Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Ayn Rand Bookstore 2008 Catalog

Guest blogger Neil Parille of Objectiblog has mail.

My copy of The Ayn Rand Bookstore 2008 Catalog arrived the other day. The ARB is owned by the ARI, so you can be sure that you are getting your Objectivism straight-up. The catalog is 74 pages and well produced. It contains lectures, books, coffee mugs, t-shirts and just about everything else needed to make you a passionate valuer of all things Randian.

What is most striking about the catalog is how prominently Leonard Peikoff is featured. On page 2, right after "Who was Ayn Rand?", there is "Who is Leonard Peikoff?" He is, of course, "the preeminent authority on Objectivism." In fact, Peikoff's works come before Rand's. ARB even sells a documentary on Peikoff. "The life of Leonard Peikoff is a heroic one. From his early years as a precocious student tortured by the dichotomy of the 'moral' vs. the 'practical' . . . to his . . . already-classic books . . . ."

The catalog also contains the odd disclaimer that "the inclusion of Leonard Peikoff's materials . . . does not imply that he agrees with the content of other items herein." No such disclaimer is given for associates of Ayn Rand such as Harry Binswanger or Allan Gotthelf. I guess Peikoff doesn't call himself Rand's "intellectual heir" for nothing.

You can purchase lectures by Peikoff on subjects big and small, from his "Induction in Philosophy and Physics" where he solves the problem of induction (thus completing "in every essential respect, the validation of reason") to "Poems I Like-and Why." This doesn't come cheap: $205.00 for the former and $47.00 for the latter (plus $27.00 shipping). And why is it that none of the material in the catalog is available to download to your MP3 players? Wouldn't downloads be cheaper for the ARB to produce (no need to make CDs) and save customers the rather hefty shipping costs?

The ARB offers several courses and lectures by David Harriman, ARI's resident expert on physics and philosophical issues related thereto. Readers of ARCHNBlog won't be surprised to learn that modern physics has been "corrupted" by Kant. Space is even a "chimera" (why not an anti-concept?) and we should return to "the relational view held by Aristotle."

There are many lectures that would be of interest to anyone critical or sympathetic to Objectivism. If you want to know the Objectivist take on numerous topics not addressed by Rand, there is a dearth of published sources. I'd be willing to pony up some of my hard earned cash to learn what Objectivists think of Karl Popper, or how the Objectivist theory of concepts differs from other theories, but these lectures are just a bit too expensive. And given the bluster that Official Objectivists often direct toward non-Objectivists, I expect to be disappointed.

There's truly something for everyone in the catalog. Psychologists Edwin Locke and Ellen Kenner even offer a course on sex containing role-playing dialogues "suitable for . . . same-sex couples." One wonders what Rand would have thought. - Neil Parille

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd be willing to pony up some of my hard earned cash to learn what Objectivists think of Karl Popper... but these lectures are just a bit too expensive.

Just as well. If the lecture is anything like this Objectivist critique of Popper, it's probably very irritating.

-- Ian.

Anonymous said...

"One thing which is quite certain is that Popper wrote with absolute assurance of his own rectitude, as I think the quotations in this paper reveal. For all his belittlement of knowledge and certainty, I have never read anyone who wrote so many books all imbued with such conscious certainty and authority — the authority of one who knows. " -- An objectivist critique of Popper.

Is this objectivist familar with Ayn Rand?

Daniel Barnes said...

Yes, I've always said this essay should come with a laugh track.

There is too much wrong with it to discuss in full here. However, as Dykes is an Objectivist, his basic arguments are the yawnsome Randian fallacies i.e. he thinks skepticism is self-refuting (it is not), he thinks the Law of Identity has something to do with Hume's problem (it does not), and that verbalist arguments over the meanings of words are somehow important, or even logically resolvable (they are not).

In other words, he is really a bit of a twit. Of course, also being an Objectivist, no work is complete without the following boilerplate utterance:

"The results of Rand’s work were not only solutions to problems which have bedeviled philosophers for centuries, but a practical, easy-to-understand, guide to life for Everyman: “a philosophy for living on earth”."

Finally, he also thinks Objectivism would benefit with being more self critical...;-) Well, good luck with that!

Anyway, now officially on holiday, so bye for now.

Jay said...

Neil,

Very interesting questions on why they aren't using MP3s. I think some of the higher ups at the ARI disdain modern technology. A programmer friend of mine offered to bring the ARI website up to compatibility with W3C HTML standards - for FREE. At the time, the ARI's site was woefully incompliant and loaded unpredictably on different browsers. However, for reasons unknown, the ARI refused his offer.

That still puzzles me to this day.

Neil Parille said...

Jay,

There are a couple courses that you can listen to over the web, but I don't think you can download them.

I suspect that the ARI feels that people will download and share them.

Best I can tell, Objectivism appeals to young people. By pricing these lectures so high, the ARI is pricing its natural supporters out of the market.

I don't get it.

Jay said...

Neil,

Right you are about the courses - you can stream, but apparently not download. This is frustrating, because my favorite Peikoff speech ("Why Act on Principle?") is only available for streaming. I'd love to save it locally (and I'll ultimately figure out some backdoor route) but they don't make that possible.

You're right about them missing the younger audience. They should be using YouTube, and at the very least making things downloadable. In like with one of your previous posts, it'd also be nice if they carried over some of these enormous yet intriguing lectures to book form.

Jay said...

In other words, he is really a bit of a twit. Of course, also being an Objectivist, no work is complete without the following boilerplate utterance:

That's unfair. Greg uses phrases like "empty verbalism" over and over in ARCHN and I still respect him enough to believe that he's using those terms to express his views. If I dismissed all such talk as mere "Popperian boilerplate" I might not have gotten as much out of it. Just because he uses Randian terms doesn't mean these views aren't his own or worthy of discussion.

Neil Parille said...

Jay:

Unless I'm wrong, you can't even stream the large majority of the lectures.

Jay said...

Neil,

You're right about that. You can only stream a handful from the 2007 lecture series, along with the aforementioned Peikoff talk.

Wells said...

If these jokers want my money, they're going to have to get it the same way I got it; They're going to have to earn it.

I'm afraid This is not the proper definition of earning it.

Moony said...

I guess there are no poor Objectivists so the prices won't be a problem. Deaf Objectivists aren't exactly well catered for however.

Moony said...

Anonymous Ian

Thanks for the link. It would appear that I've been a Popperian for a long time without realising it! Is there a uniform?

Michael Prescott said...

Thanks for this excellent post, Neil. I'm particularly grateful that you pointed us to the ad for the documentary bio of Peiokff. The text is classic.

"This compelling film reveals the story of a brilliant intellect who forsook a career in medicine ..."

"Forsook"? As I understand it, the 17-year-old Leonard was mulling a career in medicine but had second thoughts after meeting Rand. In other words, he changed his mind about what to major in. Wow.

The sad fact is that there's nothing heroic or compelling about Peikoff's life, as the blurb for the documentary unintentionally makes clear. When your claim to heroism is that you published Ayn Rand's marginalia, the term "heroism" is simply being stretched too far.

I'm also amazed by the photo they chose of Peikoff in connection with his "DIM hypothesis" CD. Admittedly, though, the pic does lend new meaning to the term "DIM."

Jay said...

Michael,

You're underestimating Peikoff's change in career paths. When he was 17, medicine was "the" career. That was the height of the "you wanna succeed? you grow up and be a doctor someday!" mantra. Giving up that surefire path for an uncertain future in philosophy was a bold decision. Sadly, few people choose their true passion over more lucrative but less fulfilling careers. Funny how it's Objectivists, and not those people, who are said to be obsessed with money.

The tag line was also spot on about his brilliant intellect. I'd heard most of the subjectivist/intrinsicist arguments he covered from people in my life, and could never put my finger down on why they were wrong until reading OPAR. In fact, for much of the book I felt like he went into way more detail than Rand herself.

Michael Prescott said...

>Giving up that surefire path for an uncertain future in philosophy was a bold decision.

He chose a career in academia instead of medicine. A tenured professor has the safest job in the world, with the possible exception of a civil servant. Could he have made more money in medicine? Who knows? Some doctors are rich, others struggle. Peikoff was Canadian; do doctors in Canada's nationalized health system pull down big bucks?

Remember also that Peikoff was convinced Atlas Shrugged would sweep the world in no time and render all other philosophical systems obsolete. As one of the few Objectivist philosophers available, he would have been in great demand. I'm not saying he was in it just for the money, but he must have expected to do well. And he has certainly cashed in on his connection with Rand, putting out a ton of high-priced CDs and audiotapes. If spreading the message is his top priority, why the $150+ pricetags?

Didn't he used to charge something like $20,000 for two weeks of teaching at the Thomas Jefferson Institute? His high fees helped put TJI out of business, as I recall.

Nor do I believe that Peikoff is a brilliant intellect. He spent 14 years writing The Ominous Parallels, and David Gordon demolished it in five minutes. I reread parts of that book recently and was astonished at how facile and tendentious it is. (I admit I was impressed by it when it came out - but I was only 21 at the time, and a full-bore Objectivist.)

Peikoff strikes me as a typical cult leader, hawking CDs and seminars, putting out propagandistic books, demanding allegiance to the guru's party line, and posturing as a heroic martyr while enriching himself on the backs of his bedazzled supporters.

But your mileage may vary, of course. :)

Robert Campbell said...

A career in academia is extremely insecure, *unless* you get tenure. And the job market for tenure-track professors of philosophy has been in the toilet since 1970.

Leonard Peikoff was turned down when he came up for tenure at Brooklyn College (his last teaching job). This was around 1980. He had no publications in academic philosophy journals, and one still unpublished book manuscript (for The Ominous Parallels) that some of his colleagues allegedly didn't think was really philosophy.

Maybe becoming the guru in residence at the Ayn Rand Institute was his substitute for tenure. Given his control of the Ayn Rand Archives, and the crucial role played by the cards he allows ARI to insert into Rand's books, his control of ARI is impossible to challenge.

In the earlier part of his career, when he spent a good portion of his time teaching non-Objectivist undergraduates, I think Dr. Peikoff was a pretty effective teacher. He has never been a good writer, however. (One of the saddest passages in that DVD about him comes when he praises Ayn Rand for teaching how to write, by repeatedly tearing up chapters of The Ominous Parallel and telling to rewrite them.) The more closely I've studied his second book, OPAR, the worse I've realized it is.

What I do think has happened since he left the classroom--then freaked out over Barbara Branden's biography of Ayn Rand--is that his lecturing skills have deteriorated. Doing nearly all your speaking in front of fawning adepts can have that efect.

Robert Campbell

Kelly said...

"Giving up that surefire path". There is nothing surefire about a path in medicine, and at 17 there are many career paths available. If he had already begun medical school and was a few years deep, and excelling, then maybe it would be more impressive.

Jay,

phrases like "The results of Rand’s work were not only solutions to problems which have bedeviled philosophers for centuries, but a practical, easy-to-understand, guide to life for Everyman: “a philosophy for living on earth” are in no way comparable to Greg's use of "Empty Verbalism". Greg is judging and criticizing ideas, the above phrase is just heaping praise and doing nothing at all to describe or argue the philosophy.

Michael Prescott said...

>A career in academia is extremely insecure, *unless* you get tenure. And the job market for tenure-track professors of philosophy has been in the toilet since 1970.

I guess you're right, so I stand corrected. I still don't think there's anything heroic, or even unusual, about a teenager vascillating between different career paths, though.

And since Peikoff anticipated the immediate worldwide acceptance of Objectivism as soon as Atlas hit the stores, he may have expected a smoother path.

dragonfly said...

I think Peikoff was just following his guru, there is nothing "heroic" about that. Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if he himself had been the author of that ridiculous ad. Who else could have come up with that overblown praise for such a mediocrity?

gregnyquist said...

Dragonfly: "I think Peikoff was just following his guru, there is nothing 'heroic' about that. Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if he himself had been the author of that ridiculous ad. Who else could have come up with that overblown praise for such a mediocrity?"

Although I agree that there is nothing heroic in Peikoff's following his guru (though I'm willing cut him some slack for showing loyalty to Rand, to whom he owed his entire career), I seriously doubt that Peikoff wrote his own ad copy. And indeed, that is precisely the problem: he has around him people who actually regard him in that light and say so in his presence. It's not good for human beings to be constantly praised like that, whether they are mediocrities or not. I would also disagree about him being a mediocrity. The results of his career are mediocre (or worse), but that isn't because he was a mediocrity. I see him, rather, as one of those intelligent people destitute of genius and brilliance who are nevertheless expected to be brilliant—a lethal combination, generative only of heartache, tears, and disagreeable farces. Behind the foolishness and arrogance that glitters on the surface of Peikoff's life there is a tragedy of unrealistic expectations that Peikoff could never live up to.

Jay said...

What does "brilliant" mean, in this context? It seems the most common charge against Peikoff is he didn't publish in peer reviewed philosophy journals and, therefore, his intellect and conclusions are suspect. Well, where are all the "brilliant" academic philosophers who do publish? Lack of journal publishing strikes me as a superficial reason for denying his intellectual prowess.

(Note: I am not endorsing his recent alleged anti-Einstein beliefs. I am too ignorant of the subject to render an opinion.)

Ellen Stuttle said...

About Leonard Peikoff's choosing between medicine and philosophy as a career. He did not want to be a medical doctor; he was being pushed in that direction by his father ("My son the doctor") and discouraged from philosophy as "impractical." The first discussions he had with AR, according to his own and both Brandens' accounts, pertained to her helping him toward clarity on the practical vis-a-vis the moral. The choice took some courage, in going against his father's wishes, but it wasn't that he was giving up a career for which he had any desire.

Also, my opinion is that he would have made a VERY bad medical doctor. Scientific thought even to the extent of medicine isn't his bag -- and what one has to go through in getting a medical degree I think he'd have found withering. (I come from a family of medical people, and I've heard a lot about what medical training is like.) I have my doubts he even could have made it to the degree.

As a philosophy teacher, however, I agree with Robert Campbell that Leonard was good in the old days when he was teaching to a lot of non-O'ist undergraduates as well as giving O'ist courses. I also think he'd have been a good minor academic philosopher if he hadn't had to "suppress" -- his description of it in a course of his I think called "The Art of Reasoning" -- his doubts and questions re other views in relation to AR's views. (He had to suppress because she'd get irritated with him and he risked losing her approval, which was terribly important to him. He idolized her.)

Re the text of the advertising copy for the DVD: I think it's clear he didn't write all of it himself, though possibly he helped with some of it. He carefully does not describe himself on his own website as AR's "intellectual heir." He apparently doesn't object to the description, but the only time which has been found (in some searching which occurred on OL) where he used the description himself was in "Fact and Value."

Ellen

Wells said...

I guess I should weigh in.

I am not going to accuse Piekoff or anyone else, Objectivist or not, of being too concerned with money. Frankly, I don't think there is any such thing as being too concerned with money. If I ever have accused anyone of this non-existent vice, I apologize.

I can't accuse him of being a hero either. I mean, what fires did he fight? what battles was he involved in? what crooks did he collar? Probably none.
Although that isn't really anything against him. Not all heros do that sort of thing. Piekoff is an intellectual so maybe that's not even Piekoff's role in life. He probably would do different things to be heroic. What revolutions did he participate in? What diseases did he cure? What codes did he break? What inventions did he patent? Heck, what villains did he fight?
I'm thinking none.

Neil Parille said...

One of the reasons I'm reluctant to spend money on Peikoff's courses is that, as David R. Steele once said, you don't get the impression that Peikoff has struggled with a philosophical question since graduate school.

I mean A is A, therfore ESP doesn't exist, stuff like that.

gregnyquist said...

Jay: "What does 'brilliant' mean, in this context? It seems the most common charge against Peikoff is he didn't publish in peer reviewed philosophy journals and, therefore, his intellect and conclusions are suspect."

Brilliance has little if anything to do with publication in peer reviewed journals. It has to do with Peikoff's work in general, which, even at its best, never shows more than mere competence, and at its worse, descends into the maudlin and the embarrassing. Even in his own speciality of expositing Objectivism, he is clearly second-rate. Simply compare OPAR with the so-called "beta" version of David Kelly's book on Rand's philosophy. I have plenty of issues with Kelly's work, but its plainly the product of a mind that has more resevoirs of intelligence than Peikoff's mind.

Neil Parille said...

I was skimming Kelley's book and it's quite good. Since the "beta" version was 1999, I assume we'll see it when Peikoff's DIM book comes out.

http://objectivistcenter.org/cth--1354-Logical_Structure_Objectivism.aspx

robert campbell said...

Jay,

I mentioned Leonard Peikoff's lack of published journal articles because that's what led to his being denied tenure. Of course, much of what is published in academic philosophy journals is dull and unoriginal. By the same toekn, it certainly isn't beyond Dr. Peikoff's level of learning or intellectual acumen. My interpretation is that he just couldn't be bothered doing it (there is a certain amount of tedium involved in the process).

But my evaluation of Peikoff's intellect, and his skill as a philosopher, comes from what he actually published--his two books, and his articles in Objectivist publications. I repeat, if you read the stuff carefully, and think about it, you'll be surprised (if you come from a Randian background--mileage will vary for those from other backgrounds) at how badly argued it all is.

During my recent close study of a couple of sections of OPAR, I not only found Dr. Peikoff engaging in maudlin (good word!) and preposterous exaggerations--I expected those--but flatly contradicting myself. The most egregious case was self-contradiction *within one paragraph.* I mean, come on, how hard is it to catch something like that and clean it up, before you send your manuscript out the door?

Ellen,

On the DVD, Leonard Peikoff does identify himself as Ayn Rand's "legal and intellectual heir" (the precise phrase that he employed in "Fact and Value." I was a little surprised at this, but there's no ambiguity.

On the other hand, in the on-camera interviews on the DVD, he never refers to his life as heroic. In fact, he refers to it as rather comfortable, and claims to have anticipated the opposition to his ideas and taken it in stride. (There is lingering bitterness in his account of his academic career, however. In some of his latter-day lectures, it is much more apparent than on the DVD.)

Greg Nyquist,

I've read a fair amount of David Kelley's work, and went through a lot of back and forth with him when I did a review of a book by Owen Flanagan for what was then called The Navigator. I have a lot of disagreements with him about philosophical matters, but he is the real deal. I doubt that Leonard Peikoff was ever on his level as a philosopher. And Dr. Kelley is a much better writer.

Robert Campbell

robert campbell said...

My typing isn't accurate enough these days for unstructured comment fields...

Anyhow, I meant to say that Peikoff contradicts *himself* in the pages of OPAR.

No point in trying to fix the minor slips...

Robert Campbell

Neil Parille said...

David Gordon, who disliked Peikoff's 2 books, says he enjoyed Peikoff's history of philosophy tapes. (I think they date from the early to mid 70s.)

According to Jeff Walker, Peikoff did have two journal articles published.

Peikoff does seem bitter toward 'the acedemy.' I'm thinking of his claim in OPAR that most philosophy professors don't count as human beings.

When I listed to his free DIM course last year, I was struck by how out of touch he seems with anything non-Objectivist. For example, he said he never heard of Richard Feynman, one of the few physicists people like me have heard of. He said that the early Christins rejected classical culture, apparently obvlivious to what early Christianity (and the Reformation) was about. There were plenty other examples.

Neil Parille said...

Ellen,

On Peikoff's web site there is the article "Fact and Value" in which LP says the following:
______

Now I wish to make a request to any unadmitted anti-Objectivists reading this piece, a request that I make as Ayn Rand's intellectual and legal heir.
______

-Neil Parille

Robert Campbell said...

Neil,

The two academic articles mentioned by Jeff Walker were published in 1984 and 1985, if memory serves. This was several years *after* Leonard Peikoff's academic career ended. Perhaps he had thoughts, just before starting up the Ayn Rand Institute, of trying to return to academic life? I really don't know.

I hadn't rechecked the precise word order on the DVD against "Fact and Value." The claims are not verbatim equivalent but they appear to mean the same thing.

Robert Campbell

gregnyquist said...

Robert Campbell: "This was several years *after* Leonard Peikoff's academic career ended. Perhaps he had thoughts, just before starting up the Ayn Rand Institute, of trying to return to academic life?"

My understanding is that, upon moving to the SoCal sometime after Rand's death, Peikoff applied to UC Irvine and was rejected. I don't know the exact time frame, but it to be after '82 and, I would guess, before '86. Back in the eighties, the focus among the orthodox Objectivists was to penetrate the Universities. Peikoff once stated in a Q & A after a Ford Hall Forum lecture that he believed if Objectivists could get a couple of courses of Objectivism in the Ivy League college and the battle would be more or less won. ARI was going to change the world by teaching Objectivism to undergrads. In the nineties, Peikoff became infatuated with Talk Radio, so I don't know if that's still the main focus over at ARI.

Michael Prescott said...

one of those intelligent people destitute of genius and brilliance who are nevertheless expected to be brilliant ... there is a tragedy of unrealistic expectations that Peikoff could never live up to.

This was the theme of Kay Nolte Smith's Requiem for a Soprano, a book I read years ago. Smith was a longtime friend of Ayn Rand before their eventual falling-out. The story involves a young singer who falls under the influence of an opera diva and becomes the victim of impossible expectations.

Jeff Walker, in The Ayn Rand Cult, asserts that the young soprano ("Jenny") was modeled after Peikoff ("Lenny"). I'd assumed she was modeled after Barbara Branden ... but who knows?

Robert Campbell said...

Greg,

I hadn't heard about the approach to UC Irvine. But that would serve to explain the timing of those two academic articles.

Dr. Peikoff has personally blown hot and cold several times about academia. In the mid-1970s, for instance, he tried to discourage Randians from going into academia.

These days, he seems to be extremely bitter and negative about academia. But the Ayn Rand Institute has an announced strategy ("the funnel" is what Yaron Brook calls it) of training, grooming, and placing ARIan intellectuals in academia.

ARI also has a tight relationship with the Anthem Foundation (which gives grants only to ARI-sponsored academics) and BB&T (which supports ARI affiliates predominantly but not exclusively).

The current strategy sometimes fails, as when Texas State said "thanks but no thanks" to an Anthem-funded placement of Andrew Bernstein. But it has helped a sprinkling of orthodox Objectivists to get faculty positions.

Robert Campbell