Friday, May 19, 2006

The Good: The Objective Standard

I recently had the privilege to attend and enjoy Tara Smith's talk on Justice in Irvine where I work. The talk was excellent but ironically it was primarily during the Q&A that Dr. Smith was able to put increased emphasis on the greater need to praise the good. Of course, it is important to identify and judge evil but as anybody who has studied Objectivism in some detail knows, evil is metaphysically impotent -- it is far more important to express appreciation to the good people one encounters as they are the life-givers. Regular readers of this blog know that I spend most of my time criticising what's wrong with the culture. In this post I intend to do the opposite.

I have commented on the new journal The Objective Standard (TOS) briefly on a previous occasion but it deserves a more thorough review. So following in the footsteps of Mike of The Primacy of the Awesome blog, here are my comments on the premiere issue of TOS. I will begin by repeating my earlier comment that "the issue clearly represents a new milestone in Objectivist publications in every aspect." The professional look of journal deserves high praise -- finally an Objectivist publication that does not look like a pamphlet or newsletter. But let me focus on content as that is what's most important. Here there are five excellent essays and I'll take them each in turn.

Craig Biddle has written an elegant introduction to the philosophy behind the journal -- Ayn Rand's Objectivism -- in his essay Introducing The Objective Standard. He labors to distinguish Objectivism from its main philosophical rivals on both the right and the left and lays out an exciting future for the journal. Previous readers of his excellent book Loving Life will once again enjoy his lucid writing style and essentialized presentation of the ideas that will guide the journal.

Director of the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) Yaron Brook and ARI Junior Fellow Alex Epstein finally put into print the position on the "War on Terror" that Dr. Brook has discussed in several previous talks and op-eds in their essay "Just War Theory vs. American Self-Defense." Now there is a single place where people can see the complete statement of ARI's position on the war with many questions and sub-issues thoroughly addressed, including such issues frequently in the news as the treatment of prisoners of war. The essay is an inspiring example of the power of ideas in action and argues forcefully (and in my opinion successfully) that the current effort allegedly put forth to defend us is misguided and inadequate. An alternative approach to fighting that will lead us to victory is also presented.

After war and peace, we move to education with Lisa VanDamme's enlightening essay "The Hierarchy of Education: The Most Neglected Issue in Education." Mrs. VanDamme is owner and director of the VanDamme Academy, a private school in Laguna Hills, where I might mention my daughter will start school in the fall. Since her experience with homeschooling, VanDamme has been sharpening and developing her views on education, based on the foundation provided in Leonard Peikoff's classic set of lectures "The Philosophy of Education." The result is a fascinating insight into an essential structural component of teaching almost completely overlooked by most of today's educators -- the issue of hierarchy. VanDamme describes her approach to teaching the subjects of science, literature, and history, and where she differs with Montessori education, giving many examples to clearly illustrate her points. In her essay we again see the power of ideas in the application of Objectivist epistemology and its idea of the hierarchical nature of knowledge to issues in education.

As someone who has studied physics in college, I am particularly enthusiastic about David Harriman's essay "Enlightenment Science and Its Fall." Excerpted from chapter 5 of Mr. Harriman's upcoming book The Anti-Copernican Revolution, the essay discusses some of the great scientists and mathematicians of the Enlightenment, including such figures as Euler, Stephen Gray, Charles DuFay, and, of course, Benjamin Franklin, as well as some of the intellectual villains at the time who rejected the greatness and achievements of the age, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and, of course, Immanuel Kant, as well as the scientists they both influenced. The result is a fascinating story of both the rise and promise of enlightenment science and its subsequent corruption as a result of philosophy. If this essay is representative, then I, for one, can't wait until Harriman's book is published.

Finally, we have ARI junior fellow Elan Journo's interesting piece on "Exposing Anti-Muslim 'Conspiracies'" where he discusses the unfortunate paranoid delusions prevalent in the Muslim world. Relying on the detailed coverage of conspiracy theories in Daniel Pipes's book The Hidden Hand, Journo takes the reader on a disturbing journey through the irrational world of the Middle East. Journo argues that the bizarre beliefs he sites present ample depressing evidence of the corrupting influence of religious ideas on the local culture and continue to present a threat to the more civilized world.

To have so many high quality essays in a single journal is indeed a rare thing. I am already eagerly awaiting the next issue.

No comments: