Prepare Ye the Way for “The Prophet of Causation”
A few years ago, after I published my book of essays on Atlas Shrugged, I reflected on the big new thing I learned from writing them and gathering them together: a new perspective on Ayn Rand’s philosophy. I hailed her as “the prophet of causation,” playing off her own description of the rational man as a “disciple of causation.” Yes, the religious overtones are meant ironically, both by her and by me—though I would point out that the word “prophet” originally just meant “messenger,” which has a perfectly reasonable secular meaning.
This new perspective is about the central role of the law of cause and effect as a theme that carries through from Ayn Rand’s metaphysics to her politics and esthetics. As I have begun to investigate this idea, I have found it tremendously helpful in understanding Ayn Rand’s philosophy and providing clues to new, previously unexplored aspects of Objectivism. This includes her unique (but never fully articulated) case for property rights, her view of “human nature,” the unexplored connections between her philosophy and Darwin’s theory of evolution, her distinctive version of Romanticism in literature, and even her view of what causation is in the first place.
Ever since then, I’ve been wanting to develop these ideas further, and I’ve reached the point where I’ve built up enough new insights that I am impatient to move forward. This being the modern world, I don’t have to wait, because the tools for launching this are easily available. I’m using a new Substack newsletter called The Prophet of Causation as a way of supporting a course in which I will develop these ideas further, and also as a way for those who find this project interesting to crowdfund its development.
The center of this project is a series of ten lectures that I will deliver via Zoom from late February to the end of June. I’ll be doing the lectures once every two weeks, because I’ve got a lot of other things going on—and you’ll see announcements about some of that in the coming months—so I don’t want to push the schedule too aggressively.
People who subscribe to the new Substack will be able to participate in these lectures live, and I hope many of you will so we can have some interesting Q&As. But I know everyone has a little bit of “Zoom fatigue,” and it's hard to fit a regular event into your schedule. So subscribers will also be able to access recordings of the lectures, and those of you who prefer podcasts can listen to them that way. I will also post some written material to the newsletter, as well as answering questions in the comments sections and occasionally hosting discussions.
You will notice that the monthly subscription cost for this course is the same as the annual cost, $250, which basically just means that I want you to buy one annual subscription, which will get you access to the entire course and all the related materials. And it’s just one—you won’t ever be billed gain. I expect all of the main material for this course to be delivered in the first year, and subscribers will all be transferred over to lifetime subscriptions that will give you permanent access to all the lectures and any follow-ups, including updates and selections from the future development of a book.
Since part of the purpose of this newsletter is to crowdfund my work in philosophy, you will also notice that there is an option to be become a “founding” subscriber by giving more than $250, if you wish to do so. I think this is going to blaze some new trails in the understanding of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, so I think you will find it worthwhile.
To give you a preview of the content of the course, here’s my sketch of the topics it will cover. Some of the details may change, because part of the point of doing this is that I will come up with new ideas as I’m going along. But the overall direction of the course should remain the same.
1. The Prophet of Causation
We will examine the basic idea of the course through a careful reading of Ayn Rand’s 1975 article “Causality Versus Duty,” a very late entry in the articulation of her philosophy. Then we will sketch out how this idea runs as a theme throughout her philosophy and literature.
We will explore how Ayn Rand’s view of causality differs from that of other philosophers, particularly Aristotle and Hume. We will end by considering the special case of “final causation”: goal-directed action as a form of causation.
3. Causality and Consciousness, Part 1
We will examine Ayn Rand’s doctrine of the “primacy of existence” as a causal view of consciousness, with close analysis of important passages from Galt’s Speech. Part one will explore how this causal view of consciousness applies to the sensory and perceptual level, and how it contrast to the theories of Immanuel Kant.
4. Causality and Consciousness, Part 2
Part two explores how a causal view of consciousness applies to concept-formation and more widely to logic and objectivity and their role in human survival.
5. Causality and Human Nature
How Ayn Rand’s view of “human nature” differs subtly but radically from the common view, and particularly from the current vogue of “evolutionary psychology.” We will look at the largely unexplored relationship between Ayn Rand’s views and Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection.
6. The Operation of the Moral Law
We will examine Ayn Rand’s formulation of her ethics as “the operation of the moral law” and how this provides an answer to the “is-ought gap.” We will also look at how this compares to Enlightenment-era attempts to discover a secular foundation for morality.
7. The Disciple of Causality
We will look at where Ayn Rand’s ethics falls among the usual categorization of ethical theories as deontological, consequentialist, or virtue ethics. We will then look at the consequences of this for Ayn Rand’s view of virtue and of the particular virtues, with some special attention to the issue of self-esteem.
8. Causality and Freedom
We will look at how Ayn Rand’s argument for individual liberty is primarily a causal one, and especially how it relates to the theories of John Locke. We will also look at how her politics brings together the role of causality in both epistemology and ethics.
9. Causality and Capitalism
We will piece together Ayn Rand’s causal theory of property, looking at it in contrast to the Lockean theory of property. We will look at how Ayn Rand’s causal view of capitalism integrates economics with ethics, particularly as reflected in passages from Atlas Shrugged.
10. Causality and Romanticism
We will look at how her concept of causality shapes Ayn Rand’s view of art and her own literary style. We will examine particularly how this allowed her to integrate the worldview of the Enlightenment with the esthetics of Romanticism. Finally, we will return to and examine the meaning and implications of the phrase, “disciple of causality.”
Sign up now to be part of this exploration of Ayn Rand’s philosophy and to help in the development of new explanations of and elaborations on Objectivism.
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I really like the explanation of the word "prophet" meaning messenger and I thank you for pointing that out. You are doing a great job with all your work, and I am a big fan. LL