Ayn Rand (19051982) was a novelist-philosopher who outlined a comprehensive philosophy, including an epistemology and a theory of art, in her novels and essays. Early in her career she also wrote short stories, plays, and screenplays. Rands first and most autobiographical novel,(1936), set in the Soviet Union, was published only after many rejections, owing to widespread sympathy for the Soviet experiment among the intellectuals of the day.was quickly followed by the dystopian novel,(1938), written as a kind of rest from work on her next major novel,, also published after many rejections because of its individualism, and largely panned by critics, soon became a best-seller by word of mouth.brought Rand international fame, and(1957) sealed this fame. By 1958, Rands novels, increasingly philosophical, had won her ideas a sufficiently devoted following for her to form, in association with psychologist Nathaniel Branden (with whom she later broke), an official Objectivist philosophical movement, complete with journals and lecture courses. For all her popularity, however, only a few professional philosophers have taken her work seriously. As a result, most of the serious philosophical work on Rand has appeared in non-academic, non-peer-reviewed journals, or in books, and the bibliography reflects this fact. We discuss the main reasons for her rejection by most professional philosophers in the first section. Our discussion of Rands philosophical views, especially her moral-political views, draws from both her non-fiction and her fiction, since her views cannot be accurately interpreted or evaluated without doing so.
2.1 What is Ethics, and Why do we need It?
2.4 Happiness as the Ultimate Value
3.1 Rights, Capitalism, the Trader Principle, and Government
In Rands own words, her first and greatest love, her life purpose, was the creation of the kind of world that represents human perfection, while her interest in philosophical knowledge was only for the sake of this purpose (Journal entry for 4 May 1946; in 1997: 479).Nevertheless, her interest in philosophical knowledge continued long after she had created this world in her magnum opus,Atlas Shrugged, her last work of fiction. In her non-fiction, Rand developed a conception of metaphysical realism, rationality, ethical egoism (rational self-interest), individual rights,laissez-fairecapitalism, and art, and applied her philosophy to social issues. She wrote polemical, philosophical essays, often in response to questions by fans ofAtlas ShruggedandThe Fountainhead; lectured on college campuses; and gave radio and television interviews. In her own words, her 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. (Rand 1957 : Afterword)
Capitalism, the unknown ideal, is for her the only political-economic system compatible with this philosophy because it is the only system based on respect for human beings as ends in themselves. The free-market libertarian political movement, though largely disowned by Rand, drewand drawsgreat inspiration from her moral defense of the minimal state, that is, the state whose onlyraison dtreis protection of individual rights.
Whereas Rands ideas and mode of presentation make Rand popular with many non-academics, they lead to the opposite outcome with academics. She developed some of her views in response to questions from her readers, but seldom took the time to defend them against possible objections or to reconcile them with the views expressed in her novels. Her philosophical essays lack the self-critical, detailed style of analytic philosophy, or any serious attempt to consider possible objections to her views. Her polemical style, often contemptuous tone, and the dogmatism and cult-like behavior of many of her fans also suggest that her work is not worth taking seriously.Further, understanding her views requires reading her fiction, but her fiction is not to everyones taste. It does not help that she often dismisses other philosophers views on the basis of cursory readings and conversations with a few philosophers and with her young philosophy student acolytes. Some contemporary philosophers return the compliment by dismissing her work contemptuously on the basis of hearsay. Some who do read her work point out that her arguments too often do not support her conclusions. This estimate is shared even by many who find her conclusions and her criticisms of contemporary culture, morality, and politics original and insightful. It is not surprising, then, that she is either mentioned in passing, or not mentioned at all, in the entries that discuss current philosophical thought aboutvirtue ethicsegoismrightslibertarianism, ormarkets. (Readers may also find the entry onNozicks political philosophyto be of interest.) We present specific criticisms of her arguments and claims below, in the relevant sections of this entry.
Ayn Rand was born Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum, to a bourgeois Jewish family in St. Petersburg, Russia, on 2 February 1905. A witness to the Russian Revolution and civil war, Rand opposed both the Communists and the Tsarists. She majored in history, but the social science program in which she was enrolled at Petrograd State University included philosophy, law, and philology. Her teachers emphasizedas she herself later didthe importance of developing systematic connections among different areas of thought (Sciabarra 2013). Rands formal philosophical education included ancient philosophy (especially Plato and Aristotle), logic, philosophical psychology, Marxism-Leninism, and non-Marxist political thought. But she was evidently also exposed to Hegelian and Nietzschean ideas, which blossomed during this period (known as the Russian Silver Age), and read a great deal of Friedrich Nietzsche on her own. After graduating from Petrograd State University in 1924, an interest in screenwriting led her to enroll in the State Institute for Cinematography. On the literary side, she studied the great Russian novelists and poets, but fell in love with Victor Hugo, to whose influence she owes the Romantic Realism of her novels.
In 1925 Rand succeeded in obtaining permission to visit relatives in the United States; hating the Soviet system, she left with no intention of returning. After six months with relatives in Chicago, she made her way to Hollywood where, on her second day, a fortuitous encounter with Cecil B. DeMille led to a job as a script reader, and later as a screenplay writer. The next week she had another fortuitous encounter, this time with the actor Frank OConnor, whom she married in 1929. She was married to him till his death in 1979. She adopted the pen name Ayn Rand to (it is thought) protect her family back in Russia, although she also told the New YorkEvening Postin 1936 that Rand was an abbreviation of her Russian surname.
Rand and her husband moved permanently to New York City in 1951, where she became involved with, and was influenced by, the circle of mostly New-York-based intellectuals involved in the revival of classical liberalism, such as the economic journalist Henry Hazlitt, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, and the Canadian-American novelist, literary critic, and political philosopher Isabel Paterson. Rand also studied, and was a great admirer of, the Lockean philosophy of the American founding. Rand lived and worked in New York City until her death in 1982.
Rand holds that philosophy, like all forms of knowledge and achievement, is important only because it is necessary for living a good human life and creating a world conducive to living such a life. Philosophy supplies the most fundamental cognitive and normative abstractions which, respectively, identify and evaluate what is. Everyone, according to Rand, needs a philosophy and is guided by at least an implicit one (1982a: ch. 1). Her novels express her belief that if our philosophy is more or less correct, our lives will be more or less successful, if our philosophy is wildly off the mark, our lives will be disastrous. Philosophy thus has an urgent, practical importance. But unlike Marx, her philosophical and political antipode, Rand thinks that social change has to start with a moral revolution within each individual and the spread of the right ideas and ideals through rational discourse and the inspiration of art.
Rands ideal human being appears, in varying degrees of development, in all her novels; her ideal world appears inAtlas Shrugged. Her novels feature striking, complex plots with subtle psychological explorations of her characters emotions and thoughts, and philosophical reflections that rarely lose sight of the dramatic context. Like many famous Russian novelists, especially Dostoevsky, whom she recognized as a great psychologist, Rand also uses long speeches to lay out her philosophy, a device that has both its supporters and its detractors. She describedAtlas Shruggedas a stunt novel and a murder mysterythe murder of the human soul by a collectivist culture. By soul, however, she meant not an immortal substance that survives the death of the bodyshe is not a dualist in any aspect of her philosophybut the mind, or the human spirit that celebrates life on this earth. She took a familiar phenomenon and literary tropea workers strikeand turned it on its head to show what happens when the men of mindscientists, philosophers, industrialists, entrepreneurs, writersthe prime movers of a societygo on strike. It also purports to show how the wrong metaphysics can lead to the wrong ethics and thus to disastrous personal choices and a disastrous political and economic system, and how the right philosophy is needed for the rebirth of the soul and the rebuilding of the world. Her protagonists are not knights on white steeds rescuing damsels in distress, or swordsmen who can fight off a dozen enemies single-handed, but men and women in the mid-20thcentury industrial America of steel mills, skyscrapers, and glimmering highways: women who run transcontinental railroads and men who revolutionize architecture or (long before clean energy became acause clbre) build a motor powered by static electricity to produce limitless, clean energy. Her novels show the importance of striving to be the best we can be:
Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but never have been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible. (Atlas Shrugged, 1957 : 983).
Her novels inspire readers because they present heroes of unbreached integrity, heroes who lead colorful and remarkable lives and succeed not in spite of, but because of, their uncompromising virtue. This estimate of their virtue is not, of course, shared by all: many readers find her characters wooden, her writing stilted, and her ethical and political views misguided.
Rand paid tribute to Aristotle, whom she considered the greatest of all philosophers, in the titles she gave to the three Parts ofAtlas Shrugged(Non-Contradiction, Either-Or,AisA) and to one of the chapters (The Immovable Movers). While she differed sharply from Nietzsche on many issues, including rationality, free will, and individual rights, his influence is evident in her provocative, often aphoristic, point-counterpoint writing style, as well as in her transvaluation of traditional values and her powerful affirmation of life and joy and the spirit of youth. In the Introduction to the 25thAnniversary edition ofThe Fountainhead, she stated that the novels sense of life is best conveyed by a quotation from NietzschesBeyond Good and Evil: The noble soul has reverence for itself. (ForThe Fountainheads partly sympathetic and partly critical engagement with Nietzsches ideas, see Hunt 2006.)
Fundamental to Rands outlookso fundamental that she derives the name of her philosophical system, Objectivism, from itis a trichotomy among three categories: theintrinsic, thesubjective, and theobjective(ITOE: 5254; Rand 1965: 1323). An intrinsic phenomenon is one whose nature depends wholly on factors external to the mind; a subjective phenomenon is one whose nature depends wholly on the mind; and an objective phenomenon is defined, variously, as that which depends on the relation between a living entitys nature (including the nature of its mind) and its environment, or as that which depends on the relation between a properly functioning (rational) mind and extramental reality. Commentators are divided over the best way to interpret Rands views on this issue.
Rand holds that there is a widespread tendency to ignore the third category or to assimilate it to the second, thus setting up a false dichotomy between the intrinsic and the subjective. On Rands view, many of the fundamental questions of philosophy, from the existence of universals to the nature of value, involve fruitless debates over the false alternative intrinsic or subjective? in cases where the phenomenon in question is neither intrinsic nor subjective, but rather objective.
If ethics is the branch of philosophy concerned with practice, then in a sense all of Rands philosophy is ethics, for Rand stresses the supremacy ofactual livingover all other considerations, and insists that philosophy needs to be broughtupto the realm of actual livingadding I say intentionally broughtupto it, not down (Journal entry for 15 May 1934, p. 72; in Rand 1997: 73). Consequently, Rand regularly concerns herself with the practical implications and social relevance not only of moral and political philosophy, but likewise of the seemingly more arcane strata of metaphysics and epistemologyas when she identifies errors in concept-formation as one of the roots of racism, or mind-body dualism as a root of the dichotomy between economic and personal freedom. This approach likewise reflects Rands emphasis on integrating each piece of information into the total context of ones knowledge, and her consequent hostility to compartmentalization.
Rands conviction of the vital practical importance of abstract theory may help to explain the passionately polemical nature of her philosophical writing (which some readers find inspiring and others hyperbolic and off-putting), although Nietzsches influence, as well as the influence of her Marxist-Leninist education also probably play a role. Rand also tendedperhaps owing in part to the same two influencesto regard philosophical errors as revelatory of the psychological flaws of their authors.
For a more in-depth presentation of Rands views on epistemology and metaphysics, please see thesupplement on Epistemology and Metaphysics
is a code of values to guide mans choices and actionsthe choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life. (1961b: 13)
Before we can decide which code of values we should accept, we need to askwhywe need a code of values at all. Rand claims that no philosopher before her has provided ascientificanswer to this question, and so none has provided a satisfactory ethics.
Rand starts by describing value or the good, in classical fashion, as the object of pursuit: that which one acts to gain and/or keep (1961b: 16). Thus, the concept of value presupposes the concept of an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternativeand the basic alternative facing any living entity is life or death (1961b: 16). It is the conditional nature of life that gives rise to values, not just human values, but values as such. As she puts it:
Metaphysically,lifeis the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. (1961b: 18)
Survival is the organisms ultimate value, the final goal or end to which all [its] lesser goals are the means, and the standard of all its other values: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil (pp. 1617). The same, suitably modified, applies to human beings. Life is the standard and goal of all genuine human values, in the sense that all of themfrom food to philosophy to fine art to ethicsmust be explained and justified as requirements of human survival. Ethics is anobjective, metaphysical necessity of mans survival(p. 24). Thus,
[t]he standard of value of the Objectivist ethics ismans life, or: that which is required for mans survivalquaman, (1961b: 25)
the terms, methods, conditions and goals required for the survival of a rational being through the whole of his lifespanin all those aspects of existence which are open to his choice. (1961b: 27)
To choose to live is to accept ones own life as ones ethicalpurpose.
Rands metaphysical arguments make three points central to her axiology and ethics. (1) All living entities have values, not only human beings, and only living entities have values: life necessitates value, and value depends on life. (2) An entitys values are determined by its objective life-needs, that is, by the requirements of survival for entities of its kind, and ethics is a requirement of human survival. (3) Thus, values are neither intrinsic properties of things, nor subjective, neither free-floating Platonic entities, nor mere matters of preference, time, or culture. Rather, values are relational or objective, dependent on the nature of the valuing entity and the nature of its environment.
Rand supports the first point by arguing that the concept of value entails the concept of life:
epistemologically, the concept of value is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of life. (1961b: 18)
imagine an immortal, indestructible robot, an entity which moves and acts, but which cannot be affected by anything, which cannot be changed in any respect, which cannot be damaged, injured or destroyed. (1961b: 16)
Such an entity, she concludes, cannot have values.
The problem with this argument is that all it shows is that an entity that cannot be destroyed or harmed cannot have values, and not that a non-living entity cannot have values. Unlike the robot of this example, real robotscanbe damaged or destroyed, by external as well as internal events. What it means for them to be damaged or destroyed is that they cannot perform their functions well, or at all. Hence they can, quite straightforwardly, be said to have values.To take this into account, Rand would have to say that for an entity that has a function, values are determined by what it needs to function (well), and that the function of living beings is to survive (well). Hence she can still maintain that for living things, values are determined by its objective life-needs, hence that values are objective, and that ethics is a requirement of a proper human survival.
Rands naturalism, and her rejection of intrinsicism and subjectivism in favor of objectivism, anticipate recent naturalisms and echo Aristotles argument, against both the Platonist and the subjectivist, that the good must always be good-for-something. Her conception of the function of morality is notable both for its affinity to, and its difference from, Thomas Hobbes conception: like Hobbes, Rand sees morality as a necessary means to long-term survival, but unlike Hobbes, she does not see morality as requiring a contract or even as a fundamentally social affair. The need for morality, according to Rand, is dictated by our nature as creatures that must think and produce to survive; hence we would need morality even on a desert island. There is, however, no duty to survive; morality is based on a hypothetical imperative: if you choose to live, then you must value your own long-term survival as an ultimate end, and morality as a necessary means to it. If asked why the choice to live commits you to your own long-term survival rather than some other ultimate end (such as, for example, the greatest happiness of the greatest number (Nozick 1971), or becoming worthy of eternal life in heaven), the only answer is: because any other ultimate end,if consistently adhered to, would lead to death.
Rands ethics is thus firmly teleological, this-worldly, and foundationalist. Virtue is the act by which one gains/and or keeps values in light of a recognition of certain facts (1961b: 27, 28); it is not an end in itself not its own reward (1957 : 939). A fact central to a scientific ethics is that reason is the chief indispensable human tool of survival, and we exercise reason by choice. Hence rationality is the fundamental moral virtue, a virtue implicated in all the other virtues, including productiveness (Section 2.4 below).
Rand is widely credited by Objectivists (Peikoff 1991; Binswanger 1990, 1992; Kelley & Thomas 1999see Other Internet Resources; Gotthelf 1999; Smith 2000, 2006) with having solved the is-ought problem by showing that morality is essential for long-term survival as a rational being, and so anyone who chooses to live ought to be moral (1961b: 19). But if the choice to live is itself a moral choice, in the sense that we ought to choose to live, then the argument proceeds from an ought to an ought, not from an is to an ought. On the other hand, if the choice to live is a non-moral choice (an idea thats hard to reconcile with Rands general view that all significant choices are moral choices), then suicide can never be wrong, even if it is done for cowardly, irresponsible, or unjust reasons, a view that is obviously incoherent (King 1984 and Narveson 1998 criticize this and other aspects of Rands moral views). Again, if morality is needed only for long-term survival, and choosing death is not immoral, then a suicide-bomber does no wrong in killing innocent people. But people dont lose their rights just because their killer has decided to kill himself. Darryl Wright seeks to save something of the commonsense view that the suicide-bomber acts wrongly by arguing that his choice to die without good reason corresponds to a real defect or corruption in him (Wright 2011: 2629). But this verdict contradicts the premise that choosing death is not immoral. For if the choice expresses a corruption in the character of the suicide-bomber, then the choice itself is immoral. Moreover, this response leaves untouched the most important criticism of the suicide-bombers actions: that he violates other peoples rights by using them as mere means to his own (wicked) ends.
More fundamentally, the very idea of morality resting on the choice to live is questionable (Long 2000, Badhwar 2001). Most of us rarely, if ever, make a choice to live: we live by default. By giving us desires for food and water, for pleasure and security, Nature gives us, as she gives other animals, the implicit desire to stay alive. Perhaps the most dramatic evidence is the existence of feral children, children who have managed to stay alive for years in the company of wild animals. When we grow up, the only time we seriously ask ourselves if we want to live or die is when living requires an effort on our part, such as in a grave illness, or deep depression, or emergency. But we start learning the difference between right and wrong (for example, dont hit others, dont grab their things, and so on) long before we ever consider whether to live or die. A deeper reflection on morality begins when we mature and start asking ourselves what constitutes happiness and a worthwhile life. But this is an inherently moral question to which the answers are inherently moral or immoral.
Let let us now return to the question of how we should understand the relationship between long-term survival and survival as a rational beingthe life proper to a rational being (Rand 1961b: 27). Is a life proper to a rational being a necessary means, and only a necessary means, to literal, long-term survival? Or is such a life itself the ultimate goal, the kind of survival worth having? Again, what are we to make of the many passages in which Rand states that the ultimate goal is ones own happiness?
Some of Rands statements suggest that she had only one, consistent ethical view: the ultimate goal is the individuals own survival; the only way to survive long-term, i.e., over a complete life-span, is to live by the standard of mans life as a rational being, which means: to live morally; and happiness is the psychological result, reward and concomitant (p. 32) of living thus. Many of Rands commentators follow her in holding that there is only one consistent view, while disagreeing on the right interpretation of it (Den Uyl & Rasmussen 1978; Machan 1984, 2000; Peikoff 1991; Bidinotto 1994see Other Internet Resources; Hunt 1999; Kelley & Thomas 1999see Other Internet Resources; Gotthelf 1999; Smith 2000, 2006). Others (Mack 1984, 2003; Badhwar 1999, 2001; Long 2000) argue that Rands writings actually allow of two, if not three, mutually incompatible views of the ultimate goal, and our task is to see which of these is the dominant or most plausible view. The three views are: survival, survivalquarational being, and happiness in the ancient Aristotelian sense of flourishing oreudaimonia. In the rest of Section 2, we will present the textual evidence for each of these views of the final goal, and the common objections to them, in turn.
All three views are, of course, egoist, in that the primary or sole intended beneficiary of morality is supposed to be the moral agent herself. But some of the criticisms usually levied at egoism lose some of their force when directed at the second and third views.
The survivalist view holds that just as literal survival is the ultimate value for other living entities, so it is for human beings (Kelley & Thomas 1999; Gotthelf 1999; Smith 2000). Survival is the source and final goal of all the actions of an entity, that which gives point to all its other values. For human beings, morality and happiness are both instrumental means to survival. The vicious can achieve their goals [only] for the range of a moment, as evidenced by any criminal or any dictatorship (1961b: 26).
Non-survivalists make the following objections:
The biological premise that survival is the ultimate goal of all living things is mistaken. Animals of many species risk their own lives for the sake of reproduction, or for protecting their young or even their group. But even if survival were the ultimate goal of other species, it need not be ours.
Even if our own survival needs were the
of all our values, it would not follow that survival must be the ultimate psychological and moral
to which all our other values are merely necessary means. The genesis of
does not logically determine the ultimate goal of
. For example, the source of sexual desire is our reproductive capacity but, as Rand would agree, it doesnt follow that we ought to satisfy our sexual desires only if we want to reproduce.
The survivalist view that turns happiness into a mere means to survival entails, quite implausibly, that a long, unhappy life is better than a somewhat shorter but happy life, and just as good as a long and happy one.
Many dictators, including the Pharaohs of the past and the Stalins and Maos of the 20
century, have survived by making elaborate plans to preserve their lives and their power by using a combination of terror, myth, and bribery. Their gross injustice poses a far greater threat to the lives of their subordinates than to their own. Morality
the individuals chances of survival under normal circumstances, but it is not
for survival. And in some circumstances, such as in a dictatorship, acting morally
the individuals chances of survival, a point that Rand herself convincingly dramatizes in
A survivalist ethics can support, at best, a bare-bones Hobbesian morality, not a virtue ethics. If Rands virtues were necessary for survival, the human species would have perished a long time ago, instead of expanding exponentially. Her rich and challenging picture of human life and virtue in her novels points to a richer and more challenging conception of the final end than mere survival.
Many of Rands heroes, from Kira (
), risk their lives for the sake of the values that make their lives worth living.
Like Hobbes, Rand rightly points out that if everyone or most people were to start preying on each other, then no one would survive for longliterally, and that generations of predators would end up destroying or driving away the producers, and thus destroying themselves (AnthemandAtlas Shrugged). But this doesnt show that a few predators in a society of producers cannot survive by predation. Indeed, Rand herself sometimes acknowledges that evil people can survive by free-riding (hitch-hiking, as she calls it) on rational, productive people:
If some men attempt to survive by means of brute force or fraud it still remains true that their survival is made possible only by their victims, only by the men who choose to think and to produce the goods which they, the looters, are seizing. (1961b: 25)
Rand often says that the final end is survival proper to a human being (1961b: 26), or that the final end is happiness (1961b: 27, 30). Neither can be reduced to survival simpliciter.
In Mans Rights, Rand explains an individuals right to his own life as
the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (1963