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An Objectivist Conference in the Birthplace of Philosophy

AynRandCon-Athens 2023 was a uniquely rich philosophical and cultural experience.

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Is there a better place to discuss important questions about ethics, human nature and the nature of reality than the birthplace of philosophy, Greece? Between April 7 and 10, more than two hundred fans of Ayn Rand, students and intellectuals came to AynRandCon 2023 in Athens — the home of the philosophy schools of Plato and Aristotle. They listened to philosophic talks, engaged with like-minded people and admired the historical treasures and beautiful landscapes of the capital city of Greece. I’m elated I was there.

The conference venue provided a unique experience for every attendee. The main venue was the Zappeion, a beautiful neoclassical building located just next to the breathtaking National Gardens of Athens. On Friday evening we gathered in the Zappeion’s circular peristyle and, accompanied by local Greek music and good wine, listened to Nikos Sotirakopoulos’s and Tal Tsfany’s opening remarks. Conversation followed, allowing us to meet old and new friends. Everyone was excited about what lay ahead.

Aaron Smith kicked off Saturday morning session with his introductory talk about Ayn Rand’s ideas, reaching out to the many newcomers at the conference. Onkar Ghate, chief philosophy officer at ARI, explained why altruism is evil; Tara Smith, professor of philosophy at UT Austin, gave an in-depth presentation of Rand’s distinctive view of selfishness. After a buffet lunch at the picturesque Zappeion garden, Greg Salmieri, a prominent scholar of Objectivism and Aristotle (also at UT), argued that capitalism is the social system that protects the distinctive human way of living. Later that day the speakers appeared on Q&A panels about Objectivism and its relationship to ancient Greek philosophy.

“If there is a philosophical Atlas who carries the whole of Western civilization on his shoulders, it is Aristotle.” This is how Ayn Rand begins “Review of Aristotle by John Herman Randall, Jr.” Rand acknowledged Aristotle’s intellectual influence on her thinking; in “For the New Intellectual,” she praised him: “Aristotle’s philosophy was the intellect’s Declaration of Independence.” This made the second day of the conference truly special, as we met at the location of Aristotle’s school, the Lyceum. There, Salmieri compared Rand’s and Aristotle’s views on the standard of value and Robert Mayhew, philosophy professor at Seton Hall University, told us the story of the figures who taught at the Lyceum and their influence in ancient Greece.

Back in the Zappeion we listened to Tara Smith’s lecture on the opposition between reason and faith, Sotirakopoulos’s thought-provoking talk “Anti-Americanism and Anti-Capitalism” and Tsfany’s energizing presentation on happiness. Afterwards, everyone could participate in a mentoring/networking session with professional intellectuals, scholars and entrepreneurs. We talked about ideas, careers and applying philosophy in life and work.

The last day of the conference was uniquely enjoyable. We walked in the sunshine and through the bushes to the top of Philopappou Hill where the Dora Stratou Theatre is located. In this scenic place we listened to Mayhew’s talk on the crucial differences between ancient Greek and early Christian conceptions of justice. Just after this talk we enjoyed a moving performance of a few scenes from Sophocles’s Antigone.

But that wasn’t all. Next came the student-oriented programming: parallel sessions during which students discussed in great detail some of Rand’s most important and demanding essays, such as “The Objectivist Ethics,” “Philosophy: Who Needs It” or “Man’s Rights,” with our philosophers and scholars. The conference ended with a final Q&A panel on philosophy in general.

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AynRandCon-Athens 2023 provided incredible intellectual and esthetic nourishment; as far as I’m concerned, it couldn’t have been better. I asked a couple of attendees about their thoughts on the conference. Jessica Grunert, who recently obtained a BSc in psychology, told me this:

What I enjoyed most about AynRandCon-2023 was getting to know like-minded people. I loved the opportunity to discuss Rand’s ideas with fellow attendees and the speakers from ARI. In particular, I wanted to learn more about the reasoning behind her political views. Everyone was more than happy to engage and the conversations were productive, stimulating and a lot of fun. . . . When you are sitting near the ruins of Aristotle’s Lyceum in bright morning sunshine while listening to talks on Objectivism and ancient Greek philosophy, you cannot help but feel profound gratitude toward old Athens.

Nadav Perlman, an ARU student, shared his comments on the talks and conversations he engaged in:

The lectures, made by the best and most experienced scholars of Objectivism in the world, were packed with original insight. . . . The audience of the conference included young bright students from all over the world, in different levels of agreement with and knowledge of Objectivism. . . . The conversations I had at the conference ranged from a comparison between the political situation in Poland and in Israel to a discussion of how free will fits in a scientific worldview. The mentoring/networking session gave students a chance to converse with working professionals who uphold Objectivism — from academics in the humanities, social and natural sciences, to managers in technology and finance. 

If you couldn’t be in Athens, make sure you’ll be in the Netherlands from March 8 to 10, 2024. I’m sure AynRandCon-Amsterdam 2024 will be as good.

Below is a YouTube playlist with some of the talks from the conference:

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Ziemowit Gowin

Ziemowit Gowin, PhD candidate in philosophy, is a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute and web editor of New Ideal.

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