The Intellectual Activist
An Objectivist Review
The Philosophy of Ayn Rand
Categories: Ayn Rand, Objectivism

Growing up in volatile communist Russia certainly helped shaped the novelist and philosopher that Ayn Rand would become, but what exactly is her philosophy? Ayn Rand challenged notions that had long been held by society and believed that the individual should be greater than the whole. Her philosophy of Objectivism is woven throughout her novels and is practiced by many still today.

The Basis of Objectivism

The basic tenets behind Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism are:

  • Reality exists independently of consciousness. Reality is, regardless of our awareness of it.
  • The moral purpose of life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness. Live independently and in the pursuit of personal happiness and fulfillment.
  • Social systems should be consistent with the rights of the individual. Government should act as an agent to protect the individual rights of its citizens.

These ideas are merely the beginning; however, they can be difficult to understand and therefore, difficult move deeper into. So much of what Objectivism teaches is based on a type of selfishness that is uncomfortable for many people to embrace. Although these beliefs were found in her novels and were largely accepted at the time, there is still a confusion about what each of these tenets means and how to achieve them.

Existence, Consciousness, and Identity

Rand firmly believed in the idea that just because you think something, doesn’t make it true. Reality exists and we must learn to move successfully within reality. We do not create our own existence or reality. We do not transcend into another state. There is no alternative to reality. Reality simply is and we must face it. Consciousness is the awareness of reality or existence. Each entity in existence reacts in a specific way dictated by nature and thus creates an identity. Regardless of an individual’s hopes or fears, there is no altering reality just because it is desired. Reality and our existence there is a world that is independent of our thoughts. Likewise, there is no divine entity acting or altering reality on our behalf. Belief in something does not make it so. Only existing makes something real. Assertions as to the existence of something without proof are not rational arguments.

Self-Interest and Selfish Love

Rand’s philosophy states that for mankind to possess free will means that they must also choose their own values and that he must also choose to preserve himself. Man must choose his own self-interest in order to survive. According to Rand, this state of self-preservation is not innate in humankind. The pursuit of one’s own happiness should be the moral goal of all people. Objectivism rejects the notion that we are each other’s keepers and that we should be responsible for each other. Instead, it teaches that individuals should come together when they have mutual values in common and separate when those values differ.

Live independently and respect other’s rights to do so as well. This idea is also expressed in the areas of love and relationships. In The Fountainhead Rand wrote, “To say ‘I love you’ one must know first how to say the ‘I’.” Essentially stating that before you can love another you must first understand yourself and acknowledge your own needs. Rand often rejected the notion of selfless love. Claiming that a selfless love is a contradiction. People gain happiness through the existence of the person they love and therefore have a personal stake in their survival and well-being. Any concern an individual has for the person they love is a part of that self-interest and the desire to pursue their own happiness.

Social Government, Individual Rights, and Capitalism

Objectivism places the right of the individual above all else and states that social constructs should only be accomplished through voluntary cooperation. Violence acts as a neutralizer to reason and therefore should not be tolerated, whether by criminal or by the government. Force is acceptable, however, when one is defending oneself and their individual values. Objectivism is very specific regarding individual rights to action and not rights to objects or specific outcomes. Rand believed this was negative in nature and went against the idea that one must refrain from infringing upon the rights of others while in pursuit of their own. According to Rand, true capitalism is the most morally correct social system as it is the only system that fully recognizes the rights of the individual. True capitalism in this context is the separation of government and economics. In this social construct, the government would have no sway or control over economic matters. Its sole purpose being only to protect the rights of each individual citizen. Rand believed that money was not the root of all evil, but instead the means by which man survives and thus furthers his greatest moral pursuit of self-interest and happiness. By allowing government restrictions and economic control, man is allowing his own self-interests and happiness to be overtaken, thereby separating himself from his highest moral pursuit. Wealth and progress was created by individuals and as individuals, we should have the right to create our own wealth and progress.

As Ayn Rand was developing her philosophy of Objectivism, she was often challenged on the notion of the individual over the collective and the idea that being selfish is good. The challenge is understanding her view of selfishness and how that relates to Objectivism. Rand believed that by encompassing all of the aspects of Objectivism the idea of selfishness stops being evil and instead becomes morally superior. By understanding reality and our place within reality we can then see the world and our interactions with other individuals rationally. This viewpoint shows us that it is not in our self-interest to act thoughtlessly or victimize others. By doing the opposite and respecting others individual rights we can then work together to further our own self-interests. Such as by trading with each other to get the things we need or to further ourselves on our journey to happiness. Those who choose to follow the Objectivist principles claim that the traditional virtues by which most people choose to measure themselves are the exact same virtues needed for a man to pursue his own self-interests and pursue his natural right of happiness.

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