In this ten-lecture course from 1980, philosopher Leonard Peikoff identifies principles for the effective communication of ideas through writing, speaking and arguing. The course is concerned, not with the style of a presentation, but with the basic methods necessary to achieve a clear, absorbing presentation of one’s viewpoint.
Peikoff draws on principles from such diverse fields as epistemology, drama, education and polemics. Throughout the sessions, students give brief presentations, which Peikoff critiques based on the principles he has identified. The subjects of these presentations are related to aspects of Objectivism, so listeners of this course also have the opportunity to expand or refresh their knowledge of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.
The course covers the following topics:
- Basic Principles and Methods (opening lecture)
The nature and problems of intellectual communication. The role of epistemology: the "crow epistemology" and the Law of Identity; knowledge as contextual. Motivating the audience. Delimiting the subject. Logical organization of material. Balancing abstractions and concretes.
- Writing (4 lectures)
Written presentation. Similarities and differences between writing and speaking. Making a piece of writing self-contained. How to judge a formulation's objectivity. Exercises in editing philosophic statements to achieve precision of thought. Analysis of samples of student writing.
- Speaking (3 lectures)
Oral presentation. The nature and problems of extemporaneous delivery. The problem of overloading the listener's mind. Transitions, pace and emphasis. Monitoring the audience's response. How not to bore the listener. Analysis of short talks by students.
- Arguing (2 lectures)
When and when not to argue. The art of “philosophical detection.” Selecting the essential points to answer in a discussion. The major pitfall of polemics: conceding the opponent's premises. Arguing politics, and how to deal with spurious "facts." Training oneself in philosophic argumentation. Analysis of mock arguments, with students (or the instructor) serving as “devil's advocate.”
Ayn Rand answers questions from the audience at the end of Lecture 1, on topics ranging from esthetics to politics.
Recorded in 1980.