is the philosophy of Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum, more widely known
by her pen-name, Ayn Rand (Born: February 2, 1905 - St. Petersburg,
Russia; Died: March 6, 1982 - New York, New York). Often wrongly
confused with libertarian politics, Objectivist political philosophy
is in fact different and, accordingly, is not included in Mondo
Ayn Rand was as
much an advocate of philosophy in general as she was of Objectivism
in particular. She made the point that, whether you have chosen
to study philosophy or not, everyone holds beliefs consciously
or unconsciously that give rise to, at least, an implicit or subconscious
set of principles. As Ayn Rand put it:
have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations,
your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into
principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are
true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational
convictions - or a grab bag of notions snatched at random, whose
sources, validity, context and consequences you do not know,
notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot
potato if you knew.
the principles you accept (consciously or unconsciously) may
clash with or contradict one another; they too have to be integrated.
What integrates them? Philosophy. A philosophic system is an
integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no
choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only
choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious,
rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical
deliberation, or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap
of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined
contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts
and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your
subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into
a single, solid weight: self doubt, like a ball and
chain in the place where your mind's wings should have grown." - Ayn
Rand, 1974 "Philosophy:
Who Needs It?"
the subject that studies man's relationship to reality. It has
nature of the universe and reality. Metaphysics asks: "What
is the nature of existence?" or "Where am I?"
theory of knowledge. Epistemology asks: "How do I know?"
with moral right vs. moral wrong (virtue vs. vice, good vs. evil).
Ethics asks: "What should I do?"
branch that studies the nature of society and the proper role
of government. Politics asks: "How should I treat my fellow
philosophy of art. What is art? What is good art? How should
we judge art?
Objectivist political philosophy (but
not her metaphysics, epistemology, or ethics) is most similar to
that espoused by John Locke in his second treatise of government
(published in England in 1689, just after the Glorious Revolution
of 1688): that every person, in the peaceful pursuit of personal
fulfillment, has an absolute right to his own life, liberty and
property, and that the role of government is to protect those rights.
The existence of these "natural" and "inalienable" rights
were echoed by English freedom activist Thomas Paine, and by Thomas
Jefferson in his Declaration of Independence, wherein some of the
British colonies of North America declared their intended independence
from the British Empire (thereafter achieving independence and
eventually forming what is now known as the United States of America).
Ayn Rand called the politics of Objectivism "freedom":
individual freedom is the political philosophy of Objectivism.
Ayn Rand asserted
that capitalism - which she defined as the complete separation
of economics from the activities of the state - was the only social
system compatible with freedom. Capitalism, she explained,
recognizes and defends reason as man’s sole means of survival.
In a capitalist society, goods and services are distributed by
consensual trade, not by physical coercion. Being a system in which
coercive physical force is used only to defend each person’s
life, liberty and property, capitalism is the only system compatible
with human life.
The political branch of
Objectivism - individual freedom - has a logical and hierarchical
philosophical underpinning. The politics of Objectivism logically
flows from and is justified by Objectivist ethics; Objectivist
ethics logically flows from and is justified by Objectivist
epistemology; Objectivist epistemology logically flows from and
by Objectivist metaphysics. To properly understand the political
philosophy of Objectivism, one must also know the metaphysics,
epistemology, and ethics of Objectivism. Accordingly, what
follows is a brief overview of the key philosophical assertions
including its political philosophy.
1. The Metaphysics of Objectivism:
Existence Exists, A is A
At the root of
any philosophy is a single question: "Is the world affected
by what you merely think about the world?". Objectivism's
answer is: no, "existence exists" and things are what
they are independently of what you might think about
things: "A is A". The latter, "A is A", is
the Law of Identity, first expressed by the philosopher
Aristotle (it is for this reason that a bust of Aristotle appears
opposite Ayn Rand in the Atlantis header, above).
exists" is perhaps most easily understood by noting that when
another person dies, you continue to live, to go to work, to eat,
etc. even though the other person has absolutely no thoughts at
all about the world once he is dead: the world exists not in anyone's
mind, but independently of it. Accordingly, Objectivism concludes
that the nature of things is objective: an Oak tree rises
perpendicularly to the earth whether or not you believe that
to be the case - A is A.
are what they are independently of what you think about them, your
thoughts cannot change reality. As Rand put it:
grasp the axiom that existence exists, means to grasp the fact
that nature, i.e., the universe as a whole, cannot be created
or annihilated, that it cannot come into or go out of existence.
Whether its basic constituent elements are atoms, or subatomic
particles, or some yet undiscovered forms of energy, it is
not ruled by a consciousness or by will or by chance, but by
the Law of Identity." - from "The
Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made", reprinted in Ayn Rand's
Who Needs It?
between the unchangeable properties of the world (the "metaphysically
given") and those things that man can create from that which
exists in nature ("the man made"). Rand
explained that, to create that which is man-made, man must first
choose to perceive and discover that which is metaphysically given:
volition is an attribute of his consciousness (of his rational
faculty) and consists in the choice to perceive existence or
to evade it. To perceive existence, to discover the characteristics
or properties (the identities) of the things that exist, means
to discover and accept the metaphysically given. Only on the
basis of this knowledge is man able to learn how the things given
in nature can be rearranged to serve his needs (which is his
method of survival).
power to rearrange the combinations of natural elements is
the only creative power man possesses. It is an enormous and
glorious power - and it is the only meaning of the concept "creative." "Creation" does
not (and metaphysically cannot) mean the power to bring something
into existence out of nothing. "Creation" means the
power to bring into existence an arrangement (or combination
or integration) of natural elements that had not existed before.
(This is true of any human product, scientific or esthetic:
man's imagination is nothing more than the ability to rearrange
the things he has observed in reality.) The best and briefest
identification of man's power in regard to nature is Francis
Bacon's "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed." In
this context, "to be commanded" means to be made
to serve man's purposes; "to be obeyed" means that
they cannot be served unless man discovers the properties of
natural elements and uses them accordingly." -
from "The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made, reprinted
in Ayn Rand's book Philosophy:
Who Needs It?
According to Objectivism,
a man's volition - the decision a man makes between the
choices of perceiving and discovering the metaphysically given,
and evading the metaphysically given - is a metaphysical given.
One man cannot change another man's mind: a man can change only
his own mind. That said, one man can expose another man to facts
or falsehoods in the hope that the man will make his subjective
beliefs consistent with his newly-acquired facts/falsehoods (i.e.,
in the hope of persuading the other man).
2. The Epistemology of Objectivism: Reason is the Way Man Obtains Knowledge
that the information provided to the mind by the senses is completely
valid. It holds further that that information is the foundation
of all other knowledge.
that man can form concepts, and that concepts are objective. It
rejects the idea that concepts are the product of arbitrary decision
by society, and the idea that concepts are created by a supreme
that logic is man's means of concept formation/knowledge,
and that truths are absolutes. Emotions and intuitions are not
means of knowledge: that you feel strongly that 2+2=5 doesn't
matter. It also follows that Objectivism rejects skepticism (i.e.,
such ideas as that truth is inside your head; that there are no
absolutes; that truths are all subjective) and mysticism (i.e.,
the idea, for example, that knowledge will be given to you
by a supreme being without you having to reason).
3. The Ethics of Objectivism:
Rational Self-Interest or Egoism
that knowledge of ethics, like other knowledge, can be obtained
only by reason. Because it holds reality and reason to be objective,
Objectivism asks: what in reality gives rise to ethics?
Objectivism's answer: man is a living being who has to act in
a certain way to keep himself alive. Unlike Animals, which
are hard-wired to behave in ways that preserve their lives, humans
are capable of acting in ways that will actually harm human survival:
they can, for example, commit suicide and murder. Therefore, to
survive and to thrive, man must distinguish between that which
helps him survive and thrive, and that which harms him. In short,
he must have an ethical/moral code: a system of judging
right from wrong.
that right and wrong can be determined only with reference to the
nature of man: that one must hold ones own life as ones highest
value and standard, and that one must hold ones own happiness
to be ones highest purpose. Then, and only then, can one determine
which decisions one should make and act upon (i.e.,
in order to survive and to pursue ones own happiness).
that man can survive and pursue happiness only by means of rationality:
the full use of ones mind and intelligence in thinking and understanding.
Reason, for man, is a vital necessity without which he would perish.
Accordingly, Objectivism holds reason to be man's highest
virtue/good. That which we currently have that helps us to live
and thrive - medicine, modern technology - is the product of man's
reasoning. In contrast, man-made disasters were the products of
errors or of individuals that were anti-reason.
The virtue of
rationality gives rise to other crucial virtues, such as:
Thought - coming to ones own conclusions via the process
of reasoning, rather than skipping the reasoning and simply
relying upon what some authority says.
acting according to what you, as a result of the reasoning process,
think: if you do not act according to the products of your reasoning,
your reasoning might just as well never have occurred.
using your mind to create physical wealth so that you can survive
every individual is faced with the same choice - to live or to
Objectivism holds that each individual should be the beneficiary
of his own actions: each man should live and think for his own
sake, not for others'. In other words, rational self interest is
the ethics of Objectivism. Accordingly, Objectivism is the antithesis
of altruism, in which each man either sacrifices himself
for others, or sacrifices others for himself.
that it is moral to act in ones rational self-interest, that which
is moral is also practical. In contrast, when morality
is defined as self-sacrifice (i.e.., as altruism), a false dichotomy
is created because that which is said to be moral is often found
not to be practical. Thus, those who consider altruism to be moral
are constantly torn, trying to resolve a false dichotomy that cannot
be resolved: a dichotomy between living and enjoying life on the
one hand, and being "moral" on the other.
4. The Politics of Objectivism: Freedom
epistemology and ethics of Objectivism found Objectivism's political
philosophy, Freedom. Freedom, as objectivism defines and
understands it, means freedom from physical coercion. Building
on its metaphysics, epistemology and ethics, Objectivism argues
that every individual, in the peaceful pursuit of personal
right to his or her own life, liberty and property. Those rights
are necessary if man is to survive and thrive by means of reason,
which is his mode of survival. Denied the liberty to make choices,
human happiness and survival are at the mercy of another’s
discretion. Denied the benefits of having exercised ones liberty
in a wise, ethical way, the exercise of ones liberty is
a waste of energy. Thus, Objectivism concludes that a
free society is one in which the rights rights of life, liberty
and property are not violated.
According to Objectivism,
the only way to violate a person's rights to life, liberty
and property is to initiate physical force against the person
or his/her property without his/her consent. This gives rise to
what has been called the Non-Aggression Principle:
may initiate or threaten to initiate the use of
coercive physical force.
this Non-Aggression Principle properly, it is important to read every
word of it carefully. Four things, in particular, should be noted.
First, it is critical to
notice that this Non-Aggression Principle does not rule out
the use of coercive physical force altogether: it prohibits only
the initiation or threatened initiation of coercive physical
force. Therefore, the Non-Aggression Principle does not rule out self-defence.
For example, if, without your consent, a person punches you or
threatens to punch you, the Non-Aggression Principle does not prohibit
you from using coercive physical force against the attacker (e.g.,
for example, punching him).
The second important
thing to understand is that for physical force to be coercive,
it must be the case that the person upon whom it is used did not consent to
the use of the force. If a person consents to being punched, the
punch - the initiation of physical force - is not coercive.
is nothing about the Non-Aggression Principle that requires consent
or the absence of consent to be communicated to the person
initiating the use of coercive physical force: when consent
exists is a question of fact, and sometimes consent will be implied
by the circumstances or by non-verbal communication. For example,
it can normally be inferred accurately that a person does not
want you to poke them in the eye: were you to poke someone in
the eye without them expressly consenting to it (before or after
the fact), you would have violated the Non-Aggression Principle.
Similarly, it can normally be inferred accurately that a parent
consents to receiving a kiss from his or her child: normally,
kissing ones parent without first getting permission will not
constitute a violation of the Non-Aggression Principle. Indeed, barring
circumstances under which the child ought reasonably to have
known that the kiss was not consented to, kissing ones parent
will normally not constitute a violation of the Non-Aggression
Principle even if the parent subsequently says, truthfully,
that he or she did not want to be kissed by the child.
The third important
thing to notice, when trying to understand this Non-Aggression
Principle, is that all coercion is ultimately physical. Concepts,
ideas, beliefs, messages and opinions never are. Thus, with the
exception of a threat to initiate the use of coercive physical
force, the mere communication to one or more people of a concept,
idea, belief, message or opinion never constitutes a violation
of the Non-Aggression Principle. The Non-Aggression Principle is not even
violated by communicating something that is emotionally hurtful,
disturbing, hateful, disgusting or obscene, provided that the communication
does not amount to a threat to initiate the use of coercive physical
to objectivist philosophy, inaction is
never coercion, such that one cannot violate the Non-Aggression
Principle even by refusing to help someone stay alive. Consider this
example. A farmer named Frank says
a starving man in the city streets "I
will give you some of my food and water if and only if you agree
to mow my lawn".
The starving/thirsty man, Bob, replies "I will not mow your lawn".
Frank walks away without ever giving food or water to Bob. Under
this example, Frank offer would be considered an attempt at persuasion,
not coercion. However, if, instead of offering to trade
food and water for Bob's labour, Frank told Bob "Mow my lawn
or else I'll poke you in the eye",
not persuasion, because Frank would then have threatened
the initiation of physical force against Bob without Bob's consent.*
* NOTE: Objectivism's
unambiguous definition of coercion is one of the things that
distinguishes Objectivism from libertarianism.
Libertarianism, being intentionally amoral (so as not to exclude
any given moral philosophy), lacks a philosophical commitment
to personal property rights (even though many libertarians have
a philosophical commitment to personal property rights).
Accordingly, those libertarians who have a philosophy that
property rights could consider
all food and water to be common property, such that Frank was
committing an act of coercion simply by denying food to Bob after
Bob refused to mow Frank's lawn.
is interesting to note that libertarians consider the Non-Aggression
Principle to be axiomatic:
they typically refer to it as the "Non-Aggression Axiom". This
is arguably reflective of the libertarian perspective that
the value of freedom is self-evident.
to objectivist philosophy, fraud is an indirect way to initiate
the coercive use of physical force. Accordingly, objectivism views
a fraud as a violation of the Non-Aggression principle.
view on the role of government stems from the Non-Aggression Principle
and its underlying objectivist philosophy. Specifically, Objectivism
argues that, in a free society, there must be a government
having the role solely of protecting
life, liberty and property of every individual.** Accordingly,
in a free society, there are three main branches of government.
Specifically, a free society has a law enforcement branch
(i.e., police, to protect citizens from domestic criminals), a
military branch (to protect citizens from foreign aggressors),
and a judicial branch, which ensures that before government can
use force as a remedy, alleged violations of the law are first
** NOTE: Objectivism's
commitment to the idea that society must have a government
is another thing distinguishing Objectivism from libertarianism.
Most certainly, there are libertarians (usually called "minarchists")
who share with Objectivists a committment to a government
comprised of military, judiciary, and law-enforcement branches.
However, many libertarians (both non-members and members
government altogether. "Smash the State" is the
According to Objectivism,
the only socio-economic system compatible with freedom is capitalism.*** In
this context, capitalism is defined not in its vulgar and defamed
sense: capitalism is not a system in which
governments assist businesses with monopolies,
subsidies and special privileges and rights (such a system
is merely a form
of socialism, often called "the third way", "democratic socialism",
"corporativism" or "corporatism"). Rather, capitalism is a
system in which government does not
at all: in
demands of the free market determine trade in the absence
*** NOTE: Objectivism's
commitment to capitalism is universal: all Objectivists are
pro-capitalism. However, owing both to the Amoral nature
of libertarianism, and to its anarchistic elements, a commitment
to capitalism is not a defining feature of libertarianism.
Capitalism is a system dependent upon personal
property rights, so those libertarians who oppose personal
property rights logically oppose capitalism. However, many
anarchist libertarians who are in favour of personal property
rights and a free market (typically called "anarcho-capitalists")
are are uncomfortable with capitalism for a different reason:
they believe (as Ayn Rand did)
refers to a system in which property
rights are properly enforced by a government.
5. The Esthetics of Objectivism: Romantic Realism
that art should present the world as it could be and as
it should be. Objectivist esthetics does not value as art
portrayals of the world as it could not be: objectivism is grounded
in reality, not in wishful thinking. Objectivist esthetics (known
as Romantic Realism) values portrayals of what ought to
be, because such portrayals inspire us to apply reason and strive
for a better life.
is Objectivism" - Copyright 2003, Paul McKeever. All
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Last updated on
May 14, 2006