Rand's political views, reflected in both her fiction and her theoretical work, emphasize individual rights (including property rights) and laissez-faire capitalism, enforced by a constitutionally-limited government. She was a fierce opponent of all forms of collectivism and statism, including fascism, communism, socialism, and the welfare state, and promoted ethical egoism while rejecting the ethic of altruism. She considered reason to be the only means of acquiring knowledge and the most important aspect of her philosophy, stating, "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."
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Early lifeRand was born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum (Russian: Алиса Зиновьевна Розенбаум) in 1905, into a middle-class family living in Saint Petersburg. She was the eldest of the three daughters (Alisa, Natasha, and Nora) of Zinovy Zakharovich Rosenbaum and Anna Borisovna Rosenbaum, largely non-observant Jews. Her father was educated as a chemist and became a successful pharmacist, eventually owning his own pharmacy and the building in which it was located.
Rand was twelve at the time of the Russian revolution of 1917. Opposed to the Tsar, Rand's sympathies were with Alexander Kerensky. Rand's family life was disrupted by the rise of the Bolshevik party. Her father's pharmacy was confiscated by the Soviets, and the family fled to the Crimea which was initially under the control of the White Army. She later recalled that while in high school she determined that she was an atheist and that she valued reason and intellect. She graduated from high school in the Crimea and briefly held a job teaching Red Army soldiers to read. She found she enjoyed that work very much, the illiterate soldiers being eager to learn and respectful of her. At sixteen, Rand returned with her family to Saint Petersburg.
She enrolled at the University of Petrograd, where she studied in the department of social pedagogy, majoring in history. At university she was introduced to the writings of Aristotle and Plato, who would form two of the greatest influences and counter-influences respectively on her thought. A third figure whose philosophical works she studied heavily was Friedrich Nietzsche. Her formal study of philosophy amounted to only a few courses, and outside of these three philosophers, her study of key figures was limited to excerpts and summaries. Of the writers she read at this time, Victor Hugo, Edmond Rostand, Friedrich Schiller, and Fyodor Dostoevsky became her perennial favorites. Along with a number of other non-Communist students, Rand was purged from the university shortly before completing. However, after complaints from a group of visiting foreign scientists, the Communists relented and allowed many of the expelled students to complete their work and graduate, which Rand did in October 1924. She subsequently studied for a year at the State Technicum for Screen Arts.
In the fall of 1925, she was granted a visa to visit American relatives. She left Russia on January 17, 1926, and arrived in the United States on February 19, entering by ship through New York City. After a brief stay with her relatives in Chicago, she resolved never to return to the Soviet Union, and set out for Hollywood to become a screenwriter. While still in Russia she had decided her professional surname for writing would be Rand, possibly as a Cyrillic contraction of her birth surname, and she adopted the first name Ayn, possibly from a Finnish name. Initially, she struggled in Hollywood and took odd jobs to pay her basic living expenses. A chance meeting with famed director Cecil B. DeMille led to a job as an extra in his film, The King of Kings, and to subsequent work as a junior screenwriter. While working on The King of Kings, she intentionally bumped into an aspiring young actor, Frank O'Connor, who caught her eye. The two married on April 15, 1929. Rand became an American citizen in 1931. Taking various jobs during the 1930s to support her writing, Rand worked for a time as the head of the costume department at RKO Studios. She made attempts to bring her parents and sisters to the United States, but they were unable to get permission to emigrate.
The Fountainhead and political activismDuring the 1940s, Rand became involved in political activism. Both she and her husband worked full time in volunteer positions for the 1940 Presidential campaign of Republican Wendell Willkie. This work led to Rand's first public speaking experiences, including fielding the sometimes hostile questions from New York City audiences who had just viewed pro-Willkie newsreels, an experience she greatly enjoyed. This activity also brought her into contact with other intellectuals sympathetic to free-market capitalism. She became friends with journalist Henry Hazlitt and his wife, and Hazlitt introduced her to the Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises. Both men expressed an admiration for Rand, and despite her philosophical differences with them, Rand strongly endorsed the writings of both men throughout her career.
Rand's first major success as a writer came with The Fountainhead in 1943, a romantic and philosophical novel that she wrote over a period of seven years. The novel centers on an uncompromising young architect named Howard Roark, and his struggle against what Rand described as "second-handers" — those who attempt to live through others, placing others above self. It was rejected by twelve publishers before finally being accepted by the Bobbs-Merrill Company on the insistence of editor Archibald Ogden, who threatened to quit if his employer did not publish it. The Fountainhead eventually became a worldwide success, bringing Rand fame and financial security. According to the Ayn Rand Institute, by April 2008 the novel had sold over 6.5 million copies.
In 1943, Rand returned to Hollywood to write the screenplay for a film version of The Fountainhead for Warner Brothers, and the following year she and her husband purchased a home designed by modernist Richard Neutra and an adjoining ranch. There, Rand entertained figures such as Hazlitt, Morrie Ryskind, Janet Gaynor, Gilbert Adrian and Leonard Read. Finishing her work on that screenplay, she was hired by producer Hal Wallis as a screenwriter and script-doctor, and her work for Wallis included the Oscar-nominated Love Letters and You Came Along, along with research for a screenplay based on the development of the atomic bomb. This role gave Rand time to work on other projects, including the publication of her first work of non-fiction, an essay titled "The Only Path to Tomorrow", in the January 1944 edition of Reader's Digest magazine. Rand also outlined and took extensive notes for a non-fiction treatment of her philosophy, although the planned book was never completed.
During this period Rand developed a relationship with libertarian writer Isabel Paterson. The two women became friends and philosophical sparring-partners, and Rand is reported to have questioned the well-informed Paterson about American history and politics long into the night during their numerous meetings. Later, the two women had a falling out after what Rand saw as Paterson's bitter and insensitive comments during one of her Hollywood parties. Paterson's influence on Rand's later political theories has been a matter of ongoing debate, but Paterson biographer Stephen D. Cox credits Rand's public advocacy with keeping her old friend's political work The God of the Machine in print for many years, despite their previous break.
In 1947, during the Second Red Scare, Rand testified as a "friendly witness" before the United States House Un-American Activities Committee. Her testimony regarded the disparity between her personal experiences in the Soviet Union and the portrayal of it in the 1944 film Song of Russia. Rand argued that the film grossly misrepresented the socioeconomic conditions in the Soviet Union and portrayed life in the USSR as being much better and happier than it actually was. When asked about her feelings on the effectiveness of the investigations after the hearings, Rand described the process as "futile".
The movie version of The Fountainhead was released in 1949. Although it used Rand's screenplay with minimal alterations, she "disliked the movie from beginning to end," complaining about its editing, acting and other elements.
Atlas Shrugged and later yearsAfter the publication of The Fountainhead, Rand received numerous letters from readers, some of whom had been profoundly influenced by the novel. In 1951 Rand moved from Los Angeles to New York City, where she gathered a group of these admirers around her. This group (jokingly designated "The Collective") included future Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, a young psychology student named Nathan Blumenthal (later Nathaniel Branden) and his wife Barbara, and Barbara's cousin Leonard Peikoff. At first the group was an informal gathering of friends who met with Rand on weekends at her apartment to discuss philosophy. Later she began allowing them to read the drafts of her new novel, Atlas Shrugged, as the manuscript pages were written. In 1954 Rand's close relationship with the much younger Nathaniel Branden turned into a romantic affair, with the consent of their spouses.
Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957, was Rand's magnum opus. The theme of the novel is "the role of the mind in man's existence—and, as a corollary, the demonstration of her moral philosophy: the morality of rational self-interest." It advocates the core tenets of Rand's philosophy of Objectivism and expresses her concept of human achievement. The plot involves a dystopian United States in which the most creative industrialists, scientists and artists go on strike and retreat to a mountainous hideaway where they build an independent free economy. The novel's hero and leader of the strike, John Galt, describes the strike as "stopping the motor of the world" by withdrawing the minds of the individuals most contributing to the nation's wealth and achievement. With this fictional strike, Rand intended to illustrate that without the efforts of the rational and productive, the economy would collapse and society would fall apart. The novel includes elements of mystery and science fiction, and contains Rand's most extensive statement of Objectivism in any of her works of fiction, a lengthy monologue delivered by Galt. Atlas Shrugged became an international bestseller. Rand's last work of fiction, it marked a turning point in her life, ending her career as novelist and beginning her tenure as a popular philosopher.
In 1958 Nathaniel Branden established Nathaniel Branden Lectures, later incorporated as the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI), to promote Rand's philosophy. Collective members gave lectures for NBI and wrote articles for Objectivist periodicals that she edited. Rand later published some of these articles in book form. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rand developed and promoted her Objectivist philosophy through her non-fiction works and by giving talks, for example at Yale University, Princeton University, Columbia University, Harvard University and MIT. She received an honorary doctorate from Lewis & Clark College in 1963. For many years, she gave also an annual lecture at the Ford Hall Forum, responding afterwards in her famously spirited form to questions from the audience. In 1964 Nathaniel Branden began an affair with the young actress Patrecia Scott, whom he later married. Nathaniel and Barbara Branden hid the affair from Rand. Though her romantic relationship with Branden had already ended, Rand terminated her relationship with both Brandens in 1968 when she discovered Nathaniel Branden's affair with Patrecia Scott and his and Barbara Branden's role in concealing it, and as a result, NBI closed. She published an article in The Objectivist repudiating Nathaniel Branden for dishonesty and other "irrational behavior in his private life."
Rand underwent surgery for lung cancer in 1974. Several more of her closest associates parted company with her, and during the late 1970s her activities within the Objectivist movement declined, especially after the death of her husband on November 9, 1979. One of her final projects was work on a television adaptation of Atlas Shrugged. She had also planned to write another novel, but did not get far in her notes. Rand died of heart failure on March 6, 1982 at her home in New York City, and was interred in the Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York. Rand's funeral was attended by some of her prominent followers, including Alan Greenspan. A six-foot floral arrangement in the shape of a dollar sign was placed near her casket. In her will, Rand named Leonard Peikoff the heir to her estate. With her endorsement of his 1976 lecture series, she had recognized his work as being the best exposition of her philosophy.
PhilosophyRand saw her views as constituting an integrated philosophical system, which she called "Objectivism." Its 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." Objectivism has been described pejoratively as "Pseudophilosophy".
Rejecting faith as antithetical to reason, Rand embraced philosophical realism and opposed all forms of mysticism or supernaturalism, including organized religion. Rand also argued for rational egoism (rational self-interest), as the only proper guiding moral principle. The individual "must exist for his own sake," she wrote in 1962, "neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself."
Rand held that the only moral social system is laissez-faire capitalism. Her political views were strongly individualist and hence anti-statist and anti-Communist. Rand detested many liberal and conservative politicians of her time, including prominent anti-Communists. She rejected the libertarian movement, although Jim Powell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, considers Rand one of the three most important women (along with Rose Wilder Lane and Isabel Paterson) of modern American libertarianism. Rand rejected anarcho-capitalism as "a contradiction in terms", a point on which she has been criticized by self-avowed anarchist Objectivists such as Roy Childs. Philosopher Chandran Kukathas said her "unremitting hostility towards the state and taxation sits inconsistently with a rejection of anarchism, and her attempts to resolve the difficulty are ill-thought out and unsystematic."
She acknowledged Aristotle as a great influence, and found early inspiration in Friedrich Nietzsche, although she rejected what she considered his anti-reason stance. Philosophers Ronald E. Merrill and David Steele point out a difference between her early and later views on the subject of sacrificing others. For example, the first edition of We the Living contained language which has been interpreted as advocating ruthless elitism: "What are your masses but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?"
She remarked that in the history of philosophy she could only recommend "three A's"—Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ayn Rand. Among the philosophers Rand held in particular disdain was Immanuel Kant, whom she referred to as a "monster" and "the most evil man in history". Rand was strongly opposed to the view that reason is unable to know reality "as it is in itself", which she ascribed to Kant. She considered her philosophy to be the "exact opposite" of Kant's on "every fundamental issue". Objectivist philosophers George Walsh and Fred Seddon both argue that Rand misinterpreted Kant. In particular, Walsh argues that both philosophers adhere to many of the same basic positions, and that Rand exaggerated her differences with Kant. Walsh says that for many critics, Rand's writing on Kant is "ignorant and unworthy of discussion".
Rand scholars Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen, while stressing the importance and originality of her thought, describe her style as "literary, hyperbolic and emotional." Similarly, philosopher Jack Wheeler says that despite "the incessant bombast and continuous venting of Randian rage," Rand's ethics is "a most immense achievement, the study of which is vastly more fruitful than any other in contemporary thought." In 1976, she said that her most important contributions to philosophy were her "theory of concepts, [her] ethics, and [her] discovery in politics that evil—the violation of rights—consists of the initiation of force."
Literary receptionRand's novels, when they were first published, were derided by some critics as long and melodramatic, and became bestsellers largely due to word of mouth. The first reviews Rand received were for her play Night of January 16. Reviews of the Broadway production were mixed, and Rand considered even the positive reviews to be embarrassing because of significant changes made to her script by the producer. Rand herself described her first novel, We the Living, as not being widely reviewed, but Michael S. Berliner says "it was the most reviewed of any of her works," with approximately 125 different reviews being published in more than 200 publications. Many of these reviews were more positive than the reviews she received for her later work. Her 1938 novella Anthem received little attention from reviewers, both for its first publication in England and for several subsequent re-issues.
Rand's first bestseller, The Fountainhead, received far fewer reviews than We the Living, and reviewers' opinions were mixed. There was a positive review in The New York Times that Rand greatly appreciated. The Times reviewer called Rand "a writer of great power" who writes "brilliantly, beautifully and bitterly," and it stated that she had "written a hymn in praise of the individual... you will not be able to read this masterful book without thinking through some of the basic concepts of our time." There were other positive reviews, but Rand dismissed many of them as either not understanding her message or as being from unimportant publications. A number of negative reviews focused on the length of the novel, such as one that called it "a whale of a book" and another that said "anyone who is taken in by it deserves a stern lecture on paper-rationing." Other negative reviews called the characters unsympathetic and Rand's style "offensively pedestrian."
Rand's 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged was widely reviewed, and many of the reviews were strongly negative. In the National Review, conservative author Whittaker Chambers called the book "sophomoric" and "remarkably silly", and declared that it "can be called a novel only by devaluing the term". He described the tone of the book as "shrillness without reprieve" and accused Rand of supporting the same godless system as the Soviets, claiming "From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: 'To a gas chamber—go!'" Atlas Shrugged received positive reviews from a few publications, but as Rand scholar Mimi Reisel Gladstein later described them, many reviewers "seemed to vie with each other in a contest to devise the cleverest put-downs," calling it "execrable claptrap" and "a nightmare;" they said it was "written out of hate" and showed "remorseless hectoring and prolixity."
During Rand's lifetime her work received little attention from academic scholars. When With Charity Toward None: An Analysis of Ayn Rand's Philosophy, the first academic book about Rand's philosophy, appeared in 1971, its author William F. O'Neill declared writing about Rand "a treacherous undertaking" that could lead to "guilt by association" for taking her seriously. A few articles about Rand's ideas appeared in academic journals prior to her death in 1982, many of them in The Personalist. Academic consideration of Rand as a literary figure during her life was even more limited. Gladstein was unable to find any scholarly articles about Rand's novels when she began researching her in 1973, and only three such articles appeared during the rest of the 1970s.
Rand's books continue to be widely sold and read, with 25 million copies sold as of 2007, and 800,000 more being sold each year according to the Ayn Rand Institute. She has also influenced notable people in different fields. Examples include philosophers John Hospers, George H. Smith, Allan Gotthelf, Robert Mayhew and Tara Smith, economists Alan Greenspan, George Reisman and Murray Rothbard, psychologist Edwin A. Locke, historian Robert Hessen, and political writer Charles Murray. United States Congressmen Ron Paul and Bob Barr, and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Clarence Thomas have acknowledged her influence on their lives, and former United States President Ronald Reagan described himself as an "admirer" of Rand in private correspondence in the 1960s.[101
Ayn Rand characterized Objectivism as "a philosophy for living on earth", grounded in reality, and aimed at defining man's nature and the nature of the world in which he lives.
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.
Objectivism is the philosophy created by the Russian-American philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand (1905–1982). Objectivism holds that reality exists independent of consciousness; that individual persons are in direct contact with reality through sensory perception; that human beings can gain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive and deductive logic; that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness or rational self-interest; that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights, embodied in pure laissez faire capitalism; and that the role of art in human life is to transform man's widest metaphysical ideas, by selective reproduction of reality, into a physical form—a work of art—that he can comprehend and to which he can respond emotionally.
Rand originally expressed her philosophical ideas in her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and other works. She further elaborated on them in her magazines The Objectivist Newsletter, The Objectivist, and The Ayn Rand Letter, and in non-fiction books such as Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology and The Virtue of Selfishness.
The name "Objectivism" derives from the principle that human knowledge and values are objective: they are not created by the thoughts one has, but are determined by the nature of reality, to be discovered by man's mind. Rand chose the name because her preferred term for a philosophy based on the primacy of existence, existentialism, had already been taken.
Metaphysics: Objective RealityRand's philosophy begins with three axioms: existence, identity, and consciousness. Rand defined an axiom as "a statement that identifies the base of knowledge and of any further statement pertaining to that knowledge, a statement necessarily contained in all others whether any particular speaker chooses to identify it or not. An axiom is a proposition that defeats its opponents by the fact that they have to accept it and use it in the process of any attempt to deny it." As Leonard Peikoff noted, Rand's argument "is not a proof that the axioms of existence, consciousness, and identity are true. It is proof that they are axioms, that they are at the base of knowledge and thus inescapable."
Objectivism states that "Existence exists" and "Existence is Identity." To be is to be "an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes." That which has no attributes does not and cannot exist. Hence, the axiom of identity: a thing is what it is. Whereas "existence exists" pertains to existence itself (whether something exists or not), the law of identity pertains to the nature of an object as being necessarily distinct from other objects (whether something exists as this or that). As Rand wrote, "A leaf ... cannot be all red and green at the same time, it cannot freeze and burn at the same time. A is A."
Rand held that since one is able to perceive something that exists, one's consciousness must exist, "consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists." Objectivism maintains that what exists simply exists, regardless of anyone's awareness, knowledge or opinion. This idea is derived from Rand's theory which she called "the primacy of existence", in opposition to the theory of "the primacy of consciousness."
For Rand, this primacy of consciousness is an inherently relational phenomenon. As she puts it, "to be conscious is to be conscious of something," so that an objective reality independent of consciousness must exist for consciousness to be possible, and that there is no possibility of a consciousness that is conscious of nothing outside itself. Thus consciousness cannot be the only thing that exists. "It cannot be aware only of itself — there is no 'itself' until it is aware of something." Objectivism holds that the mind cannot create reality, but rather, it is a means of discovering reality.
Objectivist philosophy derives its explanations of action and causation from the axiom of identity, calling causation "the law of identity applied to action." According to Rand, it is entities that act, and every action is the action of an entity. The way entities act is caused by the specific nature (or "identity") of those entities; if they were different they would act differently.
Objectivism rejects belief in "every 'spiritual' dimension, force, Form, Idea, entity, power, or whatnot alleged to transcend existence."
Epistemology: reasonObjectivist epistemology begins with the principle that Knowledge is Identification. This is understood to be a direct consequence of the metaphysical principle that "Existence is Identity." Rand defined "reason" as "the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses."
Objectivist epistemology maintains that all knowledge is ultimately based on perception. "Percepts, not sensations, are the given, the self-evident." Rand considered the validity of the senses to be axiomatic and claimed that purported arguments to the contrary all commit the fallacy of the "stolen concept" by presupposing the validity of concepts that, in turn, presuppose the validity of the senses. She thought that perception, being physiologically determined, is incapable of error. So optical illusions, for example, are errors in the conceptual identification of what is seen, not in the seeing itself.
The Objectivist theory of perception distinguishes between the form and object. The form in which an organism perceives is determined by the physiology of its sensory systems. Whatever form the organism perceives it in, what it perceives—the object of perception—is reality. Rand consequently rejected the Kantian dichotomy between "things as we perceive them" and "things as they are in themselves". The epistemologies of representationalism and indirect realism that accept a "veil of perception," as put forward by Descartes or John Locke, are inconsistent with Objectivism. Rand rejected epistemological skepticism as the skeptics claim knowledge "undistorted" by the form or the means of perception is impossible.
According to Rand, attaining knowledge beyond what is given in perception requires both volition (or the exercise of free will) and adherence to a specific method of validation through observation, concept-formation, and the application of inductive and deductive logic. A belief in, say, dragons, however sincere, does not oblige reality to contain any dragons. For anything that cannot be directly observed, a process of "proof" identifying the basis in reality of the claimed item of knowledge is necessary in order to establish its truth.
Objectivism rejects both faith and "feeling" as sources of knowledge. Rand acknowledged the importance of emotion in human beings, but she maintained that emotions are a consequence of the conscious or subconscious ideas that a person already accepts, not a means of achieving awareness of reality. "Emotions are not tools of cognition." Peikoff uses "emotionalism" as a synonym for irrationality.
Rand rejected all forms of faith or mysticism, terms that she used synonymously. She defined faith as "the acceptance of allegations without evidence or proof, either apart from or against the evidence of one's senses and reason. ... Mysticism is the claim to some non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable means of knowledge, such as 'instinct,' 'intuition,' 'revelation,' or any form of 'just knowing.'" Reliance on revelation is like reliance on a Ouija board; it bypasses the need to show how it connects its results to reality. Faith, for Rand, is not a "short-cut" to knowledge, but a "short-circuit" destroying it.
According to Rand, mind or consciousness possesses a specific, limited identity, just like everything else that exists; therefore, it must operate by a specific method of validation. An item of knowledge cannot be "disqualified" by being arrived at by a specific process in a particular form.
The attack on man's consciousness and particularly on his conceptual faculty has rested on the unchallenged premise that any knowledge acquired by a process of consciousness is necessarily subjective and cannot correspond to the facts of reality, since it is "processed knowledge... . [But] All knowledge is processed knowledge — whether on the sensory, perceptual or conceptual level. An "unprocessed" knowledge would be a knowledge acquired without means of cognition.Immanuel Kant's contrary arguments, according to Rand, amount to saying: "man is limited to a consciousness of a specific nature, which perceives by specific means and no others; therefore, his consciousness is not valid; man is blind because he has eyes—deaf because he has ears—deluded because he has a mind—and the things he perceives do not exist because he perceives them."
The aspect of epistemology given the most elaboration by Rand is the theory of concept-formation, which she presented in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. She claimed that concepts are formed by a process of measurement omission. Peikoff described her view as follows:
To form a concept, one mentally isolates a group of concretes (of distinct perceptual units), on the basis of observed similarities which distinguish them from all other known concretes (similarity is 'the relationship between two or more existents which possess the same characteristic(s), but in different measure or degree'); then, by a process of omitting the particular measurements of these concretes, one integrates them into a single new mental unit: the concept, which subsumes all concretes of this kind (a potentially unlimited number). The integration is completed and retained by the selection of a perceptual symbol (a word) to designate it. 'A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted.'"According to Rand, "[T]he term 'measurements omitted' does not mean, in this context, that measurements are regarded as non-existent; it means that measurements exist, but are not specified. That measurements must exist is an essential part of the process. The principle is: the relevant measurements must exist in some quantity, but may exist in any quantity."
Rand gave prominence to the idea that concepts are hierarchically organized. Concepts such as 'dog', which bring together "concretes" available in perception, can be differentiated (into the concepts of 'dachshund', 'poodle', etc.) or integrated (along with 'cat', etc., into the concept of 'animal'). Abstract concepts such as 'animal' can be further integrated, via "abstraction from abstractions," into such concepts as 'living thing'. Concepts are formed in the context of knowledge available. A young child differentiates dogs from cats and chickens, but need not explicitly differentiate them from deep-sea tube worms, or from other types of animals not yet known to him, in order to form a 'dog' concept.
Because of its view of concepts as "open-ended" classifications that go well beyond the characteristics included in their past or current definitions, Objectivist epistemology rejects the analytic-synthetic distinction as a false dichotomy and denies the possibility of a priori knowledge.
Objectivist epistemology is consistent with the facts that human beings have limited knowledge, are vulnerable to error, and do not instantly understand all of the implications of their knowledge. According to Peikoff, one can be certain of a proposition if all of the available evidence supports it; one is certain within the context of the evidence.
Objectivist epistemology attributes a special status to propositions put forward without any supporting evidence, calling them "arbitrary assertions," which can be legitimately treated as though "nothing has been said." A stronger version of this doctrine maintains that arbitrary assertions are neither true nor false, that cognition played no role in producing them, and that they have no more meaning than the squawks of a parrot. Branden and Peikoff have both maintained that positive claims about God or other supernatural powers must be rejected because they are arbitrarily asserted.
Ethics: rational self-interestRand defines morality as "a code of values to guide man's choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life." Rand maintained that the first question isn't what should the code of values be, the first question is "Does man need values at all—and why?"
According to Rand, "it is only the concept of 'Life' that makes the concept of 'Value' possible," and, "the fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do." She writes: "there is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action... It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death..." The survival of the organism is the ultimate value to which all of the organism's activities are aimed, the end served by all of its lesser values.
Integrating with this is Rand's view that the primary locus of man's free will is in the choice: to think or not to think. "Thinking is not an automatic function. In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one's consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make." According to Rand, therefore, possessing free will, human beings must choose their values: one does not automatically hold his own life as his ultimate value. Whether in fact a person's actions promote and fulfill his own life or not is a question of fact, as it is with all other organisms, but whether a person will act in order to promote his well-being is up to him, not hard-wired into his physiology. "Man has the power to act as his own destroyer—and that is the way he has acted through most of his history."
As with any other organism, human survival cannot be achieved randomly. The requirements of man's life first must be discovered and then consciously adhered to by means of principles. This is why human beings require a science of ethics. The purpose of a moral code, Rand held, is to provide the principles by reference to which man can achieve the values his survival requires. Rand summarizes:
If [man] chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice. If he does not choose to live, nature will take its course. Reality confronts a man with a great many 'must's', but all of them are conditional: the formula of realistic necessity is: 'you must, if -' and the if stands for man's choice: 'if you want to achieve a certain goal'.Rand's explanation of values presents the view that an individual's primary moral obligation is to achieve his own well-being - it is for his life, and his self-interest in it that an individual ought to adhere to a moral code. Egoism is a corollary of setting man's life as the moral standard. A corollary to Rand's endorsement of self-interest is her rejection of the ethical doctrine of altruism—which she defined in the sense of Auguste Comte's altruism (he coined the term), as a moral obligation to live for the sake of others. Rand did not use the term "selfishness" with the negative connotations that it usually has, but to refer to a form of rational egoism:
Since reason is man's means of knowledge, it is also his greatest value, and its exercise his greatest virtue. "Man's mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not. His body is given to him, its sustenance is not. His mind is given to him, its content is not. To remain alive he must act and before he can act he must know the nature and purpose of his action. He cannot obtain his food without knowledge of food and of the way to obtain it. He cannot dig a ditch––or build a cyclotron––without a knowledge of his aim and the means to achieve it. To remain alive, he must think." In her novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, she also emphasizes the central importance of productive work, romantic love and art to human happiness, and dramatizes the ethical character of their pursuit. The primary virtue in Objectivist ethics is rationality, as Rand meant it "the recognition and acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge, one's only judge of values and one's only guide to action."
Rand's egoism rejects subjectivism. There is a difference between rational self-interest as pursuit of one's own life and happiness in reality, and whim-worship or "hedonism." A whim-worshiper or "hedonist," according to Rand, is not motivated by a desire to live his own human life, but by a wish to live on a sub-human level. Instead of using "that which promotes my (human) life" as his standard of value, he mistakes "that which I (mindlessly happen to) value" for a standard of value, in contradiction of the fact that, existentially, he is a human and therefore rational organism. The "I value" in whim-worship or hedonism can be replaced with "we value," "he values," "they value," or "God values," and still it would remain dissociated from reality. Rand repudiated the equation of rational selfishness with hedonistic or whim-worshiping "selfishness-without-a-self." She held that the former is good, and the latter evil, and that there is a fundamental difference between them.
For Rand, all of the principal virtues are applications of the role of reason as man's basic tool of survival: rationality, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, productiveness, and pride—each of which she explains in some detail in "The Objectivist Ethics." The essence of Objectivist ethics is summarized by the oath her Atlas Shrugged character John Galt adhered to:
I swear — by my life and my love of it — that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.
Politics: individual rights and capitalism
Objectivism's politics derives immediately from its ethics, which provides the principles for "how man should treat other men." These principles of ethics provide the foundation for "the principles of a proper social system." Objectivists think that laissez-faire capitalism is "the only moral social system."
Rand's defense of individual liberty integrates elements from her entire philosophy. Since reason is the means of human knowledge, it is therefore each person's most fundamental means of survival and is necessary to the achievement of values. The use or threat of force neutralizes the practical effect of an individual's reason, whether the force originates from the state or from a criminal. According to Rand, "man's mind will not function at the point of a gun." Therefore, the only type of organized human behavior consistent with the operation of reason is that of voluntary cooperation. Persuasion is the method of reason. By its nature, the overtly irrational cannot rely on the use of persuasion and must ultimately resort to force in order to prevail. Thus, Rand saw reason and freedom as correlates, just as she saw mysticism and force as correlates. Based on this understanding of the role of reason, Objectivists hold that the initiation of physical force against the will of another is immoral, as are indirect initiations of force through threats, fraud, or breach of contract. The use of defensive or retaliatory force, on the other hand, is appropriate.
Objectivism holds that because the opportunity to use reason without the initiation of force is necessary to achieve moral values, each individual has an inalienable moral right to act as his own judgement directs and to keep the product of his effort. The fundamental right is the right to life, with other rights following from it, including rights to "liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness." "A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context." These rights are specifically understood to be rights to action, not to specific results or objects, and the obligations created by rights are negative in nature: each individual must refrain from violating the rights of others. Objectivists reject alternative notions of rights, such as positive rights or rights belonging to anything other than an individual human being, such as collective rights or animal rights.
Objectivism views government as legitimate, but only "a government of a definite kind." Rand understood government as the institution with a monopoly on the use of physical force in a given geographical area, so the issue is whether that force is used to protect or to violate individual rights. The government should use force only to protect individual rights. Therefore, the "proper functions of a government" are "the police, to protect men from criminals—the armed services, to protect men from foreign invaders—the law courts, to settle disputes among men according to objectively defined laws." In protecting individual rights, the government is acting as an agent of its citizens and "has no rights except the rights delegated to it by the citizens." It is also important that the government act in an impartial manner according to specific, objectively defined laws.
Objectivism holds that the only social system which fully recognizes individual rights is capitalism, specifically what Rand described as "full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism." Rand includes socialism, fascism, communism, Nazism, and the welfare state (which she often referred to as the "mixed economy"), as systems under which individual rights are not protected. 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. However, unlike some other defenses of capitalism, Objectivism does not treat material benefits, such as economic growth, as the primary defense or moral justification of capitalism. Rather, because capitalism is a moral system that allows individuals to practice virtues such as rationality and productivity, they are able to create material benefits as a result.
Based on their political philosophy, Objectivists do not consistently follow typical "conservative" and "liberal" political positions. Rand advocated the right to legal abortion. She opposed involuntary military conscription (the "draft") and any form of censorship, including legal restrictions on pornography. Rand opposed racism, and any legal application of racism, and she considered affirmative action to be an example of legal racism. More recent Objectivists have argued that religion is incompatible with American ideals, and the Christian right poses a threat to individual rights. Objectivists have argued against faith-based initiatives, displaying religious symbols in government facilities, and the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools. Objectivists have opposed the environmentalist movement as being hostile to technology and, therefore, to humanity itself. Objectivists have also opposed a number of government activities commonly supported by both liberals and conservatives, including antitrust laws, public education, and child labor laws.
Aesthetics: metaphysical value-judgmentsThe Objectivist theory of art flows from its epistemology, by way of "psycho-epistemology" (Rand's term for an individual's characteristic mode of functioning in acquiring knowledge). 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 abstractions 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, including one's metaphysical value-judgments. Objectivism regards art as an 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 usually 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).
Rand held that Romanticism was the highest school of literary art, noting that Romanticism was "based on the recognition of the principle that man possesses the faculty of volition," absent which, Rand believed, literature is robbed of dramatic power.
- What the Romanticists brought to art was the primacy of values… Values are the source of emotions: a great deal of emotional intensity was projected in the work of the Romanticists and in the reactions of their audiences, as well as a great deal of color, imagination, originality, excitement, and all the other consequences of a value-oriented view of life.
Intellectual impactAccording to Rick Karlin, academic philosophers have generally dismissed Rand's ideas and have marginalized her philosophy. Online U.S. News and World Report columnist Sara Dabney Tisdale states that academic philosophers dismiss Atlas Shrugged as "sophomoric," "preachy," and "unoriginal." Because of Rand's criticism of contemporary intellectuals, Objectivism has been called "fiercely anti-academic." David Sidorsky, a professor of moral and political philosophy at Columbia University, says Rand's work is "outside the mainstream" and is more of an ideological movement than a well-grounded philosophy.
In recent years Rand's works are more likely to be encountered in the classroom. The Ayn Rand Society, dedicated to fostering the scholarly study of Objectivism, is affiliated with the American Philosophical Association's Eastern Division. Since 1999, several monographs were published and a refereed Journal of Ayn Rand Studies began. In 2006 the University of Pittsburgh held a conference focusing on Objectivism. In addition, two Objectivist philosophers (Tara Smith and James Lennox) hold tenured positions at two of the fifteen leading American philosophy departments. Objectivist programs and fellowships have been supported at the University of Pittsburgh University of Texas at Austin and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Rand is not found in the comprehensive academic reference texts The Oxford Companion to Philosophy or The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. A lengthy article on Rand appears in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; she has an entry in the Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers and one forthcoming in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, as well as a brief entry in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy which features the following passage:
The influence of Rand’s ideas was strongest among college students in the USA but attracted little attention from academic philosophers. … Rand’s political theory is of little interest. Its unremitting hostility towards the state and taxation sits inconsistently with a rejection of anarchism, and her attempts to resolve the difficulty are ill-thought out and unsystematic.Noted Aristotle scholar Allan Gotthelf (chairman of the Ayn Rand Society) responded unfavorably to this entry and came to her defense. He and other scholars have argued for more academic study of Objectivism, viewing Rand's philosophy as a unique and intellectually interesting defense of classical liberalism that is worth debating.
CriticismsRand's philosophy has been the object of criticism by prominent intellectuals. In the essay "On the Randian Argument," philosopher Robert Nozick is sympathetic to Rand's political conclusions, but does not think her arguments justify them. In particular, his essay criticizes her foundational argument in ethics, which states that one's own life is, for each individual, the ultimate value because it makes all other values possible. He argues that to make her argument sound, one needs to explain why someone could not rationally prefer dying and having no values. Thus, her attempt to defend the morality of selfishness is, in his view, essentially an instance of begging the question. Nozick also argues that Rand's solution to David Hume's famous is-ought problem is unsatisfactory; an academic debate has developed around this issue, with scholars coming down on both sides.
William F. Buckley, Jr. called her philosophy "stillborn." Psychologist Albert Ellis has argued that adherence to Objectivism can result in hazardous psychological effects. After his expulsion from Rand's circle, Nathaniel Branden accused Rand and her followers of "destructive moralism," something he reports having engaged in himself when he was associated with Rand, but which he now claims "subtly encourages repression, self-alienation, and guilt."
Commentators have noted that the Objectivist epistemology is incomplete. According to Robert L. Campbell, the notion of proof for propositions remains sketchy. Rand did not work out a philosophy of science, as she herself acknowledged. The relationship between Objectivist epistemology and cognitive science remains unclear; Rand, Peikoff, and Kelley have all made extensive claims about human cognition and its development which appear to belong to psychology, yet Rand asserted that philosophy is logically prior to psychology and in no way dependent on it.
Post-Rand developmentSince Rand's death, others have attempted to restate and apply her ideas in their own work. In 1991, prominent Objectivist Leonard Peikoff published Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, a comprehensive restatement of Rand's philosophy. Chris Matthew Sciabarra discusses Rand's ideas and theorizes about their intellectual origins in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (1995). Surveys such as On Ayn Rand by Allan Gotthelf (1999), Ayn Rand by Tibor R. Machan (2000), and Objectivism in One Lesson by Andrew Bernstein (2009) provide briefer introductions to Rand's ideas.
Some scholars have focused on applying Objectivism in more specific areas. David Kelley has expanded on Rand's epistemological ideas in works such as The Evidence of the Senses (1986) and A Theory of Abstraction (2001). In the field of ethics, Kelley has argued in works such as Unrugged Individualism (1996) and The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand (2000) that Objectivists should pay more attention to the virtue of benevolence and place less emphasis on issues of moral sanction. Kelley's views have been controversial, with critics arguing that he contradicts important principles of Objectivism. Another author who focuses on Rand's ethics, Tara Smith, stays closer to Rand's original ideas in such works as Moral Rights and Political Freedom (1995), Viable Values (2000), and Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics (2006).
The political aspects of Rand's philosophy are discussed by Andrew Bernstein in The Capitalist Manifesto (2005). The comprehensive Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics by George Reisman (1996) attempts to integrate Objectivist methodology and insights with both Classical and Austrian economics. Other writers have explored the application of Objectivism to fields ranging from art (What Art Is by Louis Torres and Michelle Marder Kamhi, 2000) to teleology (The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts by Harry Binswanger, 1990).
Popular interest and influence
When a 1991 survey by the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club asked what the most influential book in the respondent's life was, Rand's Atlas Shrugged was the second most popular choice, after the Bible. Readers polled in 1998 and 1999 by Modern Library placed four of her books on the 100 Best Novels list, with Atlas Shrugged taking the top position, while another, The Virtue of Selfishness, topped the 100 Best Nonfiction list. Books by other authors about Rand and her philosophy also appeared on the non-fiction list. The validity of such lists has been disputed. Freestar Media/Zogby polls conducted in 2007 found that around 8 percent of American adults have read Atlas Shrugged.
Rand has been cited by numerous writers, artists and commentators as an influence on their lives and thought. Radio personality Rush Limbaugh makes frequent positive reference to Rand's work on his program. Rand or characters based on her figure prominently in novels by such authors as William F. Buckley, Mary Gaitskill, Matt Ruff, J. Neil Schulman, and Kay Nolte Smith. Rand's image appears on a U.S. postage stamp designed by artist Nick Gaetano.
Two movies have been made about Rand's life. A 1997 documentary film, Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The Passion of Ayn Rand, an independent film about her life, was made in 1999, starring Helen Mirren as Rand and Peter Fonda as her husband. The film was based on the book of the same name by Barbara Branden, and won several awards. Several attempts have been made to produce a film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, but none has ever moved beyond the planning stages.
Rand's work and persona have their detractors. Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of Reason magazine, has remarked that "Rand's is a tortured immortality, one in which she's as likely to be a punch line as a protagonist", with "jibes at Rand as cold and inhuman run[ning] through the popular culture." Edward Rothstein, cultural critic-at-large for the New York Times sees her fiction as "far from revolutionary ... somewhat quaint ...a Romantic utopia, in which the tensions of democratic life are not resolved but avoided" and suggests her work arises out of a "failure to reconcile democratic culture and high achievement". Johann Hari, a British journalist, wonders how Rand became an American icon, describing her as a damaged woman, a crazed, pitiable charlatan with an amphetamine addiction feeding her natural paranoia and aggression, and surrounded by a "tightly policed cult of young people" complete with show-trials; he concludes that the popularity of her ideas rests on "drilling into the basest human instincts".
A number of popular animated sitcoms have mentioned Rand or her works, including a Futurama episode where in the future Rand's works are found in the sewer, a South Park episode where Atlas Shrugged is described as a "piece of garbage," and multiple references in episodes of The Simpsons. Outside the world of animation, Rand has been referred to in a variety of shows, including game shows (Jeopardy!), dramas (The Gilmore Girls, Mad Men), and comedies (The Colbert Report). The Philosophical Lexicon, a satirical work maintained by philosophers Daniel Dennett and Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen, defines a 'rand' as: "An angry tirade occasioned by mistaking philosophical disagreement for a personal attack and/or evidence of unspeakable moral corruption." The video games BioShock and BioShock 2 include elements inspired by Rand's ideas.
Although Rand's influence has been greatest in the United States, there has been international interest in her work. Her books were international best sellers, and continue to sell in large numbers in the 21st century.
Since Rand's death in 1982, there has been gradually increasing interest in her work. Historian Jennifer Burns has identified "three overlapping waves" of scholarly interest in Rand, the most recent of which is "an explosion of scholarship" in the 2000s. However, few universities currently include Rand or Objectivism as a philosophical specialty or research area, with many literature and philosophy departments dismissing her as pop culture phenomenon rather than subject of serious study.
Some academic philosophers have criticized Rand for what they assert is a lack of rigor and limited understanding of philosophical subject matter. Many in the Continental tradition think her celebration of self-interest relies on sophistic logic, and as a result have not thought her work worth any serious consideration. According to columnist Sara Dabney Tisdale, philosophers have dismissed Atlas Shrugged as "sophomoric, preachy, and unoriginal" and have marginalized her philosophy. Chris Sciabarra has called into question the motives of some of Rand's critics on account of what he calls unusual hostility of their criticisms. Sciabarra says, "The left was infuriated by her anti-communist, procapitalist politics, whereas the right was disgusted with her atheism and civil libertarianism."
Writers on Rand such as Sciabarra, Allan Gotthelf, and Tara Smith have made attempts to teach her work in academic institutions. Sciabarra co-edits the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, a self-described "nonpartisan" peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the study of Rand's philosophical and literary work. In 1987 Gotthelf helped found the Ayn Rand Society, which is affiliated with the American Philosophical Association and has been active in sponsoring seminars and distributing videotaped lecture courses on Ayn Rand. Smith has published several academic books and papers on Rand's ideas, including Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist, a volume on Rand's ethical theory published by Cambridge University Press. Rand's ideas have also been made subjects of study at Clemson and Duke universities. Scholars of English and American literature have largely ignored her work, although attention to her literary work has increased since the 1990s. In the Literary Encyclopedia entry for Rand written in 2001, John Lewis declared that "Rand wrote the most intellectually challenging fiction of her generation". In a 1999 interview in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Rand scholar Chris Matthew Sciabarra commented, "I know they laugh at Rand," while forecasting a growth of interest in her work in the academic community.