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What is Objectivism?

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  • Written By: Michael Anissimov
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  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2016
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Objectivism is a philosophy presented by the Russian-American novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand in her books and writings, especially The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957). Over 22 million of her books have been sold worldwide as of 2005, with half a million more being sold every year. Rand was one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century, and her ideas and values form a large part of the foundation of the modern-day libertarian movement. Although Objectivism was at its height throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s, today there are probably several tens of thousands of people who self-identify as being part of the Objectivist movement, which promotes Objectivism in various ways and, like any movement, also serves as an international social club.

With Objectivism, what began as a few books and writings expanded into a formal philosophy and associated institute that rebelled against some of the popular ideas of the time while concurring with others. For example, Rand's philosophy was atheistic, yet also anti-Communist. In the appendix of what is often considered Rand's greatest and most comprehensive work, Atlas Shrugged, Rand sums up Objectivism in a single sentence: "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."

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The name Objectivism comes from one of the first principles of the philosophy - there is one objective reality, which we all have our own imperfect sensory window into. This is called metaphysical realism, and is a tenet of many other philosophies and belief systems. Rand and modern-day Objectivists believe in an objective set of ethics as well, in the form of rational self-interest. Hence, Objectivism is against altruism and other forms of egoistically unjustifiable self-sacrifice.

Like some of the ancient Greek philosophers by which Rand was influenced, Objectivism's epistemology, its account of where truth comes from, focuses on reason. By extension, this supports science above superstition and places emphasis on the power of industry. Objectivists are not religious.

Politically, Objectivism is extremely capitalistic and seeks to minimize governmental influence over private industry and business. It was a good philosophy to guide people in America and other countries in the decades after WWII, when progress was greatly accelerated and quality of life was drastically improved by industry and capitalism. Aesthetically and artistically, Objectivism adheres to Romantic Realism, which focuses on the power of human volition and choice in how we conceive of ourselves and interact with the world. Objectivists dismiss excessive emotion or sentimentality, which they point out can get in the way of one's self-interest or ability to think logically.

Ayn Rand died in 1982, but her philosophy lives on through organizations such as the Ayn Rand Institute and the Atlas Society, and in informal and formal discussions held by philosophers and students around the globe.

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turquoise
Post 7

I've read a book on objectivism and to me, it seems like objectivism doesn't believe that there is a purpose of the state whatsoever. It seems to advocate capitalism and small government to the extent that there shouldn't be a government at all and a free-market should regulate everything. And I don't agree with that.

discographer
Post 6

@fify-- As far as I know, Ayn Rand believed that we can reach objectivity through perception. At least, that's what I've understood from her books.

Ayn Rand was a proponent of rationality and individual rights. And she felt that capitalism was the most conducive system for this. She didn't think that objectivity was something that people needed to form with their thoughts, but something that already exists and just has to be found.

I think that objectivism and Rand's ideas have been misunderstood. Some academics don't even take this philosophy seriously. It's not something discussed in most philosophy classes but it should be.

fify
Post 5

I agree with some of the tenets of this ideology but not others. I also believe that we need to be objective and logical. And I agree that none of us are naturally objective because our perception is skewed. So we have to make an effort to understand the truth and we have to be able to see things from other people's point of view in order to arrive in the middle ground which is objectivity.

But I don't believe that religion is a barrier to achieving these things. I'm also not a die-hard proponent of capitalism. I believe that there are advantages and benefits of socialism as well. So that's where I diverge from this ideology. And although I agree with a lot of the ideas, I can't call myself an objectivist for this reason.

Soulfox
Post 4

@Logicfest -- You might be surprised just how many people who espouse Libertarianism and/or Ann Rand objectivism are fully aware of the atheist elements of that philosophy. That is one of the features, in fact, that does attract followers.

Such are the times in which we live.

Logicfest
Post 3

I wonder how many of those who claim to embrace objectivism realize the very large atheist/agnostic elements that run all through that philosophy? By converting it into kind of a form of libertarianism, that particular message may have gotten lost. People focus on the small government and capitalism elements of the philosophy rather than the "there is no God" or "God just doesn't care about us" pieces of the philosophy.

It is important for people to understand what they are actually advocating before embracing a philosophy, right?

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