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What Is Objectivism?

What Is Objectivism?

March 18, 2024

Objectivism is a philosophy originated by Ayn Rand. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1905, she lived through the Bolshevik Communist Revolution, eventually escaping to America, where she went on to write her famous novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

She set aside fiction to elaborate her philosophy: "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."

What is philosophy? Philosophy is a systematic approach to understanding the universe, and man’s place in it. It addresses the big questions of life: Who are you? How do you know? What should you do? What is right and what is wrong? What is beautiful? What is the purpose of life?

To Ayn Rand, philosophy was a science, whose principles could be proven and applied. So what are the key principles of Objectivism? They fall into five categories:

Metaphysics. This concerns the nature of reality. According to Rand: “Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.”

Here Objectivism embraces an objective reality consisting of the natural world—not a supernatural realm. There is no dichotomy between mind and body, and each of us has free will. How do we discover the world around us? 

That’s where Epistemology comes in. Objectivism holds that reason is our only means of understanding the world. Reason—not faith, not instinct, not the opinions of others—is how we gain knowledge. Logic lets us identify what is, and what isn’t. 

Now that we know, what do we do? 

That’s where Ethics comes in. Objectivism holds that there is no greater moral goal than achieving one's happiness. This is the most revolutionary—and most misunderstood aspect of Objectivism. Rand thought man should pursue his rational self-interest—or as she provocatively called it: The Virtue of Selfishness. This means you don’t sacrifice yourself to others—and you don’t sacrifice others to yourself. You don’t act rudely or thoughtlessly, you don’t lie and you don’t cheat. If you do those things, no one will want to play, or trade, or deal with you. And that’s hardly in your long-term self interest, is it?

Since we’re social beings, how do we organize ourselves in a society? That’s where Politics comes in.

The Objectivist approach holds that laissez-faire capitalism is the only system compatible with a respect for individual rights, especially property rights, without which no other rights are possible. And unlike anarchism, it calls for a strictly limited government in order to secure protection of those rights. Objectivism calls for the complete separation of economy and state—in the same way, and for the same reasons that we have separation of church and state.

A flourishing society requires not just individual freedom, but an exalted culture, with inspiring art to convey moral ideals. That’s where Aesthetics comes in.

The Objectivist approach holds that art should be recognizable and meaningful—not nihilistic, purposefully ugly or mundane. Romantic Realism best describes the Objectivist aesthetic, using realistic stories, music and paintings to highlight the heroic character of man—presenting reality not just as it is, but as it might be and ought to be. Such art captures a benevolent universe in which man can overcome obstacles and achieve his goals.

Objectivism presents an artistic vision—but Objectivism is not a work of art. It is a philosophy, a science, and like any other science, it’s open to further discovery and elaboration. As Ayn Rand herself said five years before her death: “The elaboration of a system is a job that no philosopher can finish in his lifetime . . . there is still an awful lot of work to be done.”

It’s in that open and benevolent spirit of exploration and inquiry, that we invite you to gain a deeper understanding of Objectivism, and apply its principles to your life.

For further reading, check out these related articles:

1 Philosophy on One Foot

2 My Name is Objectivism (Draw My Life video)

3 Introductory course on Objectivism

4 Open Objectivism

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