Objectivism is the idea that rational individualism will guide a person to achieving their own happiness. Rather than daydreaming on a hope for how one’s life will turn out, one must use facts of reality in the most rational sense in order to strive towards their desires and needs. One’s frame of mind must remain within objective principles.
This kind of philosophy was created by Ayn Rand whose writing was and remains controversial. Some consider objectivism nothing more than selfishness while others see it as a beacon of knowledge.
The purpose of this blog is to merely open up a conversation about objectivism. While we understand not everyone who reads this will agree with Rand’s philosophy, we also know there are individuals out there who may benefit from it. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What is Objectivism?
According to the Atlas Society, objectivism is defined as “the philosophy of rational individualism.” The text carries on, “Objectivism holds that there is no greater moral goal than achieving one’s happiness. But one cannot achieve happiness by wish or whim. It requires rational respect for the facts of reality, including the facts about our human nature and needs.”
In order to showcase objectivism, Rand often references the many achievements humanity has attained over the millennia. From learning how to start a fire to the invention of the wheel, Rand believed these accomplishments were a product of an individual’s own path towards happiness. In her own words:
“Thousands of years ago, the first man discovered how to make fire. He was probably burned at the stake he had taught his brothers to light. He was considered an evildoer who had dealt with a demon mankind dreaded. But thereafter men had fire to keep them warm, to cook their food, to light their caves. He had left them a gift they had not conceived and he had lifted darkness off the earth. Centuries later, the first man invented the wheel. He was probably torn on the rack he had taught his brothers to build. He was considered a transgressor who ventured into forbidden territory. But thereafter, men could travel past any horizon. He had left them a gift they had not conceived and he had opened the roads of the world.
“The man, the unsubmissive and first, stands in the opening chapter of every legend mankind has recorded about its beginning. Prometheus was chained to a rock and torn by vultures – because he had stolen the fire of gods. Adam was condemned to suffer – because he had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Whatever the legend, somewhere in the shadows of its memory mankind knew that its glory began with one and that one paid for his courage.”
What Rand is getting to with these words is humanity often basks in the fruits created by the individual. And when a new individual comes along with new ideas, humanity is quick to shun them.
The idea is that without these individuals and their own will towards happiness, we would not be where we are today. And, in order to keep human achievement progressing, all we can do is act upon our own virtues.
“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps, down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision.”– Ayn Rand
The Five Cores of Objectivism
On the surface, it’s granted why Rand’s philosophy may be demonized. However, in order to properly understand it, one must dive a bit deeper. While we definitely suggest reading her novels – The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, in particular – we can get a better sense of where Rand is coming from through five core principles:
There are three axioms that can give individuals a starting point into Rand’s philosophy: ¹
In accordance with Rand, an axiom is “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.” ²
With Rand’s definition in mind, she defined her three axioms as follows:
- Existence – An obvious fact that’s the foundation of all other knowledge. Some have referred to Rand’s views on existence as the concept of evolving something from nothing.
- Consciousness – “The faculty of perceiving that which exists.” The fact that we’re aware of our existences means we can express ourselves in ways that our existence must adapt.
- Identity – Every act we take that defines who we are as individuals. These acts are spawned by our consciousness and, in turn, define our existence.
Objectivist epistemology ultimately comes down to one thing; logic. If something can be conceptualized, it must due so within the realms of reality. All convictions must hold concrete evidence to support their knowledge.
In order to garner knowledge, Rand understood that it required the free will and performing certain actions:
- Application of inductive
- Deductive reasoning
Other writers, such as Leonard Peikoff, expanded on Rand’s philosophy. Concerning epistemology, he writes, “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 (similarly, 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).” ³
These thought professes are ultimately our awareness of reality which define our values and, more importantly, the way in which we conduct our lives. Rand didn’t believe emotions were a source of this knowledge. Rather, she felt that emotions were a consequence of our already-found knowledge. For example, knowledge of the COVID-19 pandemic put a lot of anxiety among individuals.
If you’ve ever read Rand’s writing, you’re already well aware that much of her ethics constitutes in that of one’s own self-interest. In accordance with her writing, morality is “a code of values to guide a man’s choices and actions – the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life.” ⁴
Rand believed that since individuals possess free will, it’s ultimately up to the each of us to decide what our values are. And that this decision can not automatically be made simply because one exists.
“Man’s mind is his basic tool of survival,” Rand wrote in Atlas Shrugged. “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.”
Where Rand is getting to with this is our lives are ultimately determined by our own will power. The more we’re willing to source knowledge and apply it, the happier and more fulfilled we’ll be.
Rand reminds us that man is not forced into knowledge. When reality gets tough, he has the right to avoid it and not think. However, she warns that this kind of behavior will not lead to life’s satisfaction.
With all this said, man’s survival tools should always include:
Perhaps, the ethics of Rand’s philosophy is perfectly described in one of her most famous quotes:
“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.”– Ayn Rand
It’s no secret that Rand was a fan of capitalism. She believed the only way human’s can reach their greatest accomplishments is if their means of survival is entirely based on voluntary cooperation. And capitalism is an economic system that allows this kind of behavior.
According to Rand, every man has their right to action – to make or take opportunities as they present themselves. However, Rand doesn’t believe man has the right to the outcome of these opportunities. With that said, any notion of collective rights – such as universal healthcare – are thrown out the window.
While Rand believed in capitalism, she desired a “pure capitalist” society. One that had little to no government involvement and opened the doors to opportunity through absolute freedom. Still, even with these beliefs, Rand understood government held an important merit. In order for justice and legitimacy to prevail, a proper government must be set in place.
Going off these details, you can really place an Objectivist’s politics on either the left or right. They often oppose government activities that fall under both liberal and conservatism, including:
- Antitrust laws
- Any form of censorship (including restrictions on pornography, opinion, and worship)
- Child labor laws
- Minimum wage
- Public education
With this said, Rand opposed involuntary taxation and held the conviction that the government should be voluntarily financed.
The aesthetic aspect of objectivism concerns art which, according to Rand, is a human cognitive need. Art allows us to take concepts we previously wouldn’t understand and configure them in a way to where we can perceive their reality. In simpler words, art takes abstract concepts and makes them perceivable.
In many regards, art is an effective means of communication. It allows for us to take life’s most complicated situations and place them into a digestible form. However, objectivists are stern in their belief that art should not be a form of education. For when art starts preaching knowledge, it becomes propaganda.
In terms of romanticism, Rand noted: “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.” ⁵
While romanticism is often association with our emotions, objectivists often take a countering point of view. They find romanticism to be a subjective philosophy – or, in their own terms, a “romantic realism.”
It’s safe to say that artists of this nature are likely to follow other philosophies of Rand, such as her firm believe that all knowledge must be held in reality.
While Rand’s work is highly criticized, it’s also praised by those who have followed her convictions. Whether you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with her, there’s no denying that Rand had a unique philosophy other philosophers don’t carry with them. And, due to this, it may be in your interest to read one of her works.
The purpose of teaching about various philosophies is to offer a variety of solutions to life’s many difficulties. With that said, you may find that Rand’s work is something your character can benefit from. If not, there are other philosophers out there who take very opposing views in their beliefs.
Still have questions concerning the philosophy of objectivism?
We invite you to ask them in the comment’s section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ Peikoff, Leonard (1991). Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. New York: Dutton. ISBN 978-0-452-01101-4.
² Rand, Ayn (1992) . Atlas Shrugged (35th anniversary ed.). New York: Dutton. ISBN 978-0-525-94892-6.
³ Peikoff, Leonard. “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy”. In Rand 1990, pp. 97–98. The quotes within this passage are of Rand’s material elsewhere in the same book.
⁴ Rand, Ayn (1964). The Virtue of Selfishness (paperback ed.). New York: Signet. ISBN 978-0-451-16393-6.
⁵ Rand, Ayn (1971). The Romantic Manifesto (paperback ed.). New York: Signet. OCLC 733753672.