“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.”
From an appendix to Atlas Shrugged
Objectivism is the name of the philosophy of Ayn Rand, described by her as a “philosophy for living on Earth” – a philosophy with clear guidelines to live according to.
What is Objectivism? Ayn Rand herself once tried to explain her philosophy in such a manner that its core point could be understood and explained “while standing on one foot”.
The first element of Objectivism is the metaphysics (the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, identity, time, and space). In order to have a better idea of the subject at hand, it is best to begin with the following: what is reality? The base of Objectivism is reality. From the Objectivist viewpoint, reality is objective. It is one and whole. It is independent from the feelings, fears, and hopes of humanity. A is always A and there is no “other” world in which there exists some ideal A that can only be perceived by those few “specially gifted”, nor does the A change in response to a person or their desires. If there is such a thing as objective reality, the discovery of what this objective reality consists of is of paramount importance. There is no such thing as “my truth”, “your truth”, or “their truth” – there is only one objective truth.
So how do we find out what this objective reality consists of? That is where the epistemology (the philosophical study of the nature, origin, and limits of human knowledge) of Objectivism comes in. Reason stands at the core of Objectivist epistemology. It is the most important human faculty that we use to comprehend objective reality. We use reason to reorganize and “store” all that we pick up and learn with our senses and it is the human faculty that, according to Objectivism, allows us to understand and discern reality and best play by its rules.
So, what does this reality command us to do? This is where the ethics (the branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles) of Objectivism come in. A person possesses reason and through reason they set for themselves rational goals in their pursuit of happiness, a goal which makes itself obvious if a person pursues rational self-interest (sometimes called rational egoism) as the core principle of their ethics. A person must not seek to sacrifice themselves for others but also to not sacrifice others for themselves in that pursuit of happiness.
Lastly, there is the political dimension. If we start with the premise that Objectivism holds that a person, using their reason, can accurately perceive reality and form rational goals in their pursuit of happiness accordingly, the question that arises is what kind of political system is needed for people to flourish? According to Ayn Rand, the best political and economic system for something like that is laissez-faire capitalism – a system in which, she argues, no one is above someone else or below someone else. It is, rather, a system in which individuals engage in willing trade of goods and services to their mutual benefit. A rejection of the use of force against others stands at the core of this view. In Rand’s ideal system, a state would still exist, but it would be a minimal state which is there only to guarantee the protection of a person’s natural rights. If the state protects the individual and the individual’s private property, the free market can (and should) assume its role as an optimal and the only ethical tool of distribution within society. For true capitalism to exist, there must be a separation of the state and the economy, much like the separation of church and state.
Ayn Rand considered it to be of the utmost value for an individual to achieve their own happiness, and selfishness, in the specific definition that Rand gives it, is considered to be a virtue.
The political dimension of Objectivism is the most well-known and controversial part of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, but in order to understand why she considers laissez-faire capitalism not only the most efficient economic system, but the only moral economic and social system, it is necessary to have a grasp of the entire scope of the objectivist philosophy – its metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and its politics.
That is the reason why we are here. If this very short introduction to Ayn Rand’s hugely influential philosophy has intrigued you, you would almost certainly enjoy comprehensively exploring Objectivism through Rand’s books, and especially our programs such as The John Galt School. Get ready to discover a new worldview, one where, instead of promoting pessimism about the possibility for human advancement, women and men have the power to realize themselves fully and change the world.
“In order to live, man must act; in order to act, he must make choices; in order to make choices, he must define a code of values; in order to define a code of values, he must know what he is and where he is—i.e., he must know his own nature (including his means of knowledge) and the nature of the universe in which he acts—i.e., he needs metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, which means: philosophy. He cannot escape from this need; his only alternative is whether the philosophy guiding him is to be chosen by his mind or by chance.”
The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand