Feb 26, 2009

Objectivist Roundup

Welcome to the February 26, 2009 Objectivist Roundup!

Objectivism is the philosophy created by Ayn Rand (1905-1982). She described it as a "philosophy for living on earth." For the five branches of that philosophy, the foundational ideas are: objective reality (metaphysics); reason (epistemology); self-interest (ethics); capitalism (politics); and romantic-realism in art (esthetics).

For the events of Ayn Rand's life, read Jeff Britting, Ayn Rand, 2004. For her philosophical thoughts, with leads to individual writings, peruse The Ayn Rand Lexicon, editor Harry Binswanger. Unique among primary philosophers, Ayn Rand not only wrote technical philosophical works (such as Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology), but she was also a best-selling fiction writer showing her philosophy in action--for example, in her novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. (The Ayn Rand Bookstore carries all of her works.)

This Roundup includes the following articles written by supporters of Objectivism:

Kendall J presents Inflation Temptation posted at simply Capitalism. "When economists start claiming that a little inflation is good for the economy, watch out!"

Miranda Barzey presents My Visit to Obamaland posted at Ramen & Rand.

Ryan Krause presents How Capitalist Capital Markets Should Work posted at The Money Speech.

Roberto Sarrionandia presents Empathy with Maniacs posted at Tito's Blog. "Britain's suicide strategy for extremism."

Benjamin Skipper presents Socratic Questions about the Israel-Gaza Conflict posted at Benpercent. "This essay examines three questions about the Israel-Gaza conflict that should have been given public debate, but instead have been left to cultural defaults."

Stephen Bourque presents Penn and Teller Explain Sleight of Hand posted at One Reality. "Up to now, I’ve been regarding the government’s activities to be the result of serious economic thinking. However, if one views all this as mere theatre, a sort of grotesque and fascinating vaudeville act, it renders it comprehensible."

Gus Van Horn presents Welfare and Borderline Cases posted at Gus Van Horn. "[A] borderline case in the realm of lending standards ... [is] being used to obliterate a black-and-white moral objection to a government policy of theft and passing out stolen goods."

J. Brian Phillips presents My Virtual Platform: Taxes posted at Houston Property Rights. "Most people complain that taxes are too high. I would agree. The reason that taxes are too high is because government attempts to do too many things, most are which are outside of its proper and legitimate sphere."

Ari Armstrong presents 9News Covers 'Low-Carb Food Stamp Diet' posted at FreeColorado.com. "Denver's NBC affiliate covered my "Low-Carb Food Stamp Diet.""

Michael Labeit presents On the Epistemological and Ethical Superiority of Capitalism posted at Philosophical Mortician. "Learn how a system discovered by rationality in turn positively reinforces further rationality."

To submit a weblog article to the next Objectivist Roundup use our submission form. For past posts and future hosts, see: blog carnival index page.

Technorati tags: , .

Feb 7, 2009

Ayn Rand on writing book reviews

"In 1969," editor Robert Mayhew says, "Ayn Rand gave a course on nonfiction writing to . . . friends and associates" who might become writers for her magazine, The Objectivist.[1] The course, edited, now appears in book form as The Art of Nonfiction. One small part of her course focuses on writing book reviews, an important element of her magazine dedicated to applying philosophy to contemporary culture. Following are my notes from the first half of Chapter 9, "Book Reviews and Introductions," plus a few comments.

What is a book review? I would say a book review is an essay that describes the essential nature of a particular book and evaluates it. A book review presents both facts and values--what a book is and what it is worth.

Why write a book review? The general reason for reviewing a book is to announce to a certain audience that a particular book exists. As a reviewer, you could also have special purposes. For example, you might want to encourage a particular writer by publicizing his book, thus increasing its sales and influence.[2] I can see at least two other special motivations. First, to save your audience from wasting time and money, you might occasionally review a book that is wildly popular and seductively advertised, but has an undeserved reputation. Second, you might want to write an informal review for yourself as a way of recording your thoughts about a book that will probably be important to you throughout your career. For example, a student of history planning to teach someday might want to write an informal book review of a classic history text such as the seminal work, The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea, by Arthur O. Lovejoy. As another example, an author writing a book of his own might informally review each work he frequently cites--as a way of preparing for discussions of his sources with critics in his field. (Upper level undergraduate, as well as graduate, students of history will recognize these informal reviews as resources for writing a bibliographic essay to accompany a thesis or dissertation.)

What are the main components of a book review? Generally, a book review mostly describes the essential nature of the book: What is the book's subject? Its theme? Its style? Its approach (for example, tutorial or scholarly)? The review should not recapitulate the book, following it step by step, and should not misrepresent the book by reporting nonessentials while ignoring essential characteristics.

Use quotations from the reviewed book as proof statements. Ideally, the quotations will show the book's subject matter, theme, style, and approach, thus confirming what you have said and earning the reader's trust. A major problem, however, is finding quotations that serve those purposes but are also brief and representative of the whole book.

The second major component of a book review, after describing its nature, is your evaluation of the book. Is it a "good" book--if so, for whom and why?[3] Any evaluation, I think, should be backed up quickly with facts and reasons. "Good" alone is floating. More precise terms would be more helpful: "informative," "thoughtful," and "objective" are examples, if established in the text of a full review.

The third major component of a book review is a brief sketch of "the book's philosophical and stylistic flaws." Indicate the author's errors that might confuse a less experienced reader of the book. Do not debate the author or propagandize ("A review is not a polemic," Ayn Rand says), but instead briefly refer the reader to other works that offer a correct view.[4]

What are pitfalls for novice book reviewers? One pitfall in writing book reviews is focusing--without telling your readers what you are doing--on a small element of a book because it is especially interesting to you but is not representative of the book as a whole.[5] A second pitfall is telling an author of a book how you think he should have written it. To do so is a context-dropping act of arrogance.[6] A third pitfall is failing to make clear to your reader when you are speaking for yourself (in evaluating the book) and when you are speaking for the author (by describing the book). This difficulty arises frequently because, rather than presenting a block of facts followed by a block of evaluations, an effective book review usually interweaves descriptions with evaluations.[7]

In summary, an objective book review tells and shows readers what a book is and what value it has.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

[1] The course was recorded and, many years later, transcribed and edited. The result is Ayn Rand, The Art of Nonfiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers, editor Robert Mayhew, New York, Penguin/Plume, 2001. For the Mayhew quotation: p. xi. To buy the book: http://www.aynrandbookstore. [2] For Rand's purposes in reviewing books in The Objectivist: ANF, pp. 145-146. [3] For Rand's comments on the first two major components of a book review: ANF, pp. 147-149. [4] For describing a book's flaws: ANF, pp. 149-150. For not using a book review to propagandize: ANF, p. 152. [5] For the reviewer needing to say he is giving special attention to a minor part of the book: ANF, pp. 148-149. [6] For stating flaws and offering possible solutions, rather than prescribing the way an author should have written a book: ANF, pp. 150-151. [7] For distinguishing but interweaving description and evaluation: ANF, pp. 151-152.