The Fountainhead (Introduction to Philosophy this week)

fountainhead-100x165In my Introduction to Philosophy course this week we are reading and discussing The Fountainhead, a great novel on the themes of independence and integrity.

In Part One, Rand’s primary purpose is to contrast the characters Howard Roark and Peter Keating. Here is a table (click to enlarge) summarizing the main events in each young man’s early career.


Roark’s career goes on a downward trajectory, and his independence and integrity seem to have made it impossible for his career to progress. Meanwhile, Keating’s career goes on an upward trajectory, and his use-and-be-used strategy seems to have made possible his financial and reputational success.

Abstracting: Roark’s character is moral but he is a practical failure, but Keating’s character is immoral and he flourishes practically.

So the question at the end of Part One is: Is there a dichotomy between morality and practicality?

Related: more posts on The Fountainhead
* Roark and Keating: First meetings.
* Toohey’s five strategies of altruism.
* Gail Wynand’s power strategy (Part 1). Part 2 forthcoming.
* Gordon Prescott: Heidegger’s disciple?
* Marcel Duchamp and Lillian Rearden.

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Is Education Really Too Expensive? [new The Good Life column]

The opening of my latest column at EveryJoe:

“Many people complain about how education has become so expensive. Mostly, they are wrong.

Schooling has become more expensive, but consider the cost of the following awesome education resources:

“For almost all of us, the cost of information has declined dramatically. So if one doesn’t know much about history, biology, or the French one took, that’s a choice …” [Read more here.]


Previous column in The Good Life series: Comparing North and Latin American Economic Performance.

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Photos from talk in Miami

Last week I gave a talk at Fundación para la Responsabilidad Intelectual’s first North American event in Miami.

FRI posted some nice photos from the conference at their Facebook page here.

Miami FRI talk photo

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“How Do You Explain the Great Enrichment of the Modern World?” — short video from Buenos Aires

I gave a talk in June at a conference sponsored by Fundación para la Responsabilidad Intelectual (FRI), Junior Achievement Argentina, and the John Templeton Foundation. When I was in Buenos Aires, FRI also did three short videos of me addressing questions.

Here is a 12-minute video of my response to “How Do You Explain the Great Enrichment of the Modern World?”:

More information on Fundación para la Responsabilidad Intelectual can be found at their Facebook page.

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Sobre a dívida grega e fazer o que é moral


Para a resolução de casos complexos como a dívida grega, a melhor forma dá-se inicialmente por meio da reflexão sobre casos mais simples.

Todos os lados da discussão estão apelando para considerações morais sobre responsabilidade, justiça e prudência. Parte do debate trata do significado de tais princípios. Uma parte intimamente ligada ao debate envolve distinguir os vários atores envolvidos, estabelecendo quem deve, o que é devido e a quem é devido.

Dois grupos de princípios morais concorrentes estão em conflito:



Sempre pague suas dívidas

Mostre misericórdia pelos que estão em dificuldades

Se você está em dificuldades, mude sua forma de agir

Você não pode tirar leite de pedra

Aqui segue um caso mais simples: considere o seu primo José e seu eterno problema financeiro. Ele trabalha esporadicamente. Ele vive por cima da carne seca e estourou o limite do cartão de crédito, assim como contraiu empréstimos de agiotas. Às vezes, ele tenta cortar seus gastos, contudo tende a mentir sobre sua real situação financeira. Ele também pegou emprestado muito dinheiro de você ao longo dos anos. Agora, em um encontro de família, José aparece, declara que está sem dinheiro e pede um novo empréstimo para colocar suas contas em dia.

Qual é a coisa certa a ser feita?

Continue reading

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Texts in Philosophy — late 2015 additions

know-thyself-235x100For use in my courses, additions to my Texts in Philosophy page. All files are PDFs.

Antony Flew, R. M. Hare, and Basil Mitchell, “Three Accounts of What Faith Is,” from “Theology & Falsification: A Symposium” (1971).

St. Augustine, on “Righteous Persecution” (c. 397-418 CE). HTML.

David Hume, “Moral Distinctions Not Derived from Reason”, A Treatise of Human Nature (1738).

David Hume, “Of the Liberty of the Press” (1742).

William James, “The Will to Believe” (1896).

Benito Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile, The Doctrine of Fascism (1932).

Bertrand Russell, “The Value of Philosophy” (1912).

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FRI’s one-day conference in Miami, September 16

On Wednesday I will give a talk at FRI’s first North American event. Gloria Alvarez (Guatemala), José Benegas (Argentina), Marsha Enright (USA), Eduardo Marty (Argentina), Warren Orbaugh (Guatemala), and I will be participating.

My topic will be “Progress and Betrayal: The Responsibilities of Intellectuals.”

One theme of my talk is drawn from my recent column, “Comparing North and Latin American Economic Performance.”

Here is a four-minute video overview of FRI’s inaugural event in Buenos Aires. A classy organization.

And here is Fundación para la Responsabilidad Intelectual’s Facebook page.

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Socrates in jail — escape or not?

[This week in my Introduction to Philosophy course, we are reading Crito and discussing whether Socrates should escape or accept his death sentence. Here is a revisiting of an earlier post.]

Socrates’ two bad arguments for not escaping

Socrates-three-quartersIn the Crito, Socrates is in prison awaiting execution for impiety and corrupting the youth. His impiety was judged to be a matter of questioning and possibly disbelieving the traditional gods, and his corrupting the youth was a matter of his teaching them to do the same.

Crito arrives at the prison having arranged an escape opportunity for Socrates, and they proceed to debate whether it would be just for Socrates to escape.

Socrates argues that while the verdict was wrong, it was nonetheless reached through legitimate procedures — the trial was conducted according to the established rules, he had a chance to make his case, and the voting was done by citizens.

Thus we have to choose whether content justice (getting the right result) or procedural justice (following the right procedures) is more important.

Socrates-LouvreSocrates argues the latter (50b-c), while I argue the former: The most important goal in justice is achieving actual justice; secondarily we establish procedures that we think will achieve actual justice; when those procedures fail to do so, we should alter or override the procedures.

Socrates also points out that, additionally, we have to choose whether the social peace the laws enable is more important than the life of an innocent man (50c). Socrates argues the former, while I argue the latter: we form social groups for the advancement of the interests of the individuals involved, and when the social group makes a mistake it is the social that should take the hit, not the innocent individual. On this proto collective-versus-individual issue, Socrates is more collectivist while I’m individualist.

In support of his position, Socrates makes a strongly paternalistic claim at 50d-51d, arguing that since the laws enabled his father to marry his mother, the laws are as much his parents as they are. He also points out that the laws commanded his parents to educate him. Consequently, he is both the “offspring and slave” of the laws (50e) and owes them the same unconditional obedience that children owe their parents and slaves owe their masters (51b).

Also in support, Socrates makes an early social-contract style claim at 51d-52a, arguing that when he reached the age of majority, he chose voluntarily to stay and live in Athens and that he did so knowing how justice was administered there. He therefore made an at-least implicit contract with Athens to do what the laws say.

david-the-death-of-socrates-133x100Both arguments support the same ultimate conclusion: In this case the laws are ordering him to die, so he is obligated to obey the order and die. So it is on to the Phaedo and the death scene.

I admire Socrates for his commitment to reason, his courage, and his integrity in acting on his principles, but I disagree with his principles.

We have four issues at hand:

1. Procedural justice or content justice?
2. Collective security or individual life?
3. Legal paternalism or the law as servant?
4. What are the terms of the implicit social compact?

For this post let me just make two quick points about issue 4, which I think is the most interesting one, and leave the rest for follow-up discussion.

socrates-lysippus-100x121A. I think Socrates’ argument in issue 4 contradicts his position in issue 3. In issue 3 he argues that he’s the slave of the laws and owes them unconditional obedience, implying that he has no choice at all in the matter. In issue 4, he argues that he made a decision to stay when he could have left, implying that he was a free agent with a choice in the matter.

Is there a contradiction? If so, why? I don’t think Socrates and/or Plato were too stupid not to have noticed it. So is it a matter of making whatever arguments will appeal to the likely different audiences — the slave/child argument for the more traditionally inclined and the social compact argument for the more modern? And if the arguments being made are driven by such rhetorical considerations, what does this imply for the claim at Socrates’ trial that he was a sophist, given that sophistic strategy is to make whatever argument will work for the audience(s) at hand.

B. If one accepts the premise of the social compact as Socrates lays it out, there’s still the question of the other side of the compact. Citizens may have obligations to the law, but the law in turn has obligations to the citizens. If the law fails to fulfill its obligations, e.g., by threatening to kill an innocent citizen, does this not mean that the law has broken the agreement? And if the agreement is broken by one party, is the other party not then released from its obligations to uphold its side of the agreement? Thus Socrates, an actually-innocent man, is free to escape an injustice, if he so chooses.

Feel welcome to follow up in the comments.


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