A few weeks ago, more than 250 life-loving people gathered in beautiful Newton, MA for four days of fellowship and “philosophy for freedom and flourishing,” at TOS-Con 2021. The topics ranged from art to racism to self-development to capitalism, and all were unified by a single theme: the unique powers of reason and freedom to make human life the best it can be.
In addition to the presentations, there was live music, a gorgeous countryside to explore, and an incredible variety of art, history, and entertainment in and around Boston. The opening and closing banquets were sublime. It was wonderful to see people of all ages and from all walks of life bonding over ideas for living well and advancing liberty.
I’ll recount a few of the topics and talks. But I recommend that you watch the videos when they become available.
Craig Biddle opened the conference with a talk titled “Do Process: A Strategy for Thriving,” in which he artfully integrated Ayn Rand’s philosophy, especially her conceptions of life and morality, with the field of self-development. He showed how these form an integrated whole around the fact that “life is a process of self-sustaining, self-generated action,” and that this integration is natural, logical, and necessary for a life of flourishing. This engrossing talk set the stage for those that followed, each of which built on or dovetailed with this central theme.
Dr. Eric Daniels delivered the second talk, “History: Who Needs It.” Dr. Daniels made a strong case for why ideas (not merely events) drive human history. He also explained how studying the past objectively is a tremendously powerful way to improve our present and future lives.
Dr. Rajshree Agarwal presented a method of discovering your central purpose that was as elegant as it was powerful in “Designing Your Life around a Central Purpose.” She showed how anyone can profitably use the same basic roadmap that successful entrepreneurs follow: Develop a mission statement, define what success means to you, create an irresistible value proposition, and find others to trade with who share or complement your skills and values.
Gloria Álvarez gave a talk on “Capitalism: The Social System for Human Flourishing,” showing that, regardless of time or place, the freest societies best enable people to flourish. Using a wide variety of examples and data, she demonstrated that everyone who wants good people to prosper must fight for free minds and free markets.
Dr. Doug McGuff spoke on the physical aspects of an integrated life in “Physical Conditioning for a Lifetime of Flourishing.” Presenting his unconventional but compelling ideas on exercise and diet, he showed how people of any age or physical condition can work, with minimal time-commitment, to improve their health and extend their lives.
Jon Hersey shared five principles for flourishing from the original self-development expert: Benjamin Franklin. Relating these principles to both Franklin’s life and his own, Hersey delivered a handful of powerful strategies for making one’s life the best it can be.
Dr. Jason Hill spoke on “Racism: Real, Imagined, and Inverted,” highlighting the absurdity of racism and collectivism of all kinds, and suggesting a simple antidote. He showed that by rejecting the idea of racial identity entirely, people can see one another as autonomous individuals who are more alike than different in terms of our most essential needs.
Timothy Sandefur spoke on the life and work of John Singer Sargent, one of the most prolific yet underappreciated painters of the 19th and 20th centuries. Sargent approached his work in a completely first-handed manner and ignored his critics’ opinions. Although his work waned in popularity when modern “art” became the rage, it is now experiencing a long-overdue resurgence.
Dr. Cal Newport gave a crash course on “deep work,” an increasingly rare and valuable skill in today’s knowledge economy. Dr. Newport relayed the achievements of many incredibly productive people and shared the secret behind their seeming superpowers: the ability to focus intensely and concentrate on difficult work for extended periods of time—an ability that anyone can cultivate with practice.
Dr. Andrew Bernstein made us laugh and think in equal measure with “Heroes of Philosophy,” in which he compared such great thinkers as Socrates, Aristotle, and Aquinas to their decidedly less rational peers and successors. As always, Dr. Bernstein concretized complex abstract concepts and made it easy to see the fundamental impact that ideas have on our lives—for good or ill.
C. Bradley Thompson and Timothy Sandefur discussed “America’s Revolutionary Ideas: Their History and Possible Future.” Amazingly, and almost without exception, modern historians have glossed over the moral foundation of the American Revolution. But, as Dr. Thompson argues in his book, America’s Revolutionary Mind: A Moral History of the American Revolution and the Declaration that Defined It, it is precisely this moral foundation that set America apart from every other country in human history.
Craig Biddle closed out the conference with a talk called “Secular Spirituality: The Nature and Nurture of Your Mind and Soul.” Drawing on his childhood memories as a (terrible) church choir singer, he explored the essential values that many people claim are the sole purview of religion and demonstrated that religion is not required to achieve any of them. He then revisited the various presentations from the conference and noted how each involved, promoted, and enhanced life-serving, spiritual values.
It was a pleasure to hear so many powerful and useful talks, all of which were integrated by fundamental truths—most substantially by Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. It was also lovely to meet and speak with so many thoughtful people. Objective Standard Institute and its staff and leadership, especially Sarah and Craig Biddle, are to be commended for creating such a marvelous conference. I look forward to TOS-Con 2022, and I hope to see you there.
I welcome your thoughts on the conference if you attended. And whether you attended or not, I welcome your comments about the value of such conferences and your ideas about topics, speakers, or activities that might be good for future events.