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weeveeship's avatar

What do you think of Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy?

Asked by weeveeship (4660points) April 8th, 2011
39 responses
“Great Question” (2points)

e.g. Her book “Atlas Shrugged.”

Some people I know find it an elegant treatise on individualism. Others I know find it deplorable.

Your views?

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math_nerd's avatar

Does “The dumbest shit I ever read” work?

the100thmonkey's avatar

It’s just a point of view.

The problems come whenpeople start treating it like some sort of religious text á la Capital.

I really dislike the use of fiction to expound and propagate a particular philosophy – I want real examples, damn it!

augustlan's avatar

I’m not a fan. It’s utterly selfish.

mattbrowne's avatar

Ayn Rand was the leader of a dangerous cult. I don’t trust her and her writing.

CaptainHarley's avatar


She presupposes an extremely selfish bias on the part of everyone, which leads her down some rather strange pathways.

mattbrowne's avatar

Some time ago I read an article by Michael Shermer in which he tried to explain why Ayn Rand was the leader of a dangerous cult. See also

“Shermer argued that the Objectivist movement displayed characteristics of religious cults such as the veneration and inerrancy of the leader; hidden agendas; financial and/or sexual exploitation; and the beliefs that the movement provides absolute truth and absolute morality. He maintained that certain aspects of Objectivist epistemology and ethics promoted cult-like behavior: As soon as a group sets itself up to be the final moral arbiter of other people’s actions, especially when its members believe they have discovered absolute standards of right and wrong, it is the beginning of the end of tolerance, and thus reason and rationality. It is this characteristic more than any other that makes a cult, a religion, a nation, or any other group, dangerous to individual freedom. Its absolutism was the biggest flaw in Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, the unlikeliest cult in history.”

I know some people see this differently. But to me Shermer was quite convincing. It does not mean that everything in Objectivism is wrong. The statement is about how Rand led her movement.

josie's avatar

Plenty to criticize about Ayn Rand. But, Objectivism critics too often use ad hominem arguments against the philosophy.

And of course, anybody who benefits from living off the efforts of others, against their individual will, will criticize the philosophy. It puts their existence in jeopardy.

Ayn Rand’s fictional prose is thick as a brick, no real beauty or finesse in the construction of her words, with arduous Objectivist info-mmercials scattered throughout, a little too much of what some literary folks call “bodice ripping”, and palpable sexual repression that amuses contemporary Western men and women.

That being said, it beats a Subjectivist philosopy any day of the week, which is what most people live by, and which insures human conflict.

bolwerk's avatar

“There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.” (Not sure who said that, but it’s…apt.)

@josie: there is by definition no such thing as an ad hominem attack against a philosophy. An ad hominem attack is “to the man.” An example would be, “Ayn Rand is wrong because she’s a cunt.” She may have been a cunt, of course, but it’s not why she’s wrong about x.

josie's avatar

@bolwerk Thanks for the lesson. My statement stands. Many people criticize the philosophy by criticizing Ayn Rand’s faults.

stratman37's avatar

if it weren’t for the rock band Rush, I would have never heard of Ayn Rand.

gorillapaws's avatar

I like to picture Rand in the emergency room begging a doctor to fix her rupturing appendix pro-bono because she just realized that her insurance is going to force her to go to a different “in network” facility, gambling that she will die in the process and ultimately saving them the cost of her procedure.

dabbler's avatar

there’s very little philosophy, real guidance for real life, it’s more “attitude” of a delusional self-important adolescent who stopped learning as soon as she mastered the art of the tantrum. The writing is exceptionally poor and repetitive. If they printed her books on paper soft enough to wipe with at least they’d be good for something.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

I think it has the same problem as the communism she railed against – it fails to take into account human nature.

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cbloom8's avatar

She has good points and good arguments, but she takes it too far. It’s all a little too crazy and cult-like.

tinyfaery's avatar

Thumbs down. Way down.

Qingu's avatar

There are actually some things I like about the tenets of Objectivism. A lot of its principles are based on the foundational assumption that life is inherently valuable (rather than religious assumptions about moral worth vis-a-vis some deity). It also places a high value on reason over force.

But ultimately it’s a simplistic philosophy that takes its premise to absurd conclusions. In structure (not content) it reminds me of the sweeping generalities and social prescriptions you’d find in the political works of Plato; working from a priori assumptions about human nature, we can conclude that cities should be governed by philosopher-kings! Or, likewise, that selfishness is a moral good and welfare is rape.

Philosophies need to be tempered by real-world data, and by the inherent messiness of the human condition and human society. The reason Rand’s philosophy comes off as so cultish is because it exists, like many cults, entirely within a walled-off bubble.

DominicX's avatar

I’m going to have to read this damn book some time; I really know very little about it and yet I hear people talk about it all the time and I know several people who pretty much worship Rand and Objectivism. I want to know what all the hoopla is about… :\

skfinkel's avatar

I would say we are seeing that kind of philosophy now in action with the Republicans unwilling to budge on the budget. They are taking a point of view that they believe in (right or wrong) and are unwilling to do anything (like make a budget that others will also be able to support) other than what they want. In the Fountainhead (which I read many years ago, but this is what I remember), an architect would not allow any changes to his “creation” even though hundreds of people would have been provided with housing. He cared only about his art, and nothing about the people. He was more content to destroy the whole structure rather than have it deviate from his design. In some ways, now this seems like a very childish point of view. When I read it, when I was a child, it was quite exciting to think about how one could do anything to adhere to one’s ideals. However, in the world which we share with others, this is a selfish and ridiculously misguided way to behave.

Qingu's avatar

Rand’s philosophy was in action for many years with our economic policies. Greenspan was an acolyte of Rand. Though apparently the fact that markets don’t magically regulate himself (as established by the unpleasantness of 2008) has made him re-evaluate his worldview.

But it’s not really an accident that during the era of Greenspan we’ve seen the greatest accumulation of wealth into the smallest number of hands since before the Great Depression.

SavoirFaire's avatar

“I wasn’t an Objectivist in college, but I was a Libertarian, which is basically the same thing except you don’t have to pretend that Ayn Rand was a good author.”
—Joe Clark

Ayn Rand was a terrible philosopher, and her Objectivist system has quite literally become a joke among professional philosophers. Frankly, there is a reason why we view her work with disdain. Even those who agree with many of her conclusions are willing to admit that her arguments fail, that her depictions of other philosophers are inaccurate, and that she frequently mistakes the point of various debates into which she has entered. What’s good about Objectivism is the stuff she stole, and what’s bad about it is the stuff she came up with herself. That’s a recipe for being ignored, and justifiably. Any idea in Rand’s work worth engaging with has been better served by some other, much more competent philosopher.

There were several refutations of Objectivism written back in the day; but Randians won’t read—or can’t understand—them, and non-Randians don’t need them. Objectivists never address criticisms from outsiders in any honest way, and their own institutes never challenge the foundations of Rand’s system (though understandably so, since their function is to build the system up). So while some philosophers will still write the occasional paper about why one of Rand’s arguments is absurd, we’re still waiting on a reasonable response to the original criticisms laid out decades ago.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

@Josie-Well said.:)
I think Objectivism is the only philosophy which upholds the right of the individual as it’s
primary objective and freedom as it’s main concern.What’s not to love about that?;)
Atlas Shrugged’s timeless ideas of the collectivist’s assault on individual rights will prove phophetic,especially in today’s world.

gorillapaws's avatar

@SavoirFaire could you link some of the better refutations of Objectivism from back in the day? I’d be interested in reading them, and perhaps people who agree with Rand will be willing to challenge themselves philosophically (although I suspect they won’t).

CaptainHarley's avatar


Really? I always thought Rand was far too insistent on materialism to be compassionate.

bolwerk's avatar

Objectivism seems to hold the only way to be an individual is to be an objectivist. High on individualism, low on individuality.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@gorillapaws Most of the older ones are probably available only through JSTOR, which is a subscription service. I’ll see if I can find some that are freely available.

@lucillelucillelucille You are falling for Rand’s propaganda. There are plenty of philosophers who hold those ideals, both at present and in history. Moreover, you do not have to buy in to an entire system to agree with some of its tenets. Politicians and sophists always try to feed us the line that if we agree with them on one thing, we have to buy everything else they’re selling as well. Unless they are frauds (like Rand), or unless they think can prove that all of their views logically entail one another (and not even Kant went that far), philosophers do not make such claims.

As for Atlas Shrugged, an author always has the advantage of being able to manipulate plot elements for the sake of forcing a particular conclusion. Real life, however, doesn’t work that way.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

@CaptainHarley -Those two things are not mutually exclusive.There is nothing wrong with benevolence.
There is nothing about Rand that is anti-benevolence.
@SavoirFaire-That is nothing but ad-hominem.
You have a problem with Ayn Rand?
So what?

SavoirFaire's avatar

@lucillelucillelucille It’s not at all ad hominem. You made a statement (“Objectivism is the only philosophy which upholds the right of the individual as it’s primary objective and freedom as it’s main concern”), and I informed you that the statement was false. It’s false because one doesn’t have to be an Objectivist to believe those things and because believing those things is not enough to make one an Objectivist.

josie's avatar

@CaptainHarley As you know, Materialism in the philosophical context is the principle that human beings have no reasoning mind at all. They are simply a bag of chemicals and electrical impulses that can be conditioned to any behaviour. The Marxists are Materialists.
Compassion is clearly part of the human experience. Ayn Rand never disputed that. She objected to the notion that people should be compelled, by force or by guilt, to be compassionate where their individual values might not direct them. Nothing more, nothing less.
I bet you were being sarcastic, but I don’t want some of these folks to get in your shit.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

@SavoirFaire “You are falling for Rand’s propaganda” ...Hmmmm ;)

SavoirFaire's avatar

@josie No, that’s not what materialism is in the philosophical context. “Materialism” is most commonly used by philosophers as a synonym for “physicalism,” which is a position in metaphysics (one especially relevant to the philosophy of mind). It says that everything that exists is either physical or supervenes on the physical. This is not to say that there is no mind (or no reasoning mind), but only that the mind can exist without being constituted by non-physical substances (whatever those might be). In this sense, Rand was herself a materialist—yet she obviously did believe in a reasoning mind.

The term “physicalism” is preferred these days for at least two reasons. The first is that contemporary physicalism is a more sophisticated view than it was in early modern times. Our notions of physicality have changed such that defining it in terms of matter now seems a bit crude. For this reason, materialism is sometimes said to be an earlier stage of the view that is now physicalism. The second reason is that “materialism” has a much different meaning outside of metaphysics. Moral philosophers and philosophers of religion often wish to reserve the term for the tendency to be concerned with material possessions (especially to the exclusion of other concerns). In this way, it is cognate with how we use the term “materialistic.”

Finally, there is the use in Marx’s philosophy. Marx was a materialist in the first sense (that is, the sense synonymous with “physicalism”), but there is much more to being a Marxist than that. Dialectical materialism, for instance, requires a particular view of how—and why—history unfolds.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@lucillelucillelucille Rand made precisely the claim that you made and that I told you was false. That’s why I said you were falling for her propaganda. She wanted people to believe that hers was the only philosophy to hold those values, but she was incorrect (or, perhaps, lying). The statement wasn’t ad hominem, it was an introduction to the substance of my response.

josie's avatar

@SavoirFaire They used to say they were synonymous. If the convention has changed, so be it. Perhaps we digress. I was trying to be helpful.

Anyway, people have always criticized Ayn Rand as being a “shameless” self promoter,especially since her death when she was not around to respond. As if anyone with an idea or a vision, who was sincere and honest, should be humble, quiet and broke in order to be legitimate.

It was just this attitude that she abhorred, and she acted as a contrarian for the purpose of demonstration. There is no dichotomy between art and enterprise, just as there is no dichotomy between mind and body. This was one of her principles and she behaved accordingly.

There are plenty of folks who hold the Platonic notion that if you are sincere in your art or your beliefs, then you are betraying yourself by making money at it. Total bullshit.
And that is why there will always be some asshole who attacks the likes of Ayn Rand for doing nothing but making a good living at expressing a popular, if supressed, notion that makes them uncomfortable.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@josie Materialism has never meant that in the philosophical context. Even behaviorists, the closest kind of physicalist to what you describe, don’t quite hold such a view (but maybe that’s the view you were thinking about).

And I’m not complaining about Rand being a self-promoter. In fact, I’m not complaining about her at all. I am criticizing her. It is surely my right to point out when she says things that are false or to take issue with her arguments.

(And I don’t think her views are really all that popular. Some of her general principles might be, but those are often expressed as platitudes with which no one disagrees. Had the details about what she thought they meant been more explicit, fewer people would take even a second glance at her. Good marketing, bad philosophy.)

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Qingu's avatar

I’ve always wondered if all the social conservatives cheerleading Rand nowadays realize she was an atheist feminist who based her argument’s fundamental assumptions on biological evolution.

weeveeship's avatar

Based on my limited understanding of Objectivism (esp. Atlas Shrugged), the point is that if the innovators and the “brains” of the society were to leave (i.e. “shrug”), then society will fall apart.

However, Rand also talks about ethical egoism. Under this theory, wouldn’t someone else just step up to fill the now-vacant role of the innovator.

e.g. (from the book) John Galt, a steel? tycoon, leaves society. Wouldn’t someone else just take his spot and become the next steel? tycoon? (steel? because I’m not sure his actual industry).

Poser's avatar

“I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

Nothing wrong with that.

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