Rival Defenses of American Capitalism

Syllabus (PDF)  •  Newsletter Coverage (PDF)  •  Prior students’ comments: 2012  •  Prior students’ comments on my similar Stanford course: 20112010

Brown University, Department of Political Science, POLS1822P  •  Fall 2014  •  Tuesdays 4:00pm–6:20pm

In the United States, the moral justification for laissez-faire capitalism widely accepted in the late eighteenth century came under sustained attack from the time of debates about slavery in the mid nineteenth century to the rise of Progressivism in the early twentieth. This course examines four schools of thought that subsequently arose to defend capitalism: that of free-market economists such as Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman; that of Protestants and Catholics who advanced a religiously grounded defense; that of Ayn Rand’s followers, who proposed to defend the morality of capitalism with a morality of selfishness; and libertarian theories. Our study will show that the differences and rivalries between these schools are as charged and as fundamental as any between capitalism and its critics. Primary sources will provide the bulk of the reading material.  The course will include a reading of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and conclude with an application of the rival theories to a few current public policy issues. 

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Politics and Philosophy of Ayn Rand

Syllabus (PDF)

Brown University, Department of Political Science, POLS1823P  •  Fall 2013  •  Tuesdays 4:00pm–6:20pm

This seminar will examine the political and philosophical thought of Ayn Rand (1905–1982). We will begin with her political ideology and continue to the philosophical foundations she claims justify that ideology. The latter quarter of the seminar will explore applications of her philosophy to foreign affairs, religion, current events, and areas of student interest. Our sources will include Rand’s non-fiction essays, her novel Atlas Shrugged, the main exposition of her work Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, and criticisms by Robert Nozick and others. Enrollment limited to 20 juniors and seniors. 

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The History of Scientific Methods, Pythagoras to Popper

Prior students’ comments: 2010, 2009, 2007  •  Syllabus (PDF) 

Stanford HPS 154 / PHIL 163H  •  Spring 2012

How do scientists know what they know—or claim to know? It’s an important question, not just for scientists themselves, but for any of us who drive on bridges without fear, subject ourselves to doctor’s prescriptions, or must decide whether grade-school teachers should teach evolution or intelligent design. Science and its products pervade our personal, political, institutional, and cultural lives. We need to know where it comes from and whether it is reliable. How do scientists know what they know? Well, we might say, they use the “scientific method.” But, alas, there are now and have long been vigorous disagreements over exactly what a proper scientific method is.

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Moral Foundations of Capitalism

Prior students’ comments: 20112010  •   Syllabus (PDF)   •   In the news

Stanford EthicSoc 157 / 257  •  Winter 2012  •  Tuesdays and Thursdays 4:15–5:45

American capitalism, at least as originally promulgated, presumed a moral foundation of selfish individualism. Critics of such a morality have consequently denigrated capitalism. But others have tried to defend it either by appealing to an alternate foundation or by defending the morality of selfish individualism. In this course, we will explore three such groups of defenders: free-market economists who have defended capitalism on social, economic, or collective grounds; theologians and conservatives who have defended capitalism using a religious or altruist foundation; and Ayn Rand, who has proposed to defend the morality of selfishness.

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History of Modern Science and Technology

Prior students’ comments: 2011  •  Syllabus (PDF)

Stevens HHS 479 / CAL 529  •  Fall 2011  •  Mondays 6:15pm–8:45pm

Advances in science and technology since the Renaissance have been extraordinary. In this course, we will survey those advances—in physics, industrial technology, chemistry, electricity, biology, social science, and medicine.

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Nineteenth-Century Philosophy of Science

Prior students’ comments: 2009  •  Syllabus (PDF)

Stanford HPS 220 with cognate listings in Philosophy and History

The nineteenth century was the center of what has been called the Second Scientific Revolution. There was also a revolution—or rather several overlapping revolutions—in the philosophy of science. The century opened with a virtually universal belief in a Newtonian world of deterministic laws and in the method of inductive inquiry developed by Francis Bacon. By the end of the century, statistically oriented science was replacing deterministic and Bacon’s inductive method was mocked.

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