Ayn Rand and Objectivism: An Introduction


Anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of philosophy, history, politics and contemporary culture must become familiar with Objectivism. Knowing who Ayn Rand was and what Objectivism is are becoming part of what it means to be culturally literate in America. There is no other writer who could more readily cut through to the essence of an issue, explain it, resolve it, and impress the reader with the urgency that everyone understand it. She could show, like no one else, how and why philosophical ideas matter–and matter everywhere … in our personal lives, in movie theaters, book stores and art museums, in parliament or Congress.

Ayn Rand’s fiction depicted 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.” The Objectivist  vision of the possibilities for the future is vivid and compelling, as is Objectivism’s critique of contemporary politics and culture. For millions of her readers, Rand’s work has provided them with the spiritual and intellectual guidance they sought in Christianity, Judaism, or in other secular philosophical systems, but never found. For them, reading Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s other works has been a transformative experience.

In order to justify her secular individualistic view of man and morality, Ayn Rand elaborated a system of thought–“Objectivism”–that addressed issues in technical branches of philosophy usually left to advanced students and academics. Objectivism is routinely dismissed by academic scholars, however, for a few reasons. Rand’s prose reflects the dramatic sensibilities of her fictional writing: it is direct, uncompromising, essentialistic, and wrought with emotion; it is therefore usually lacking in scholarly rigour. Rand eschewed the apparatus and dry style of scholarly writing, and was never published by an academic press. As well, Objectivism, as a philosophical system, is technically incomplete in many areas.

Despite the neglect of Objectivism by academicians, their studies, too, can benefit from serious consideration of the arguments Ayn Rand sketched. (The who have discovered this attend IOS’ Summer Seminars, the Ayn Rand Society meetings of The American Philosophical Association, or subscribe to one of the several lists on the the internet that discuss her ideas at an advanced level.) Objectivism is a motherlode awaiting a philosophical gold rush, the vanguard of the Second Enlightenment.

Here are some of Rand’s central and distinctive contributions:

ObjectivismOther theories
Metaphysicsnext.gif (114 bytes) primacy of existencenext.gif (114 bytes) atheismnext.gif (114 bytes) non-reductive monismnext.gif (114 bytes) causal realismprimacy of consciousnesstheismdualism and materialismHumean anti-realism
Epistemologynext.gif (114 bytes) perceptual realismnext.gif (114 bytes) concepts as abstract ideasnext.gif (114 bytes) objective knowledgerepresentationalism and idealismnominalism, classical realismintrinsicism, subjectivism, faith
Ethics and Value Theorynext.gif (114 bytes) naturalistic value theorynext.gif (114 bytes) rational egoismnext.gif (114 bytes) the trader principleconventionalism, relativismaltruism, dutythe rule of force
Politicsnext.gif (114 bytes) individual rightsnext.gif (114 bytes) limited governmentnext.gif (114 bytes) laissez-faire capitalismgroup & positive rightspaternalistic statism,
central planning,tyranny, socialism, fascism, anarchism
Estheticsnext.gif (114 bytes) art as applied metaphysicsnext.gif (114 bytes) romantic realismart as imitationnaturalism,