Friday, May 09, 2008


Since 2005, the BB&T Charitable Foundation has given 25 colleges and universities several million dollars to start programs devoted to the study of Rand's books and economic philosophy.
Don't worry, some good may come of it:
The money would establish a course dedicated to Rand's Atlas Shrugged and Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, and help create the BB&T Center for the Advancement of American Capitalism on campus.
Something tells me that Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments will not be the subject of intense study at these programs. Still, Adam Smith - a real philosopher! I am audacious enough to hope for the best.

Someone actually sounds, well, sort of scared by the idea:
But not everyone at the university is excited by the gift. Rick Wilson, a sociology instructor at Marshall and head of the West Virginia Economic Justice Project, says that Rand's philosophy, objectivism, is based on the view that selfishness is the only moral value.

"[Objectivism] goes against the collective wisdom of the human race, I think, pretty much everywhere," says Wilson. "I think it's a curious interpretation of philanthropy to use corporate money to promote, really, an extreme philosophy."
No one who reads this blog has any doubts about my opinion of Ayn Rand and her philosophy. But even I don't think there is anything to fear, exactly, from Ayn Rand, because her philosophy is hilariously bad and holds little danger of fooling a large number of people. Rand's own antagonism actually marginalizes her thought, because it's impossible to take Rand seriously without trashing most of Western philosophy. Given the choice, I think most people who read Rand and then read Kant will realize that Kant was on to something, which excludes any consideration of Rand, on her own terms. People who read substantial parts of philosophy might also realize that Rand was an ungrateful plagiarist - the philosophers from whom she copied shamelessly were bad people! Hate them! Except to the extent that I ripped them off!

Yeah, whatever. Ayn Rand is a convenient punching-bag. I will make use of her whenever she pops up to annoy me again.

Hey, look at this:
But Marshall professor Cal Kent, who is slated to direct the center funded by the grant, says BB&T officials just want to give students an additional perspective on capitalism.

"In my experience you're not able to propagandize students," says Kent. "Certainly that's not our intent in this course, and if it were our intent, we would be doomed for failure from the beginning."
Yes, my experience of undergraduate philosophical study is that it is impossible to propagandize students. After all, we know Marx was totally right about everything, so it's hardly propaganda to say that, right?

I did want to say something serious about Ayn Rand. Her rejection of Kant and, really, all philosophy since Kant is not the product of any amount of thought. "Objectivism" is a naive empirical realism, the kind of epistemology that became obsolete after Kant. It's one thing to say that Kant's solution to the problem was wrong, and to come up with another - we've had over two hundred years of that kind of criticism. It's another to say there was never a problem at all. That kind of thinking is impossible without a wilful blindness about human thought. To that extent, Objectivists are the equivalent of Flat Earthers.

Moving on. College is overrated. A bachelor's is overrated in part because people have conflicting expectations of it. Some people want the enlightenment of a liberal education; some want an admission ticket to lucrative employment; some people want both. A BA in philosophy, to take one example (hmmm), will not get you a good job. It will get you one of those jobs that, inexplicably, require a bachelor's but which actually require nothing that could not be done by millions without a college education (car salesman comes to mind). But an undergraduate education in philosophy can be enlightening and edifying, if the student makes the effort. There is a conflict here, too - the employment-prerequisite function can be achieved by doing the minimum of required work, but enlightenment requires real thought and may not track exactly with grades anyway. The 100-level course in astronomy that everyone takes, or the gutted* "Philosophy of Mathematics" course that everyone takes instead of Calc I, are easy As. They probably also do nothing for your education, any more than attending the required orientation program (which is technically part of the required curriculum and, thus, a graduation requirement).

If you want your bachelor's degree to get you a job, then major in engineering. It's that simple. Kill your dreams of a liberal education and just treat college as a trade school. There's nothing shameful about it. If you want a liberal education, then accept that you may need to go to law school or graduate school to get a decent job, and even then, your prospects are dim. Resign yourself to difficult job prospects, and be content merely in learning.

I have found that those who really want to learn from college often have to use the required readings and lectures as a springboard, because what is done in class is inevitably inadequate. Intelligent people will have no problem with this, besides wondering why college is so expensive if most of the learning has to be done on one's own. Why indeed. The above-average but not extremely intelligent are really screwed by college. They go to college because they are intelligent enough to understand things, but need guidance and explanations. That these people probably make up a majority of the college population is an embarrassment for higher education.

So, stop expecting college to get you a job making $100,000 a year while enabling you to be as witty in conversation as Frasier Crane.

I wanted to finish off with some thoughts about Ben Stein's new movie, but meh. I'll get to it later. Oh, and Mr. Milne, I haven't forgotten about that Yale "artist," to whose folly I will get soon.

*To the one person for whom this will matter, by "gutted" I mean "it dropped the Morris Kline book because it involved too much math for people." The department also got rid of Symbolic Logic some years ago. To be fair, I think the PhiMath course no longer counts as Quantitative Reasoning, though it's still an interdisciplinary - disgusting.


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