Objectivist philosophy

Libertarianism [edit]


Austrian School
Classical liberalism
Individualist anarchism


Key issues
Economic views
Views of rights
Theories of law

Objectivism is the philosophy of Soviet-born American philosopher and author Ayn Rand. In summary, Objectivism holds that there is an independent reality that human beings are conscious of through their senses, that reason is the only way of gathering knowledge and only the individual rational mind can process this data, that the proper moral purpose of one's life is to pursue one's own rational self-interest, and that the only moral social system is full laissez-faire capitalism with a government strictly limited to courts, police, and a military, because it is the only system where humans are barred from initiating the use of physical force upon each other (either within or outside the structure of said government).

Rand characterizes Objectivism as a philosophy "for living on earth," grounded in reality and aimed at facilitating knowledge of the natural world and harmonious, mutually beneficial interactions between human beings. One major theme of Objectivist philosophy is a focus on the potential of the individual human being. Rand wrote:

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.Template:Ref

Objectivism derives its name from the conception of knowledge and values as "objective," rather than as "intrinsic" or "subjective." According to Rand, neither concepts nor values are "intrinsic" to external reality, but neither are they merely "subjective" (by which Rand means "arbitrary" or "created by [one's] feelings, desires, 'intuitions,' or whims"). Rather, properly formed concepts and values are objective in the sense that they meet the specific (cognitive and/or biocentric) needs of the individual human person. Valid concepts and values are, as she wrote, "determined by the nature of reality, but to be discovered by man's mind."

At a book signing, she was once asked to summarize her philosophy. Many use this as the official 'simplified' description. [1] (http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=objectivism_intro)


Objectivist principles

Metaphysics: objective reality

Main article: Objectivist metaphysics

The key tenets of the Objectivist metaphysics are (1) the Primacy of Existence, (2) the Law of Identity (Aristotle's "A is A"), and (3) the Axiom of Consciousness. In addition, (4) the Law of Causality is a corollary of the Law of Identity. The Primacy of Existence states that reality (the universe, that which is) exists independently of human consciousness. The Law of Identity states that anything that exists is qualitatively determinate, that is, has a fixed, finite nature. The Axiom of Self-Consciousness is the proposition that one is conscious. The Law of Causality states that things act in accordance with their natures. These propositions are all held in Objectivism to be axiomatic. According to Objectivism, the proof of a proposition's being axiomatic is that it is both (a) self-evident and (b) cannot coherently be denied, because any argument against the proposition would have to suppose its truth.

Epistemology: reason

Main article: Objectivist epistemology

Objectivism's epistemology, like the other branches of Objectivism, was present in some form ever since the publication of Atlas Shrugged. However, it was most fully explained in Rand's 1967 work Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Rand considered her epistemology central to her philosophy, once remarking, "I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows."

According to the Objectivist epistemology, through sensory perception and a process of reasoning, man can achieve absolute knowledge of his environment. Objectivism rejects philosophical skepticism. As a corollary, it also maintains that anything that is not learned by objective, rational means is not true knowledge, rejecting faith as a means of attaining knowledge.

Ethics: rational self-interest

Main article: Objectivist ethics

The ethics of Objectivism is based on the theory that each person is responsible for achieving his or her own rational self-interest.

Politics: individual rights and capitalism

The transition from the Objectivist ethics to the Objectivist theory of politics relies on the concept of rights. A "right", according to Objectivism, is a moral principle that both defines and sanctions a human being's freedom of action in a social or societal context. Objectivism holds that only individuals have rights; there is, in the Objectivist view, no such thing as a "collective right" that does not reduce without remainder to a set of individual rights. Furthermore, Objectivism is very specific about the set of "individual rights" that it recognizes; as such, the Objectivist list of individual rights differs significantly from the ones adopted by most governments, for example.

Although Objectivism does not use the term "natural rights", the rights it recognizes are based directly on the nature of human beings as described in its epistemology and ethics. Since human beings must make choices in order to survive as human beings, the basic requirement of a human life is the freedom to make, and act on, one's own independent rational judgment, according to one's self-interest.

Thus, Objectivism contends, the fundamental right of human beings is the right to life. By this phrase Objectivism means the right to act in furtherance of one's own life — not the right to have one's life protected, or to have one's survival guaranteed, by the involuntary effort of other human beings. Indeed, on the Objectivist account, one of the corollaries of the right to life is the right to property, which is assumed to always represent the product of one's own effort; on this view, one person's right to life cannot entail the right to dispose of another's private property, under any circumstances. Under Objectivism, one has the right to transfer one's own property to whoever one wants for whatever reason, but such a transfer is only ethical if it is made under the terms of a trade freely consented to by both parties, in the absence of any form of coercion, each with the expectation that the trade will benefit them.

On the Objectivist account, the rights of other human beings are not of direct moral import to the agent who respects them; they acquire their moral purchase through an intermediate step. An Objectivist respects the rights of other human beings out of the recognition of the value to himself or herself of living in a world in which the freedom of action of other rational (or potentially rational) human beings is respected.

According to Objectivism, then, one's respect for the rights of others is founded on the value, to oneself, of other persons as actual or potential trading partners. Here is where Objectivism's claim about conflicts of interest attains its full significance: on the Objectivist view, it is precisely because there are no (irresoluble) such conflicts that it is possible for human beings to prosper in a rights-respecting society.

Objectivist political theory therefore defends capitalism as the ideal form of human society. Objectivism reserves the name "capitalism" for full laissez-faire capitalism — i.e., a society in which individual rights are consistently respected and in which all property is (therefore) privately owned. Any system short of this is regarded by Objectivists as a "mixed economy" consisting of certain aspects of capitalism and its opposite (usually called socialism), with pure socialism at the opposite extreme.

Far from regarding capitalism as a dog-eat-dog pattern of social organization, Objectivism regards it as a beneficent system in which the innovations of the most creative benefit everyone else in the society at no loss to anyone. Indeed, Objectivism accords a high level of respect to creative achievement itself and regards capitalism as the only kind of society in which it can flourish.

Objectivism holds that an official institutional government, though a minimal one, is necessary in order to provide and safeguard such a society; such a government, on Rand's view, must have a territorial monopoly on the use of (retaliatory) force.

On either account, a society is, by Objectivist standards, moral to the extent that individuals are free to pursue their goals. This freedom requires that human relationships of all forms be voluntary (which, in the Objectivist view, means that they must not involve the use of physical force), mutual consent being the defining characteristic of a free society. Thus the proper role of institutions of governance (whether minarchist government proper or its equivalent institutions in an anarchist society) is limited to using force in retaliation against those who initiate its use — i.e., against criminals and foreign aggressors. Economically, people are free to produce and exchange as they see fit, with as complete a separation of state and economics as of state and church.

Influence on libertarianism

Missing image
The libertarian Reason Magazine dedicated an issue to Ayn Rand's influence one hundred years after her birth.

Main article: Libertarianism and Objectivism

Libertarianism and Objectivism have a complex relationship. Though they share many of the same political goals, Objectivists see some libertarians as plagiarists of their ideas "with the teeth pulled out of them,"[2] (http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_campus_libertarians) whereas some libertarians see Objectivists as dogmatic, unrealistic, and uncompromising. According to Reason editor Nick Gillespie in the magazine's March 2005 issue focusing on Objectivism's influence, Ayn Rand is "one of the most important figures in the libertarian movement... A century after her birth and more than a decade after her death, Rand remains one of the best-selling and most widely influential figures in American thought and culture" in general and in libertarianism in particular. Still, he confesses that he is embarassed by his magazine's association with her ideas.[3] (http://www.reason.com/0503/ed.ng.editors.shtml) In the same issue, Cathy Young says that "Libertarianism, the movement most closely connected to Rand’s ideas, is less an offspring than a rebel stepchild."[4] (http://www.reason.com/0503/fe.cy.ayn.shtml)

Though they reject what they see as Randian dogmas, libertarians like Young still concede that "Rand was the most successful and widely read popularizer of the ideas of individual liberty and the free market of her day. In the 21st century... Rand’s message of reason and liberty... could be a rallying point" for a less dogmatic political movement with similar goals like libertarianism. [By "dogma" is in this context, libertarin critics mean "integrity", i.e., uncompromising allegiance to the Truth.]

Esthetics: Romanticism

The Objectivist theory of art flows fairly directly from its epistemology, by way of "psycho-epistemology" (Objectivism's term for the study of human cognition as it involves interactions between the conscious and the subconscious mind). Art, according to Objectivism, serves a human cognitive need: it allows human beings to grasp concepts as though they were percepts.

Objectivism defines "art" as a "selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgments" — that is, according to what the artist believes to be ultimately true and important about the nature of reality and humanity. In this respect Objectivism regards art as a way of presenting metaphysics concretely, in perceptual form.

The human need for art, on this view, stems from the need for cognitive economy. A concept is already a sort of mental shorthand standing for a large number of concretes, allowing a human being to think indirectly or implicitly of many more such concretes than can be held explicitly in mind. But a human being cannot hold indefinitely many concepts explicitly in mind either — and yet, on the Objectivist view, needs a comprehensive conceptual framework in order to provide guidance in life.

Art offers a way out of this dilemma by providing a perceptual, easily grasped means of communicating and thinking about a wide range of abstractions. Its function is thus similar to that of language, which uses concrete words to represent concepts.

Objectivism regards art as the only really effective way to communicate a moral or ethical ideal. Objectivism does not, however, regard art as propagandistic: even though art involves moral values and ideals, its purpose is not to educate, only to show or project.

Moreover, art need not be, and often is not, the outcome of a full-blown, explicit philosophy. Usually it stems from an artist's sense of life (which is preconceptual and largely emotional), and its appeal is similarly to the viewer's or listener's sense of life.

Generally Objectivism favors an esthetic of Romanticism, which on its Objectivist definition is a category of art treating the existence of human volition as true and important. In this sense, for Objectivism, Romanticism is the school of art that takes values seriously, regards human reason as efficacious, and projects human ideals as achievable. Objectivism contrasts such Romanticism with Naturalism, which it regards as a category of art that denies or downplays the role of human volition in the achievement of values.

Response to Objectivist philosophy

Although academics largely ignore Objectivism, some have published in academic journals on various aspects of Objectivism. Rand published most of her non-fiction essays in her own newsletter and earlier in the journal she edited, in which only those who largely agreed with Objectivism were published. She did not publish in conventional academic journals. Much of the non-fiction Objectivist corpus is available only in the form of audio recordings.

Academic institutional support for Objectivism has increased in recent years. Cambridge University Press is publishing Dr. Tara Smith's "The Virtuous Egoist: Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics." There are or have been Objectivist programs and fellowships at the University of Pittsburgh (Dept. of History and Philosophy of Science), University of Texas/Austin, University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill, and several other universities. And there are some 50 members of The Ayn Rand Society, an affiliated group with the American Philosophical Society, Eastern Division. Leonard Peikoff published a book to comprehensively present Objectivism, entitled Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. Other works have been directed at academic audiences, such as Viable Values by Tara Smith, The Evidence of the Senses by David Kelley, and The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts by Harry Binswanger. An academic journal, the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has been publishing interdisciplinary scholarly essays on Rand and Objectivism since 1999. Whether this new scholarship and institutional support will result in any kind of dialogue between mainstream academic philosophy and Objectivism remains to be seen.

For detailed summaries of specific responses to Objectivism, see bibliography of work on Objectivism.


Randroid is a portmanteau of Rand's name with the word android, referring to those who profess Rand's philosophy in a robot-like manner. Young and inexperienced persons who are excited by Rand's fiction, in their enthusiasm conjoined with ignorance, often behave this way. This creates a mistaken bigoted impression that all adherents of Rand's philosophy are like that. Among the na´ve, therefore, Randroid is used as a pejorative term for all followers of Rand's philosophy. Among the more informed and experienced followers of Objectivism, the epithet Randroid is used as a pejorative term to refer to those who have not outgrown the phase in which, having only recently learned of Rand's works, are more excited than thoughtful and educated.

Criticism of Rand's reading of the history of philosophy

Rand regarded her philosophical efforts as the beginning of the correction of a deeply troubled world, and she believed that the world has gotten into its present troubled state largely through the uncritical acceptance, by both intellectuals and others, of inferior philosophy.

Especially in the title essay of her early work, For the New Intellectual, Rand levels serious accusations against canonical historical philosophers, especially Plato, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Herbert Spencer. In her later book, Philosophy: Who Needs It, she repeats and enlarges upon her criticisms of Kant, and she also accuses famed Harvard political theorist John Rawls of gross philosophical errors. Some have accused Rand of misinterpreting the works of these philosophers (see, e.g., Ayn Rand, Objectivists, and the History of Philosophy by Fred Seddon).

Rand's interpretation and criticism of the views of Immanuel Kant, in particular, has sparked considerable controversy. Though Rand denigrates Kant's system as the absolute opposite of Objectivism, some writers have even suggested that Rand drew on Kantian ideas without realizing it. "She despised Immanuel Kant but then actually invokes 'treating persons as ends rather than as means only' to explain the nature of morality,"[5] (http://www.friesian.com/rand.htm) argues Dr. Kelley Ross. However, it is at least as likely that the concept, if not the wording, originates with Aristotle, who said "the man is free, we say, who exists for himself and not for another..." (Met. Bk. 1 982b27), and "Moreover, that for the sake of which things are done is the end (an end being that for the sake of which all else is done) and for each individual that thing is a good which fulfils these conditions in regard to himself." (Rhet. Bk. 1 1363b21)

Many critics take issue with Rand's interpretation of Kant's metaphysics: like early critics of Kant, Rand interprets Kant as an empirical idealist. It is a long-standing question of Kant scholarship whether this interpretation is correct; in the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant claimed that his transcendental idealism was different from empirical idealism. Contemporary philosophers such as Jonathan Bennett, James van Cleve, and Rae Langton continue to debate this issue.

Other critics focus on Rand's reading of Kant's ethical philosophy. Rand alleges that Kantian ethics is a version of selflessness, an ethics of self-sacrifice. Kant's defenders claim that Kantian ethics is primarily an ethics of reason, because the categorical imperative amounts to a demand that the intent behind one's actions be logically consistent, or in Kantian terminology, that "the maxim of one's act be universalizable." In Rand's favor, Kant clearly does maintain (in his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals) that an action motivated by inclination or self-interest is entirely lacking in moral worth. Still, fewer commentators have agreed with Rand's characterization of Kantianism as self-sacrificial. The contemporary philosopher Thomas E. Hill has explicitly defended Kant against this charge in his article, "Happiness and Human Flourishing in Kant's Ethics," in the anthology Human Flourishing.

Another attack on Rand comes from her outright rejection of David Hume's ideas at the foundations of her philosophy. Hume famously maintained, "No is implies an ought," but Rand wrote it off by arguing that values are a species of fact (see is-ought problem). She wrote, "In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do." See also Objectivist Metaethics.


  1. Template:Note Rand, Ayn. (1996) Atlas Shrugged. Signet Book; 35th Anniv edition. Appendix. ISBN 0451191145

See also

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