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The Virtue of Stupidity: A Critique of Ayn Rand and Objectivism

“It is not a novel that should be thrown aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

---- Dorothy Parker about Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

The so-called philosophy of Ayn Rand, known as Objectivism, has become a rather odious cult in the United States. Europeans find it baffling, while academic philosophers use it as opening for easy jokes. If a philosophy conference is getting especially dull and grim you can simply say the name Ayn Rand and you will get at least a few amusing jabs at her. Followers of Rand are impervious to any criticisms of her work however. When one mentions the obvious problems and contradictions in her work they are greeted with an almost religious parroting of her maxims. Maxims are really all they are because Rand rarely gives justification for any of her claims but simply states her point of view as emphatically as possible and then she (or her followers) accuses anybody who disagrees as being irrational. What follows is a detailed critique of Ayn Rand’s philosophy with the work of REAL philosophers used to form a number of objections to her claims. If anybody doubts that my portrayal of Rand is an accurate representation of her philosophy then I invite you to go to aynrandlexicon.com where her philosophy is presented in great detail by Objectivists.

PART ONE: METAPHYSICS AND EPISTEMOLOGY

Objectivist Metaphysics are a complete con job. The whole point of the study of metaphysics is to try and derive objective reality from the subjective reality that human beings experience through their senses and consciousness. The three most famous approaches to this are those done by René Descartes, David Hume and Immanuel Kant. Descartes tried to prove the epistemological position of rationalism by stripping away all knowledge that can possibly be held in doubt. His conclusion from this was that only his own existence was certain (I think therefore I am) and that all knowledge must be derived from that certainty. Hume moved in the completely opposite direction and doubted that even “the self" existed, reducing human consciousness to a bundle of sense data. Kant tried to resolve these issues between rationalists like Descartes and empiricists like Hume and his complex metaphysics now form the basis of modern analytical philosophy while both Hume and Descartes still exert a huge influence.

Rand’s solution to the problems presented by these three giants of philosophy is to completely ignore them altogether. Her metaphysics are based on “objective reality” in which she states the human identity and consciousness are the basis. So basically Rand says. “what you see is what you get.” The thing about Rand’s brazen philosophy is that after side stepping the whole question of whether we can derive an objective reality and what exactly our criteria of an objective reality is, she immediately states that her metaphysics are completely objective based on reason.

The thing that is crazy about this is that she gives no argument to why this is objective at all. She claims that the facts of experience and of science are completely objective despite a huge amount of evidence to the contrary. Rand makes no attempt to address scientific realism, and arguments against it, in any way. She just states “A is A” and goes on about her merry way.

We have a number of problems with this. While there are facts that we can derive from a priori (before experience) means, these are very few. Kant included in his philosophy the idea of synthetic a priori knowledge. This distinction is facts that are self-evidently true but only when we understand the “language” in which they are presented, such as math problems. The rest of knowledge is a posterori (from experience) and for this to be verifiable as genuine knowledge it must be falsifiable. (testable) Rand’s concept of metaphysics is to lay the groundwork for her moral theory, which then serves as the groundwork for her political theory. The problem with this is that moral claims are not falsifiable and therefore have no validity as scientific claims.

Rand’s epistemological position is reason. She basically claims that all facts can be derived from reason alone. Immanuel Kant made similar claims but came to completely different conclusions so this makes him Rand’s chief rival. Kant also dismissed the idea that humans could ever truly know objective reality because our senses are necessary parts of our way of interacting with the world. Rand rejects this premise despite the fact that she has absolutely nothing to base it on. Kant made the claim that how we experience the world is based on intuitions. We perceive time and space a certain way from our perspective because of our intuitions but basically an alien race on another planet might perceive these same concepts differently. This does not mean that time and space do not exist only that our perceptions of them are subjective. Anybody who has read a science fiction novel, like Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, should have no problem with this concept but Rand rejects it outright with no real argument or evidence against it.

Rand makes a complete straw man of Kant, "man is limited to a consciousness of a specific nature, which perceives by specific means and no others; therefore, his consciousness is not valid; man is blind because he has eyes—deaf because he has ears—deluded because he has a mind—and the things he perceives do not exist because he perceives them." This is not what Kant is saying at all. He is just saying that human perception is limited and our way of perceiving things may not be the only way of perceiving things. Kant’s argument is that while we can know things about objective reality through reason we can never know things about that reality that is apart from our perception.

It is interesting to note that Rand could have sidestepped this whole problem by taking the approach that the existentialists took. Existentialist philosophers rejected the idea that science could present us with concrete values of how to live our lives. They based their ethical philosophies on individual human drives and desires. Rand rejects this idea, once again with no real evidence or argument made. She insists that her philosophy is completely objective and based solely on reason. Her reasons for this seem to be only so she can bully anybody who does not agree with her by saying they are irrational.

PART TWO: ETHICS

Since Rand has come to metaphysical conclusions based on false premises it should come as no surprise that she continues to establish her ethics along the same vein while basing the whole idea on her bogus metaphysics and epistemology. Rand’s philosophy is a form of egoism. She argues that self-interest is moral and that altruism is immoral. Her argument for the whole thing goes like so: “An organism’s life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, and that which threatens it is the evil.”

The problem with this is that it runs straight into the is / ought fallacy as first introduced by David Hume. Hume stated that a moral value (an ought) cannot be derived from a physical fact (an is). Rand is actually aware of this famous philosophical problem (you could have knocked me over) and this is her response.

"In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between “is” and “ought.”

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Ummmmm….correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t that the same thing that she said before? It is almost like she didn’t answer the question at all but just repeated the same thing she had already said with more emphasis.

Anyway, Rand is wrong about this too. Just because you value your life doesn’t even mean that you should defend it at the cost of everything else. What about the soldier that jumps on the grenade to save the rest of his platoon? “What a loser!” Rand would say and by her philosophy not only is he a loser but he just committed an act that she judged to be immoral. Jumping on a grenade and saving everybody else’s life is an immoral act and I fail to see why it wouldn’t be using Rand’s own philosophy. She considers altruism to be immoral and you don’t get more altruistic then that.

Another important thing that fans of Rand don’t get about this objection is that there is a difference between something I value, like I value my car, and a moral value. Equality is a moral value. Liberty, altuism and justice are abstract moral values and you simply cannot derive them from physical facts about the world.

David Hume would object to Rand thusly; after he had completely destroyed her with the is / ought fallacy he would tell her that he believed that the foundation of morality is derived from moral intuitions that we as human beings all share. A person who does not share these moral intuitions is morally blind like a color blind person cannot see color. Hume would probably consider someone who lived by Rand’s philosophy with no guilt or regret a sociopath.

The funny thing is that Rand bases her own morality on one of these intrinsic human values and that value is being human itself. Both Rand and her archenemy Immanuel Kant start their moral philosophy from the same place. They both base their morality on the idea that every human being is intrinsically valuable. Kant forms the basis of his morality as acting as a free and rational person and on always treating people as not means to an end, but ends in themselves. Rand flips this on its head and says that human beings should value themselves above all other people and that altruism is allowing yourself to become the means to others ends. There is a huge logical problem with this.

Kant says that we have a duty to the rest of humanity and that duty is to help our fellow man to be as free as possible. When we treat others as ends in themselves we validate their intrinsic value as human beings and therefore validate our own value. If we treat people as Rand would have us treat them then we are invalidating the very value that she is basing her whole morality on in the first place. To not value the needs and lives of others as much as our own is to invalidate the entire idea that all human individuals have intrinsic value. We cannot say that every human being is subjectively intrinsically valuable to themselves because that is not objective and it throws Rand’s entire claims of an objective philosophy right out the window.

It is also worth noting that Rand straw mans Kant yet again when she addresses the idea of duty in her writing. “The meaning of the term “duty” is: the moral necessity to perform certain actions for no reason other than obedience to some higher authority, without regard to any personal goal, motive, desire or interest.” Ummmm…no. I just explained what the point of duty is to Kant and it is the same value that Rand based her philosophy on but in Kant’s case at least he is logically consistent. And isn’t her philosophy supposed to be based on reason only, not motives desires or interests? Sorry Ayn, you lose again.

PART THREE: POLITICS

Rand supports capitalism because it is the most free system. I don’t really have a problem with this argument per se but I do question Rand’s version of freedom. To Rand, freedom means being able to do what you want when you want to do it. There are many philosophers who share this view, including David Hume, but it isn’t the only version of freedom out there. A second version of freedom is freedom based on autonomy and that version is the idea that freedom doesn’t mean simply having your desires fulfilled but maximizing the number of options you have to pursue whatever goals you may want to pursue. I already addressed this question in my article "How to Build a State or Why Should the Rich Pay Higher Taxes?" and I will link that article at the end of this one so I don’t have to address that very long argument over again.

Another main problem I have with Rand’s view is that all her political arguments result from a false dichotomy. She states over and over again that you really only have two choices, capitalism and socialism. The problem with that is that you obviously don’t. If that is the case then every developed country in the world, including the United States is a Socialist country. Socialism (or collectivism if you prefer) and capitalism have co-existed in the United States government since the beginning. We have a lot of values in our society that contradict each other. We respect the rule of law but most people think that there are times when breaking the law is justified. We believe in individuality but we also believe in equal opportunity.

Rand herself has this problem in her philosophy. She says that force is unjustified but gives us no real criteria to judge this on. Then she turns around and addresses the idea of anarchy. Rand believes in a night watchman state and this basically means that the government can use force when it benefits the rich but can’t do so when it benefits the poor. This really makes no sense whatsoever. To Rand taxation is theft but then what is the debt owed for the benefits society gives us? Don’t we get some benefit from living in a society, like roads, military protection, police? Once again my previous article addresses this in much greater detail which is a pretty good thing because Ayn Rand never does.

Comments

Sindre Rudshaug on May 28, 2020:

Already in the first line after the allegation, you make a mistake thats so easy to point out for a third-grader.

"The whole point of the study of metaphysics is to try and derive objective reality from the subjective reality that human beings experience through their senses and consciousness."

Reality is reality, it is objectively discoverable. The fact that a stone smashes into your head is objectively, methaphysically true. How you interpret it is subjective. First existence exists, THEN discover it. If the existence of existence was untrue, there would be nothing to discover and nobody to discover it.

All the rest is a fallacy, resting on your first ignorant idea.

Zeray Kalayu on April 11, 2020:

Your critique of Ayn Rand and her comprehensive philosophy dubbed Objectivism is completely biased and untrue.

What made you mention Kant, Descartes and Hume BUT not Aristotle, greatest philosopher where the titles of Atlas shrugged are named after the laws logic discovered by him(Aristotle).

The law of identity: P is P( or A is A as you said in your critique)

The law of non-contradiction: P is not non-P.

The law of the excluded middle: Either P or non-P.

Your critique of her other branches of philosophy can be blown up briefly but it's a waste of time to spend a great deal of time defending for a straw man's critiques.

ben95 on December 03, 2019:

Your entire critique of her ethics is based on a misunderstanding on your part. She does NOT say man has intrinsic value, as in value to no particular valuer. Man's life is valuable in so far as it is valuable to himself, and perhaps to his family, friends, etc.

The dichotomy between individualism and collectivism is not a false one. To the extent you agree with one, you must disagree with the other.

And is/ought is indeed a false question.

Blanche Du Bois on October 12, 2019:

I hate Rand as much as the next guy, but "Socialism (or collectivism if you prefer) and capitalism have co-existed in the United States government since the beginning." is a shit take.

Adam on September 13, 2019:

This was awful. I will be doing a point by point refutation.

Todd Reinhardt on August 28, 2019:

Objectively, altruistic ethics rationalizes self destruction, and for society to destroy others at the whim of the elites. She nailed it, she nailed the loser who wrote this nonsensical piece. She described the destroyed, unhappy world we live in today.

Rose on July 09, 2019:

Thank you for this great takedown. I have come across the weird and disturbing “logic” of objectivism via the Lifebook program. Founders Jon and Missy Butcher are promoting certain parts of Ayn Rand’s books and objectivism as a way to achieve financial success and happiness. I don’t think they are diehard fans, since they acknowledge Rand has some problems, they obviously care about people and don’t seem like arrogant jerks like Rand, but I think you’ve pointed out here that the philosophies Rand pulled from are vastly superior sources to investigate.

It seems like because of her childhood experiences, Rand was stuck in a defensive mode and decided to worship her own ego. Thus, “objective sensory perception” in her case was actually just permission to indulge in the non-extraordinary psychological delusion that whatever thoughts her mind produced must be genius level stuff. Sort of, “I think I’m smart and a philosopher, therefore I am”. What a coincidence that whatever patchwork ideas supported her personal life choices just happened to also be the only “morally righteous” ones as well!

After meeting a few libertarians who claimed their opinions were superior because their minds were totally logical and non-emotional (even though their arguments were full of fear, paranoia, tribalism and contempt for certain people), I was wondering where this dysfunctional thinking pattern came from and why it made sense to them. These are actually smart people in many ways - how do they bend their minds around the idea that just because they know one topic well or have a successful business, that means they have suddenly been gifted with some super-human brain free from bias, which only processes “facts”, and that after analyzing all of those facts through their logical minds, it produced the totally logical and non-biased conclusion that their ideas are always correct!? Not only that, but also that their own life experiences are the only ones that can possibly exist - if they didn’t see it happen, it didn’t happen.

Henry Ralph Rawls from Marietta GA on July 07, 2019:

I agree with chanelstevan’s remarks, and again offer my comments of 8 years ago:

"Read the preface to Ayn’s book “The Virtue of Selfishness “ and you will get the full gist of her philosophy. All the rest of her books expand on these ideas and us elaborate stories (entertaining tomes) to make her points.”

Essentially, she says that we are all selfish. Only occasionally does this rise to the level of enlightened self interest. The current White House occupant, ongoing depredations in the RC church, and extremist terriourism all make this apparent.

chanelstevan on July 05, 2019:

You did a great job on the critical thinking portion of this article. But I don't think you truly understand the fundamentals of objectivism. There are quite a few areas where you completely misrepresent her philosophy. I recommend reading more into her work and understanding it first from the objectivist point of view completely before critiquing it.

Vincent on May 02, 2019:

Just what do you mean by "equality" though?

Howard the Roark on May 01, 2019:

An Objectivist is an individual who sees that Rand's philosophy corresponds to reality, and does so using his own reason and logic. A cultist is a fool who blindly follows, without the use of his reason. Your criticism can be improved upon, but you must first fully understand who you are criticizing.

DrSproc on July 22, 2018:

Any rant that starts with "so-called" or "REAL philosophers" is a deal breaker. Any sentient being can philosophize, it's not a licensed profession and writing "so-called" to demonized it, is a red flag right away. Sorry, but such writing doesn't work on me, worse it's unconvincing and feeble in reasoning. Not that I'm an Ayn Rand nut.

BillRandall on May 31, 2018:

others do NOT necessarily have any intrinsic value. Most are nothing more than dead weight (as in the keel of a boat) that the productive "sails" or engines have to drag thru the water. Just like ticks are not only of no value to their hosts, but indeed are threats to the very lives of those hosts. This guy doesn't want other people judging his value, cause he knows that he doesn't offer any.

Vodk on March 13, 2018:

"This is not what Kant is saying at all. He is just saying that human perception is limited and our way of perceiving things may not be the only way of perceiving things. Kant’s argument is that while we can know things about objective reality through reason we can never know things about that reality that is apart from our perception."

LMAO same difference! Our way of perceiving things might not be the only one, but since we cannot be other than what we are, that means, human beings, that's ALL we have and that is Rand's point. There are no means of knowing physical reality than through our senses and the rational conceptualization of those sensorial perceptions. Kant really made a mess, but please, continue laughing Rand off in your academic circles; objectivists don't need it and that is why academic philosophy becomes more and more irrelevant while Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead keep getting major sales.

Bongstar420 on March 08, 2018:

I disagree. Moral claims are falsifiable. It just so happens that most morality is subjective and not based on actual objective effects in the minds of the idea holders. One of my primary problems with rosenbaum was her immorality....IE. That the wealthy have the right to deny life and liberty to those who don't "qualify." Its difficult to explain this, but essentially she is cool with a small minority sucking up all resources and denying the "undesirables" born outside of wealth self sufficiency unless they submit to slavery to the owner (working for the owner's profit) .

Rick Ballan on September 04, 2017:

Well said and thank you. Indeed, whereas Rand rails against the "altruist/collectivist" who acts for "the greater good", her entire philosophy is based on the tacit assumption that capitalism is that greater good. This is one of the many contradictions that exist all throughout her writings. It's not real philosophy but more like a self help book for aspirational small business owners.

Bigguy on August 14, 2017:

Your sarcasm against Rand leads one to believe you doubt your own argument.

Charles Bagan on February 03, 2017:

Your critique is very flawed at best.

Let us address epistemology. First, we may only deal with this reality. Do not mention an a different reality, or another arbitrarily and fallaciously created being's perspective- it is this reality alone we are talking about. This pressupposes a question: a reality perceived by whom? Man. Reality, as it relates to man, are the only means by which one can objectively observe it. Rand does not attempt to answer your "what if questions" nor your "unknowable" questions. One can't ask be to answer a negative.

When we identify any scientific principle, we are not concerned with "why" it exists- that "unknowable" answer you seek. We are concerned only with the fact that it DOES exist- and that we know it. Take pi, a number indispensable in all mathematics and sciences: it is infinite; it's exact quantity is unknown. Yet we know that it exists and we have identified it's importance. Man may not step outside of the boundaries of that which he knows- objective reality. He may postulate any given number of theories as to "why", but one can not use ask "why that it is" to discredit "that it is". Man may not step outside of the boundaries of this reality; he has no answer based in truth on "why" reality exists, only that "it does".

Next, "ought vs. is". Rand never suggested that "because one values their life [they should defend it at all costs]." This is an utter perversion of her logic. She is not of the Nietzsche Egoism school. Selfishness, by dictionary definition: "[is] to be concerned with ones owns interests". This, as you should know, does not provide a moral evaluation. One valuing the sustenance of their life (the ends) does not imply that they may do so immorally (the means). The ends do not justify the means. As for you soldier example, this is not altruism to the man whom values his fellow soldiers. It is an utterly selfish act. In that situation, the grenade presents the alternative: life or death. If he dives away from the grenade only to save himself, with the price being the death of his (unaware) fellow soldiers, at the result of living the remaining time of his life in agony- it is not a sacrifice for him to jump on the grenade. It is selfish in that he would prefer death over the emotionless, lifeless state resulting from not. Yes; life is still that mans greatest value. However, this situation that has been given is such where an alternative exists that the consequences will not allow one to value his life.

Equality- of what might I ask? Man is equal only so far as in his rights. When concerned with his rights as it relates to himself, it is positive. He may act and do whatever it is that he please. Conversely, when he comes across another man, it is a negative. He may not infringe on that mans right. In essence "man has the right to do anything, so long as it doesn't infringe on the rights of another man." Your entire point says you know nothing of Rand, or are intellectually dishonest, resorting to perverting her logic. Man is an end in himself- that includes all men. Equally, her philosophy does not state that you may have no empathy or concern for your fellow man. It states that: you have no moral obligation to your fellow man. Do you see the difference? You are free in so choosing to devote your life to the poor, the sick, the elderly- but you are not obligated to. You are free to act with kindness to all men- but you are not obligated to. The rational premise, strict to her core beliefs however, would only be to do so when it coincides with your own self interests. If your wife is sick, it is NOT a sacrifice to pay for her treatment.

Finally, your grotesque a analysis of her view on the role of government. (Strictly from her philosophy). The government acts only to protect individual rights- a redundant terms as those are the only rights. The government of course has necessary and legitimate functions in so doing. I will not get into specifics in the Science of Politics nor the Philosophy of Government; but I will touch your inconsistencies. It is constrained by mans rights. It may only use force in RETALIATION to a person who INITIATES the use of force. It does not "only protect the rich". There is no such thing as "economic rights" only individual rights. In a truly unregulated capitalist society, the government has no right to interfere in the affairs of private citizens. Of course, it should be implied, that the government has no right to use force or to coerce men. It has not right to point a gun at a man and rob him- to take taxes. If, however, it is voluntary, such as maintaining a police force, roads, military; such actions are entirely moral. Though, that is why taxes are apportioned; whereas the income tax is not. The income tax is theft, taking money from one and giving it to another. The Declaration of Indepencd says "the pursuit of Happiness", not "Happiness". You have the right to take the proper steps in so achieving your happiness, but you have no right to demand others to do so for you. You may not use force based on the principle that mans means of survival is his reason. Unlike animals, man changes his environment to suit his needs, to do so requires the process of thinking. Muscle and mind; force and thought- these are opposites. If life is mans standard of value, the source of his rights, and his means to sustain it is by a process of thinking- by using force you destroy his means to live.

GEHD on January 20, 2017:

I do wonder how much people have applied science and psychology to Rand's philosophy.

Her philosophy depends a lot on an individual's consciousness, senses, and perception. But as science has shown us, our senses are kind of crap. Our memories are unreliable, we are very easily fooled and distracted, we are extremely prone to bias, not to mention the fact that we only perceive a tiny sliver of the spectrum of our environment. How does Rand's philosophy address the issue of our fallible senses?

And it should be noted that Rand was a victim of the fallibility of her own senses and biases. She was a lifelong smoker who denied any connection between smoking and cancer even though she had surgery for lung cancer.

David on September 04, 2016:

"She basically claims that all facts can be derived from reason alone." She does not claim this, "basically" or otherwise. If the other was going to bother to write about Rand's work, he might have taken the trouble to understand and to cite what she actually says. According to Rand--and she's right, obviously--our knowledge of facts starts with sense perception. There is much more that is wrong with this extremely hostile post, which starts with the title. Projection?

knight4444 on August 16, 2016:

Ayn rand was serverely mentally, if her followers actually studied her childhood, they might understand her better. Her mother was a sadistic monster!! They were Jews who were reasonably financial secure and when the Bolsheviks financially raped her parents, she was understandably emotional hurt. But her response was to go to the dark side!! Her philosophy of selfishness appeals mostly to conservative Caucasians!! Her philosophy is of white privilege!! Don't agree??? See what this nutcase said about the american Indians!!!! She what this maniac said about the Palestinians!!! BTW for all of her, so called religious Christian followers. You know she was a strong atheist!!! You know she was pro choice!! Lol. But conservative religious people have nothing in common with the teachings of Christ!

P George Stewart on August 12, 2016:

You get off on the wrong foot from here:-

"The whole point of the study of metaphysics is to try and derive objective reality from the subjective reality that human beings experience through their senses and consciousness."

The first thing to note is that Objectivism doesn't usually talk about "objective reality" in that way (I think Rand uses the term once or twice but makes clear that it's just a term of convenience, not a term of art), because for Objectivism, reality just is, whatever it is, but that fact is not "the objectivity of reality".

For Objectivism, objectivity is related to epistemology and a certain epistemological attitude and method - i.e. a method of taking existence and existents, entities, to be metaphysically primary, consciousness as secondary and metaphysically passive, but epistemologically active, and best active when it's "being objective", i.e. seeking to conform to a reality that goes the way it goes independently of the mind, and of consciousness.

Granted that our minds process reality in some sense, the goal is to be as objective as possible in that process - which means, to constantly have in mind the "underscored" tautologies called the "axioms" in any process of conceptualization and thought, especially beyond the perceptual level.

The perceptual level, in some sense, takes care of itself in terms of objectivity (the causal interactions between objects, sensory organs and brain are what they are, there's no question of "error" at that point). It's at the conceptual level where error becomes possible, and we need to be mindful that there's a heirarchy of concepts, that concepts are built on a foundation of concepts subsuming perceived entities/attributes, etc., and that those entities/attributes have natures that we are attempting to identify, and that when we start building up to concepts of concepts, we must always keep our construction tethered, ultimately, to that perceptual base. IOW, at the conceptual level, "There's many a slip twixt cup and lip", and the objectivity Objectivism is talking about relates to keeping thought on conceptual tracks in such a way that the concepts we're using can (if called upon) be reduced to their perceptual foundation, even if through several levels. It's really this entire process, which starts with the decision to focus on grasping a mind-independent reality that has an identity independent of one's thoughts, which one holds to be metaphysically primary, and to be discovered, that's meant by "objectivity" in Objectivism.

What you said about "subjective" and "objective" could be understood, in a loose way, as the problematic of much 17th/18th century "modern" philosophy, but even those philosophers didn't cast their problems in those terms. For them, the main problem was usually related to the idea that what we perceive/experience in the first instance are sensations, perceptions, experiences, seemings, etc. (later: sense-data, qualia, etc.), and the problem wasn't so much getting from there to an "objective reality", as it was trying to figure out what "reality" could possibly mean in that context: is the metaphysically real thing the sensations perceptions, or is there a meatphysically real thing behind them, that they could represent, or fail to represent? In that context, subject/object could be thought to be potential distinctions within the content of experience itself (e.g. Berkeley, Hegel), so "objective" wasn't necessarily "pointing outside" our representations in any way. But nor is it for Objectivism, since Objectivism doesn't have a representationalist foundation. For Objectivism (as for Aristotelianism, some Scholasticisms, Aquinas, Thomas Reid, Pierce, Austin, Wittgenstein, to name a few), we don't perceive sensations, experiences, perceptions, sense-data or qualia, we perceive objects. All those psychological items are secondary and derived, and abstracted FROM our experience of objects.

The "primacy of consciousness"of much of that 17th/18th century philosophy (apart from Reid and possibly - on the non-Idealist reading of him - Kant) stands in contrast to Objectivism's insistence on the primacy of existence and the identity of existents - their attributes, actions, etc. For Objectivism, the idea that consciousness can first of all be aware only of itself and its content is absurd, since, consciousness being intrinsically a relational term, to be identifiable AS consciousness, a thing must at some point be conscious of something not-it. As I said above: the psychological items such as sensations, experiences, perceptions, etc., are secondary and derived from our experience of objects.

Again, this kind of analysis isn't something completely outre for philosophy, it's the sort of thing the later Wittgenstein bangs on about occasionally, as also people like Austin, and in more modern philosophy, people like Kripke, Putnam, etc. Concepts like "experience" can't stand in isolation, because if they do, they're drained of meaningful content. Therefore, if there's such a thing as experience, there's such a thing as a world, and vice-versa (since the fact that there's a world has been identified). This is really more the meaning of Rand's "axioms" (which are cognate with Reid's "common sense" and some aspects of what Wittgenstein was talking about with "hinge propositions" in On Certainty - but many other philosophers, such as Aristotle, thought along similar lines).

The same logic can be seen, on another octave, as it were, when you understand Objectivism's critique of representationalism itself, and the global sceptical problems that arise from it: scepticism is intrinsically self-refuting, because it uses higher level concepts while denying the validity of their genetic roots (what Rand called "the fallacy of the stolen concept"). For example, the Argument from Illusion relies on there being at least one perception that's valid, namely, the perception by means of which the illusion as understood as really an illusion - but that being so, it therefore cannot be used to globally call into question the validity of perception.

Anyway, I could go on, but I just wanted to point out to you that you're missing a whole load of context - both in terms of having a rather narrow understanding of the history and problems of philosophy (which is why I'm mentioning the other names, so that you can situate Rand's ideas more easily) and in terms of Rand's own ideas.

There's no doubt that Rand wasn't primarily a philosopher, and she was idiosyncratic, and perhaps overly cranky about other philosophies. But the philosophy she did is actually quite deep and self-consistent - to crack it you'd have to understand it first, and you don't seem to be making much of an effort in that regard.

HRalph on November 20, 2015:

True, but the premise of enlightened self-interest would imply that while someone may say and/or even think that they are acting in the common good, subconsciously they (all of us) are driven by a selfish motive. e.g. in the case of non-enlightened self-interest, someone could likely be self deluded into thinking that slavery is for the common good because it helps the slave owner’s economy while also saving the slaves from the ravages of the African jungle as well as their pagan ideology -- to use an extreme example.

Under enlightened self-interest a slave owner may realize that slavery goes against his (her?) moral and ethical believes, but in the common (i.e, non-slave population) good, he should continue to keep his slaves but treat them very well in every way (after all, he is still protecting them from being eaten by lions and giving them honorable employment and a path to heaven via Christian orthodoxy.

Hmm, I wonder what deluded, selfish, rationale was behind the thinking of the Boston priests & fathers, as dramatized in the now-playing movie “Spot Light"

--- HRalph

aka Ralph-2

Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on November 20, 2015:

Seems to me an appreciation of the "common good" is an important feature of government which was absent from Ayn Rand's so-called philosophy.

Hralph on November 18, 2015:

We’ll, at least if he read “The Virtue of Selfishness” he would know that behind seeming altruism lies self-interest (selfish) motivation. If so, this insight could help him manipulate conflicting points of view among representatives toward a consensus -- which has been missing for way too long. Let’s hope that his on (hidden?) selfishness is at least enlightened self interest. See, for example:

https://www.quora.com/Regarding-Ayn-Rands-enlighte...

Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on November 17, 2015:

I recall that Paul Ryan, the recently elected Speaker of the House, is a fan of Ayn Rand. This doesn't bode well for our country or the GOP.

The Man In Black From Cooley Texas on November 14, 2015:

MichaelM, I thouroughly enjoyed the substance of your comments.

E.G.A.

Larry Allen Brown from Brattleboro Vermont on March 30, 2015:

"Ayn Rand gives no evidence or argument, bla bla... neither do you, guy, you just say she's wrong because you like a bunch of other dudes more because you were taught to and then use a whole lot of circular reasoning."

Well....I've read through all of the critique offered by Robes, and I have to say that it's about as complete as it gets. Not only does it dissect Rands "dime-store" philosophy entirely, but...it does so without ANY evidence of circular reasoning what-so-ever. I think that before tossing around logical fallacy terms such as Begging the Question (circular reasoning) it really helps to understand what that term means. If it were understood, then that accusation wouldn't come up. If you're going to make the claim that a circular argument is being used, then provide an example. None is offered. It's circular because Poo, say's so. But more importantly, this critique doesn't simply tell us that Rand's philosophy is a huge bowl of word salad, designed to justify greed, selfishness, and intolerance, while stroking the Ego; he tells us specifically WHY it does this, where it comes from, what influences it grabs to make it's claims and why it's foundationalism is false.

I haven't been to this Hub in a long time, but I've always been impressed with Robes grasp of philosophy. What I find telling is that I've never yet seen a defense of Rand that is as thorough as this critique is. Perhaps that's because people don't read her with a critical eye and are more prone to authoritarianism and find that she provides them with a theory of rationality that justifies their own authoritarian leanings. If your a self-serving tea-bagger, then Rand is your cup of tea.

"So her ideas aren't based on stuff you can never know or prove anyway - so what? "

It would be very important if we knew that we had people in congress that would legislate this kind of garbage which is completely self-absorbed, and encourages greed at the expense of everything else. And we do. If they intend to legislate Randian ideas, they affect all of us.

" How can you have evidence for a philosophy about reality without first knowing which philosophy is correct so you can decide which evidence is valid?"

That's what criticism is for. Proving your science or philosophy isn't what makes it rational. What makes it rational is it's ability to be criticized.

"All of philosophy is pseudo-philosophy - that's as good as it gets. Ayn Rand probably doesn't base her "philosophy" on anything because there's nothing to base it on."

No. That's not true. She does base her philosophy on the Ego. Everything about it is finds its foundation in what she calls rational self-interest. If you follow Rand, then you would know that. Even if you don't follow her, you would know that.

" You know more about the study of philosophy than me, but you're not very good at explaining it."

He's actually brilliant at explaining it. Maybe it just isn't your thing. To understand it, you need to know something about what came before current concepts. Philosophical concepts don't simply pop out of thin air. They usually build on ideas that were presented by others long ago. Either those ideas have been expanded on, or they've been relegated to the dumpster of ideas that failed to hold up to critically thinking.

Hralph on March 30, 2015:

Interesting analogy with the laws of physics! I wonder how the trade-offs between entropy and enthalpy/disorder and energy fit in.

Re: "Caring about the cause would seem as good a motivator as any”

I agree, but I’m thinking there’s still at least a subconscious selfish reason involved: e.g., a social motivation to be accepted by other like-minded people?

Robert Sacchi on March 29, 2015:

I can see the logic of that based on Physics. A body at rest (or in motion) would stay at rest (or in motion) until a greater for is exerted on it. That force could either be something tangible like money or intangible like a place in heaven, good will & respect from others, political influence ... you name it! Caring about the cause would seem as good a motivator as any; I want to contribute to this cause because I consider it a worthy use of my time or treasure.

Hralph on March 29, 2015:

Rand’s point is that we are all 100% selfish. Altruistic behavior is superficial while in fact it is self-interest behavior -- e.g., making donations to “worthy” causes is based not on caring about the cause (well, maybe a little bit, sometimes), but on what the donor personally receives: a tax deduction, a building or foundation in their name, a place in heaven, good will & respect from others, political influence ... you name it!

Robert Sacchi on March 28, 2015:

Interesting article. It would seem either 100% self-interest or 100% altruism would be a bad way to go.

Henry Ralph Rawls from Marietta GA on July 12, 2014:

Read the preface to Ayn’s book “The Virtue of Selfishness “ and you will get the full gist of her philosophy. All the rest of her books expand on these ideas and us elaborate stories (entertaining tomes) to make her points.

Odysseus Makridis from Netcong, NJ on July 11, 2014:

That we would even be discussing the value of Rand's work as philosophy is alarming. But let's not slide into ad hominems. The point is this: show me any page of her ranting and I can analytically show you what fallacy is being committed - not as a matter of rhetoric or polemics or opinion but carrying the appropriate burden of showing that a fallacy is committed.

Random example: see how her musings on anarchy actually use words like "moral" and "immoral" NOT in the way her theory defines them but in the standard way which she presumably rejects! Elementary slide toward inconsistency.

What about false dichotomy - on which her view is predicated: either self-regarding or other-regarding duties; why not both?

But don't underestimate how people succumb to their wishful thinking and other emotive needs and cannot think straight. There is also a problem with not using a word like "philosophy" without ambiguity. To most people, "philosophy" is any odd body of reflections on the meaning of life, government, or anything you like. The tradition and academic study of philosopy are characterized by rigor which is not available to other disciplines outside of Math and the Sciences. It is not surprising, though it always vexing, that those who actually study philosophy are seen as arrogant and aloof and even politically motivated while philosophy itself is clinical in its application of technical tools that require time and effort to master. Rand, on the other hand, has the advantage that her rambling gets through directly and reaches those traumatized recesses - abscesses? - of wounded sould who think that they deserve better than how they have been treated.

Trying not to commit the genetic fallacy myself, may I also point out that Rand was unleashed in the radical 60s to do some damage to an unusually idealistic youth rebellion that was leaning rather left, if you can believe it? But, to be balanced here, the 60s radicals were themselves intellectually lazy and, so, contemptible. It is one thing to take it as being "cool" to drop names but you can't study difficult material under the influence of hallucinogens and while occupying campus buildings.

Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on June 15, 2014:

It's noteworthy that Fed chairman Alan Greenspan was an acolyte of Ayn Rand as is economics professor David Brat who recently defeated Eric Cantor in the Virginia GOP primary. I was infatuated by Rand's "The Fountainhead" in high school, but not by "Atlas Shrugged" many years later, having been inoculated by a liberal arts education in which she was not mentioned in my philosophy nor my literature courses. Her novels' characters are cardboard cut-outs and, as you pointed out so well, her philosophy doesn't hold water. Neverthless, her malign influence refuses to die!

Robephiles (author) on October 30, 2013:

@poo

1. This article is meant to talk about what Rand got wrong, which is almost everything. Descartes, Hume and Kant disagreed on a lot of things but they did get some things right. Some people are just incapable of understanding philosophy because it involves removing yourself from your subjective perspective and remove the things we take for granted. Just because you are not able to understand what I am saying does not eliminate the possibility that you are merely too stupid to understand it.

2. Consciousness is a fact. That isn't the part Rand gets wrong.

3. I actually agree with Hawking, but I think you have mangled his quote. The problem with Rand is that her philosophy DOES claim to have all the answers.

Bill Sego from Logan, Ohio on October 30, 2013:

It's called constructive criticism poo, not blatant and demeaning hostility. Your approach isn't necessary and is a horrible way of getting your point across. It's a distraction to the topic at hand, whether you agree with his or her points or not. Using your logic, you're basically doing the same thing. "Hey look at me, I can point out the inaccuracy in someone's grammar and make them look bad to get my counter point across." Don't be a hypocrite and, instead, focus on countering the points you don't necessarily agree with, not the grammar. I guess we can't all put together sentences as well as you...

poo on October 29, 2013:

"*sigh*", "your grammar is so bad" (you accidentally mistyped a few sentences too you know mister), "You are 0 for 2 so far", "I studied philosophy at school so I understand all about truth and God and the universe".

I got through the first section and had to laugh. Then the comments made me roll my eyes. Ayn Rand gives no evidence or argument, bla bla... neither do you, guy, you just say she's wrong because you like a bunch of other dudes more because you were taught to and then use a whole lot of circular reasoning. So her ideas aren't based on stuff you can never know or prove anyway - so what? What evidence is there for "I think therefore I am", anyway? How can you have evidence for a philosophy about reality without first knowing which philosophy is correct so you can decide which evidence is valid? All of philosophy is pseudo-philosophy - that's as good as it gets. Ayn Rand probably doesn't base her "philosophy" on anything because there's nothing to base it on. You know more about the study of philosophy than me, but you're not very good at explaining it.

From my limited understanding, I would guess that Rand assumes consciousness is a fact because you kind of have to do that to get any further. Otherwise you might as well stop at "I don't even know if I'm real, I could be a brain in a jar". You might be right, but it doesn't achieve anything. Stephen Hawking once said something really cool about before-the-big-bang, before time. I can't remember it word for word, but essentially, he said that stuff is by necessity outside of anything we will ever know or understand so we might as well forget about it - it could be God, it could be nothing, it could be everything, but we never get closer to the truth so worrying about it is pointless. I don't think Rand was necessarily right, but I do think her ideas are as useful for us to think about (why do we agree? Why do we disagree?) as any other.

I'll bet Descartes didn't have to write "REAL" (capital letters!) next to "philosopher" on his door in order to feel nice inside. Ayn Rand was probably foolish about a lot of things, maybe everything (I wouldn't know, I was looking for an article that might explain her viewpoint and I found none, certainly not here) but she was more fun to read than you.

Dreen Lucky from St. Paul, minnesota on September 17, 2013:

I very much enjoyed your hub. I would have to say that I agree and appreciate Kant's ideas/philosphies more than Rand. It was a great read and a good start to my day.

Robephiles (author) on September 05, 2013:

"It is very clear from your analysis that you do not have clue what Objectivism is all about."

I have never met an Objectivist who was able to explain the philosophy in a logical way that made sense. Ayn Rand's own concise explanation is nonsense to anybody who understands the history of philosophy. Objectivism is essentially a cult. There is no other way of putting it.

"Firstly - if you read what Objectivists published, you will not mix all philosophies all together as "internal conflicts of Objectivism". There are non."

It might be partially because of the bad grammar and spelling but I have no idea what this sentence is supposed to mean. It is not unreasonable to expect Rand and her followers to be able to answer to the works of Kant, Hume and Nietzsche on the points that they disagree with them, especially since Rand herself directly referenced Hume and Kant but failed to refute them, and stated that Nietzsche was an influence but has profoundly misunderstood him.

"1) if you accomplish something valuable and get reward from others, do you feel your self-esteem to r