Leonard Peikoff

Leonard Peikoff
Leonard S. Peikoff
Full name Leonard S. Peikoff
Born October 15, 1933 (1933-10-15) (age 78)
Era contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Objectivism

Leonard S. Peikoff (born October 15, 1933)[1] is a Canadian-American[2] philosopher. He is an author, a leading advocate of Objectivism and the founder of the Ayn Rand Institute. A former professor of philosophy, he was designated by the novelist Ayn Rand as heir to her estate. For several years, he hosted a radio talk show.[2]


Early life and career

Peikoff was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, to Samuel Peikoff, MD, a surgeon, and his wife Bessie, a band leader. He attended the University of Manitoba from 1950 to 1953 as a pre-med student, but following his early discussions with Rand, he transferred to New York University to study philosophy, where he received his BA, MA and PhD degrees in philosophy in 1954, 1957 and 1964, respectively. His doctoral dissertation adviser was the noted American Marxist and pragmatist philosopher Sidney Hook, and his dissertation dealt with the metaphysical status of the Law of Non-Contradiction. He taught philosophy for many years at various colleges.[1]

Early involvement in Objectivism

Peikoff first met Ayn Rand through his cousin Barbara Branden (then Barbara Weidman) in California when he was 17. He reports that this meeting with Rand made him aware of the profound importance of philosophy. When Rand later moved to New York City, Peikoff decided to study philosophy at New York University. While studying at NYU, he frequently discussed philosophy privately with Rand in depth across a range of philosophical issues.

Peikoff, along with Nathaniel Branden, Alan Greenspan, Barbara Branden and a number of other close associates, who jokingly called themselves "The Collective," met frequently with Rand to discuss philosophy and politics, as well as to read and discuss Rand's forthcoming novel, Atlas Shrugged, in her Manhattan apartment.[3][4][5] In 1958 Branden founded the Nathaniel Branden Institute to promote Objectivism through lectures and educational seminars around the United States. Among its first lecturers were Peikoff and Greenspan. NBI soon had representatives all over the U.S. and around the world.

In biographical interviews with Rand recorded in the early 1960s, she stated that it was her discussions with Peikoff and Allan Gotthelf which motivated her to complete an extended monograph on concept-formation, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.[6] Rand would later include Peikoff's essay on the "analytic-synthetic dichotomy" in the first edition of the work in book form.[7] Peikoff was also an active participant in Rand's 1969-71 "Workshops" on the monograph,[8] along with a number of other professional philosophers, as well as subsequent, smaller philosophy workshops at Rand's apartment.

Following the dissolution of NBI in 1968, Peikoff continued to give private lecture courses on a variety of topics to large Objectivist audiences, and recordings of these have been sold for many years. His lecture courses include: The Art of Thinking, Eight Great Plays, A Philosophy of Education, The History of Philosophy (in two "volumes" of lectures), Moral Virtue, Induction in Physics and Philosophy, An Introduction to Logic, Understanding Objectivism, and The Principles of Objective Communication.[9] Rand endorsed his 1976 lecture series on Objectivism as the best exposition of her philosophy, the only one she knew to be accurate.[10]

Peikoff's first book, The Ominous Parallels,[11] was both an Objectivist explanation of the rise of the Third Reich and the Holocaust, and a warning that America was being led down the road to totalitarianism because of far-reaching philosophical and cultural parallels between Weimar Germany and the present-day United States. In her "Introduction," Rand declared it to be the first book by an Objectivist philosopher other than herself.

After Rand's death

Rand named Peikoff the legal heir to her estate. As the executor of Rand's will, Peikoff handles the copyrights to all of her works (with the exception of Anthem, which has passed into the public domain). He has supervised the editing and release of Rand's unpublished works in several volumes, including her letters, philosophical journals, and the fiction not published in her lifetime, and he has written forewords for all the current printings of her fiction. For several years, he continued Rand's tradition of lecturing annually at Boston's Ford Hall Forum, and his other lecture appearances have included an address to the cadets at West Point and another while cruising the Greek islands.[12]

In 1985, Peikoff founded the Ayn Rand Institute. Peikoff revised his 1976 lecture course on Rand's ideas into book form as Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, published in 1991, the first comprehensive presentation of Objectivism. In the mid-1990s, Peikoff taught courses at the Ayn Rand Institute's Objectivist Graduate Center (which was later renamed the Objectivist Academic Center in 2000) along with Harry Binswanger and Peter Schwartz.[13] From 1995 through 1999, Peikoff hosted a talk radio show focusing on philosophy and culture.[14]

From February 2006 to June 2007 Peikoff posted an online Q and A of various questions relating to Objectivism that had been e-mailed to him, updating with a few more answers approximately every month.[15] In August 2007 his website announced that this would be replaced with a podcast, which debuted on October 22, 2007, and has been released regularly ever since.[16]

As of 2008, Peikoff is writing a book called The DIM Hypothesis, where he defines what he sees as the three approaches to integration in human thought—disintegration, integration, and misintegration—and applies the hypothesis to physics, philosophy, education, politics and other fields. He estimates that it "will be published in several years, probably in 2010."[17]

Peikoff's lectures or books have been utilized extensively in the works of Allan Gotthelf, Harry Binswanger, Andrew Bernstein and Tara Smith, writers who are associated with the Ayn Rand Institute, and also in works such as David Kelley's The Evidence of the Senses, George H. Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God, and the treatise, What Art Is: the Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand by Louis Torres and Michelle Marder Kahmi, despite these authors' other differences with him.[18] Peikoff has also presented a theory of logical induction in the lecture series "Objectivism through Induction," and this has been developed further by David Harriman in his book, The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics.[19]

His articles have appeared in publications as diverse as Barron's and The New Scholasticism, and his television appearances have ranged from Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect and Bill O'Reilly's The O'Reilly Factor to C-SPAN panel discussions. He also appears in Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, the Academy Award nominated documentary by Michael Paxton.

Peikoff resides in Irvine, in Orange County, California, which is also home to the Ayn Rand Institute.[20]

By his second wife, Cynthia, Peikoff has a daughter, Kira, a novelist.[21]

Split with Kelley

Peikoff views Objectivism as a "closed system" that consists solely of the philosophical principles Rand herself had articulated, and he considers disagreement with any of these principles a departure from Objectivism. The Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) promotes Peikoff's view of Objectivism.

The closed vs. open issue came to the fore when David Kelley, a philosopher then affiliated with Peikoff and ARI, published his essay "A Question of Sanction," arguing for greater open-mindedness in working with other groups. Kelley sees Objectivism as an "open system" that can evolve beyond Rand's own writings and beliefs. Peikoff presented his objections to Kelley in an article called "Fact and Value," arguing that Kelley's case itself contradicted Rand's understanding of the relationship between cognition and evaluation, facts and moral values. Peikoff concluded that Kelley was not a genuine Objectivist, and urged anyone agreeing with Kelley to leave the Objectivist movement.[22] Ultimately, Kelley responded by founding the Institute for Objectivist Studies in 1990, which later changed its name to The Objectivist Center and finally The Atlas Society. (For more on the Peikoff-Kelley split, see Objectivist Movement#The Peikoff-Kelley split.)

Library of Congress dispute

Peikoff inherited many of Rand's manuscripts. During her lifetime, Rand had made a statement that she would bequeath her manuscripts to the Library of Congress. She later had reservations, and the bequest was not part of Rand's will. However, after her death, the Library of Congress requested the manuscripts. In July 1991, Peikoff had an assistant deliver the manuscripts of Rand's novels, except for the first and last pages of The Fountainhead, which he had framed. In their stead, he had the pages photocopied so that the manuscripts would be "complete."

On August 16, 1998, the Los Angeles Times published an article about Peikoff, including a joke he had made to the reporter about "stealing" the framed pages from the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress contacted Peikoff and demanded that he deliver the pages to them, deeming them to be U. S. government property. A complaint from the U.S. Department of Justice followed in October 2000, claiming over a million dollars in damages unless Peikoff turned over the pages. Peikoff consulted his lawyer, who advised him that the case could go either way if he went to court. Based on this advice, Peikoff released the pages to a representative of the Library of Congress.[23]


Peikoff's supports laissez-faire capitalism, arguing that the role of government in society should be limited to minarchist conceptions of protecting individuals from the initiation of force and fraud. He opposes taxation, public education, welfare, business regulations, etc. He also opposes laws regulating pornography, euthanasia, stem cell research, etc. He is a supporter of abortion rights but criticizes defenders of abortion who label themselves "pro-choice", arguing that the term ignores the deeper philosophical issues involved.[24]

He also continues Rand's opposition to libertarianism, remaining sharply opposed to any description of Objectivist political philosophy as "libertarian" and to any collaboration with most libertarian groups. He has been critical of American foreign policy, including both neoconservative and libertarian views as self-sacrificial. He objects to the terms "isolationist" or "interventionist" to describe his foreign policy views, stating that the only "intervention" the United States should enact is war and "only and when it is in self-defense."[25]

Peikoff is known for campaigning on behalf of Elián González's right to remain in Florida, rather than returning to his father in Cuba,[26] stating that "To send a child to rot in the prison of Cuba for the alleged sake of his own well-being is criminal hypocrisy. To send him there in order to preserve his father's rights is absurdity, since there are no parental or other rights in Cuba. To send him there because 'He needs a father, no matter what' is a mindless bromide. Does he need a father who has no choice but to watch his son being broken in mind and starved in body?"

Peikoff claims that Palestinian people prior to the establishment of the State of Israel consisted solely of "nomadic tribes meandering across the terrain," and that "the Arabs" today have no concept of property rights; indeed, that their "primitivist" antagonism to such rights is the root cause of Arab terrorism. He argues that Israel is a moral beacon which should not return any territory to Arabs or even negotiate with them.[citation needed] Peikoff notes that oil properties developed by western interests were confiscated by Middle Eastern regimes beginning with Iran in 1951. He advocates bringing an end to "terrorist states," especially Iran, "as quickly as possible and with the fewest U.S. casualties, regardless of the countless innocents caught in the line of fire," not ruling out the use of nuclear weapons, arguing that moral responsibility for innocent deaths would lie with their governments rather than the United States.[27]

In 2004 Peikoff endorsed John Kerry (despite thinking of Kerry as a "disgustingly bad" candidate) against George W. Bush (whom he called "apocalyptically bad"), on the basis of Bush's religiosity and his refusal to crush Islamic regimes, especially Iran, along with his "doomed" economic policies. In advance of the 2006 elections, Peikoff recommended voting only for Democrats, to forestall what he sees is a rise in influence of the religious right, adding:

Given the choice between a rotten, enfeebled, despairing killer [Democrats], and a rotten, ever stronger, and ambitious killer [Republicans], it is immoral to vote for the latter, and equally immoral to refrain from voting at all because "both are bad."[28]

In 2008, Peikoff refused to vote for either major party's ticket, saying that John McCain "comes across like a tired moron," calling Barack Obama a "lying phony" and Joseph Biden "a hilarious windbag," while saying of Sarah Palin that she is "an opportunist struggling to learn how to become a moron, a phony and a windbag."[29]

In a 2010 podcast,[30] Peikoff explained why he supports immigration restrictions in the current context of the welfare state, and why he does not see this as a contradiction to Objectivism's general rejection of immigration restrictions.[31] Also, in a 2010 podcast, Peikoff explained that he does not support the building of a mosque near the "ground-zero" site in New York City, arguing that property rights are always contextual and that preventing the construction is a wartime necessity.[32]


See also


  1. ^ a b Contemporary Authors Online, s.v. "Leonard Peikoff." Accessed March 2, 2008.
  2. ^ a b "Biography". Peikoff.com. http://www.peikoff.com/biography/. Retrieved January 4, 2011. 
  3. ^ Leonard Peikoff: In His Own Words (DVD), Ayn Rand Bookstore.
  4. ^ Facets of Ayn Rand: Chapter One, Rand's friend Charles talks about The Collective
  5. ^ Facets of Ayn Rand: Chapter Three, Rand's friend Charles talks about The Collective
  6. ^ McConnell, Scott, "Allan Gotthelf," 100 Voices: an Oral History of Ayn Rand, 2010, New American Library, pp. 329-349, esp. 340.
  7. ^ Mentor, 1979.
  8. ^ expanded 2nd ed., Meridian, 1992
  9. ^ http://www.peikoff.com/courses_lectures/index.html
  10. ^ Peikoff, Leonard (1991). Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. New York: E. P. Dutton. pp. xiii–xv. ISBN 0-452-01101-9. OCLC 28423965. 
  11. ^ Stein & Day, 1982.
  12. ^ Leonard Peikoff: In His Own Words (DVD), Ayn Rand Bookstore.
  13. ^ http://web.archive.org/web/20011214144550/www.aynrand.org/academic/background_oac.html
  14. ^ Leonard Peikoff's official website, "Talk Show Radio".
  15. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLStaOUvqNI
  16. ^ http://www.peikoff.com/podcasts/
  17. ^ Leonard Peikoff's official website. Accessed March 2, 2008.
  18. ^ see, e.g., Gotthelf, Allan, On Ayn Rand, Wadsworth Philosophers Series, 2000, pp. 3, 100; Smith, Tara, Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: the Virtuous Egoist, Cambridge University Press, 2006, pp. 148-191; Binswanger, Harry, The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts, ARI, 1990, pp. 234, 237; Bernstein, Andrew, The Capitalist Manifesto, University Press of America, 2005, pp. 172, 183, 188; Kelley, David, The Evidence of the Senses, Louisiana State University Press, 1986, pp. vii, 120 (on p. vii, Kelley credits Peikoff with helping to "shape" his "understanding of many issues... at the deepest level"); Smith, George H., Atheism: the Case Against God, Prometheus, 1989, pp.125-162, 336-337, n17, n18, n31 (first pub. Nash, 1974; in note 31, p. 337, e.g., Smith indicates that his own "approach to certainty" is that presented by Peikoff in a series of lectures); Torres, Louis, and Kamhi, Michelle Marder, What Art Is: the Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand, Open Court, 2000, pp. 30, 32, 41, 51, 298-299, 305, 332n81, 333n5, 333n86.
  19. ^ New American Library, 2010.
  20. ^ "LC Battles Donor over Rand Manuscript Pages". American Library Association. 2002-03-11. http://www.ala.org/ala/alonline/currentnews/newsarchive/2002/march2002/ALA_print_layout_1_22473_22473.cfm. Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
  21. ^ Heller, Anne C. (2009). Ayn Rand and the World She Made. New York: Doubleday. p. 413. ISBN 978-0-385-51399-9. OCLC 229027437. 
  22. ^ Peikoff, Leonard. "Fact and Value". Ayn Rand Institute.
  23. ^ Peikoff, Leonard (February 13, 2002). "Peikoff's Experience with the Library of Congress". Archived from the original on April 27, 2008. http://web.archive.org/web/20080417050423/http://www.peikoff.com/essays/library.htm. Retrieved 2009-09-28. 
  24. ^ Leonard Peikoff, Abortion Rights Are Pro-Life, January 23, 2003, Capitalism Magazine.
  25. ^ "Am I an interventionist or an isolationist in regard to foreign policy?" (04:21)
  26. ^ http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=2726
  27. ^ http://www.peikoff.com/essays_and_articles/end-states-who-sponsor-terrorism/, October 2, 2001. Accessed October 17, 2011.
  28. ^ "Q&A: Peikoff on the coming election", October 19, 2006, Peikoff.com. Accessed November 4, 2006.
  29. ^ "Peikoff on the Election 2008"
  30. ^ Leonard Peikoff podcast
  31. ^ Capitalism Magazine
  32. ^ "Podcast". Leonard Peikoff. June 28, 2010. http://www.peikoff.com/2010/06/28/what-do-you-think-of-the-plan-for-a-mosque-in-new-york-city-near-ground-zero-isnt-it-private-property-and-therefore-protected-by-individual-rights/. Retrieved Nov.7, 2010. 

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