“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 on how to live your life to its full potential.
What is Objectivism? Ayn Rand herself once tried to explain her philosophy in such a manner that its core points 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 question: What is the nature of the universe in which we reside? The base of Objectivism is reality. For Objectivism, reality is objective. It is one and whole. It is eternal. It was not created, nor is it governed by some supernatural ghost, who can make burning bushes speak, men live inside whales, and cause virgins to give birth. There are no miracles that contradict the laws of nature. Reality is independent of the thoughts, 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. Because reality is objective, the discovery of its nature 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? This is the field of epistemology (the philosophical study of the nature, origin, and limits of human knowledge). Reason stands at the core of Objectivist epistemology. It is the most important human faculty that we use to comprehend objective reality. Reason is the faculty that integrates sense perception into a coherent whole. It is the application of logical, non-contradictory thought to observed facts. Put more simply, it is logical thinking about the facts of observation.
What does reality require of us? This leads us to the field of ethics, the branch of philosophy that studies the questions of right and wrong, good and evil, what men should and should not do. The Objectivist ethics teaches us that flourishing human life requires us to live by reason – not by faith or feelings or social conformity – and that we must pursue our own self-interest, neither sacrificing ourselves to others nor sacrificing others to ourselves. This is a theory known as “rational egoism”, whereby I seek my own happiness via rational thought and honest effort, always respecting the right of others to do the same, and expecting that they respect my right to do so.
Last, there is the political question: What type of society best promotes human life? Man must deploy reason to live on Earth. He must learn how to grow crops, to cure diseases, to build homes and cities, and so forth. He must develop rational philosophy and science in order to do so. Further, by rational thought and honest effort, he must work to gain his own happiness. It follows that he must have the political right to follow his own judgement in pursuit of his own happiness. He must have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A morally legitimate government has but one purpose: To protect individual rights. Capitalism, full capitalism, laissez-faire capitalism, is the system of individual rights. It bans the initiation of force in human life. The government protects honest people from criminals; a written Constitution and a Bill of Rights protects honest people from the government. Ayn Rand stated: “Capitalism is the system of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned. For true capitalism to exist, there must be a separation of state and the economy, much like the separation of church and state.”
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 that we are here. If this very short introduction to Ayn Rand’s life-giving philosophy has intrigued you, you would almost certainly enjoy a comprehensive exploration of 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