood, “Ayn Rand and Immanuel Kant as Antipodes in Aesthetics”

Ayn Rand held that Immanuel Kant was her diametric opposite in every field of philosophy. In this lecture I explore the fundamental differences between these two seminal thinkers’ ideas in aesthetics, the fifth major branch of philosophy.

In the first part of the lecture, I lay out Kant’s arguments in his Critique of Judgment. Kant’s aesthetics revolves around three issues: beauty, the sublime, and art; and on each of these issues, I demonstrate, in non-specialist terms, how Kant’s position amounts to the disintegration of consciousness – in Leonard Peikoff’s terminology, D2. I then briefly show how modernist, non-objective art embodies Kant’s aesthetics.

The second part of the lecture turns to the Objectivist aesthetics. In stark contrast to Kant,  Ayn Rand grounds her philosophy of art in the facts of man’s life as a rational being pursuing values in the world. Building on the crucial concept of metaphysical value-judgments, I show how the Objectivist account of art as a vital integrator of consciousness represents a historic breakthrough in philosophy. I conclude with a few remarks on how Rand’s understanding of art sheds new light on some old questions in aesthetics. (The lecture presupposes a general familiarity with Objectivism, but no other background is necessary.)

John L. Dennis, “Changing Habits II: There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”

Since habits are behaviors, thoughts, and feelings which are guided by the subconscious, habits have an "automatic" quality to them that renders them difficult to change for many. This lecture extends on material presented in “Changing Habits: Why It’s Hard, How to Do It” co-taught with Dr. Edwin A. Locke at OCON 2012. In this lecture Dr. Dennis will explain why an understanding and integration of the two fundamental processes involved in successful habit change is necessary. These processes are: automatization — where the effortful becomes automatic, and strategy formation — where the automatic becomes conscious and under deliberate control. The what, when, where, why and how of each process will be introduced and methods for integrating both will be reviewed.

Petter Sandstad, “J-B Say’s Newtonian Methods”

Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832) was one of the most central economists in the development of classical economics at the start of the 19th century, and the discoverer of among others Say’s law. This law is one of the essential laws of economics, and its validity and scope has received much scholarship. But the same cannot be said about Say’s methodology, i.e. how he discovered this and other laws of economics. Here the previous literature (Reynaud, Forget, and Rothbard) is far from satisfactory. I argue that Say both in his methodological introduction and throughout the main body of his A Treatise on Political Economy, applied the excellent methodology of Newton (e.g. his 4 rules of reasoning) to the science of economics. Recent literature (Redman, Montes, and Schliesser) has defended a similar thesis on Adam Smith, but Smith wrote remarkably little on methodology. In addition, despite of Say naming him the founder of economics, Smith is more a transitionary figure while Say is in fact the paradigm case of a classical economist.