Objectivism is a complete philosophy, with positions on Metaphysics, Epistemology, Human Nature, Ethics, Politics, and Esthetics.
Metaphysics is the study of reality, asking questions such as “What is the nature of reality?” “Does God exist?” “What is the role of consciousness in the universe?” Objectivism states that there is only one reality, the reality we perceive with our senses. Everything in existence acts in accordance with causal laws, because actions are only expressions of the identities of the things acting; this is the “Law of Causality.” Consciousness is a fact of certain living things, and its function is to make the living thing aware of the existence of objects and events around it; aware, but not in unrestrained control of said things. This means that consciousness alone has no direct effects on objects outside of the living thing; meaning that you can’t, for example, consciously will for a book to no longer exist, no matter how much you may hate the book. In the philosophy, these statements about consciousness’ relationship with existence are summed up as the “Primacy of Existence” principle. A consequence of the Objectivist view of reality is that supposed supernatural Beings and realms do not exist, and therefore on Theology (study of God, His existence, etc.), Objectivism’s position is Atheist; in addition, it is A-Satanist, A-Vishnu(ist), and A-Flying Spaghetti Monster(ist), etc.
Epistemology is the study of knowledge, asking questions such as “What is knowledge?”, “Is there a real relationship between our mental concepts and the particular objects we deal with daily?”, “What is truth?” and “Can we have certain knowledge?” Objectivism states that knowledge is a grasp (an understanding) of a fact of reality (of something which exists and you are conscious of), reached by either perceptual observation (like seeing a tree) or a process of reasoning based on perceptual observation (such as inferring from the tree’s existence that it is a plant). The smallest unit of knowledge is a concept, which is a mental integration formed by observing (or thinking about) two or more units of a group which possess the same distinctive characteristic(s), not specifying (abstracting) their particular measurements, and finally creating a definition in order to retain the concept in one’s mind. A very important point about the Objectivist view of concepts is that it is predominantly a mathematical process, a process of measurement-omission, so that when you form a concept, you don’t end up with “22 inch television” or “foot-long sandwich”; the proper concept of television includes the 22 inch one and many others of varying heights (the same applies to the concept of “sandwich”). Reason is the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by our senses; this integration results in concepts (and even larger integrations, like theories). Objectivism accepts the Correspondence Theory of Truth, which means that if a statement is made, and it identifies a fact of reality, then it “corresponds” to reality—which means it is “true”; if the statement contradicts a fact of reality, then it is false. Lastly, Objectivism says that human beings can gain certain knowledge, and this occurs when the evidence for a given idea is conclusive within a certain context, all the evidence supports this idea, and there is nothing known which supports an alternative idea or theory. As a result, Objectivism rejects any other position on gaining knowledge besides reason, including faith (revelation), ESP, and emotions (though Objectivism is not anti-emotion). The philosophy also rejects Skepticism, the position that certainty or knowledge is impossible.
Human Nature studies the metaphysical facts about human beings, the universal facts about us all, asking questions like “Are human beings free, or are they determined by outside factors beyond their control?”. The Objectivist position is that human beings possess free will, which is our ability to choose (make a decision) among a set of alternatives. The primary form of free will is the choice to focus or not, to raise your degree of mental awareness, or to let your mind slip into a fog (or actively evade the need to focus). It is the choosing of focus over non-focus that leads to the many other choices available to human beings, such as thinking and writing blog posts. A key statement about free will (volition) is that it is reason, the conceptual faculty; they are one and the same thing. Concept-formation, to take an example, is a volitional (chosen) process, it is not involuntary, like some parts of perception and your ankle jerk reflex are. Humans do have involuntary responses to stimuli, like the ankle reflex, but not all actions are involuntary; some are volitional. Because we possess free will, we must choose to gain knowledge about the world and act according to our knowledge, if we want to live; this means that reason is our basic means of survival. Objectivism therefore rejects Determinism, the idea that every action, even human ones, are involuntary and Indeterminism, the view that volitional actions exist but are uncaused; within Objectivism, humans are the cause of their volitional actions.
Ethics studies “the good” and proper ways of acting. It asks questions like “Why does man need a code of values?” “What is good?” “What is the correct moral theory?” In short, the Objectivist answer to the first question is: to survive. Because we are beings with our own lives and minds who need to act on our own knowledge to survive, the good is that which promotes or furthers the life of a rational being, and the evil is that which hinders or destroys such a life. It is these observations (and many others) which leads to an advocacy of rational egoism, meaning that we should follow reason to sustain life, and the life we have to sustain is our own individual lives; the egoist is the person who makes the choice to sustain his own life. Objectivism therefore rejects Altruism, the view that it is one’s moral duty to live for other people, Moral Nihilism, the view that nothing is morally good, bad, right, etc. and the Nietzschean view of ethics, which claims that you should lead a fulfilling life by ruling over others.
Politics is the study of proper human relations, which means a study of social systems. It asks questions such as “How should people interact with one another?” “Is Individualism or Collectivism the proper position to take in judging social issues?” and “What social system should be set up?” The basic social principle within Objectivism is the ban on the initiation of force–the initiation of physical force by someone to take, damage, or otherwise appropriate a value from someone else (assault, theft, fraud, murder, etc.). Force can only be used morally in self-defense, in retaliation of those who initiate force. The proper way for humans to deal with one another is through trade, which involves mutual consent to mutual benefit; this is known as the Trader Principle. Due to Objectivism’s view on reason, free will, and their respective roles in human life, the philosophy upholds individualism, the view that in social issues the individual is the unit of value; an individual cannot be morally used for the political ends of others. The only social system which is individualist and bars the improper use of force from human relationships is laissez-faire capitalism. (Laissez-faire) Capitalism is the system which recognizes individual rights, including property rights, and the role of government within Capitalism is only to protect individual rights. Objectivism in consequence rejects collectivism, the view that individuals can be used as ends for the benefit of “the group”; this means that Objectivism rejects collectivist systems such as socialism, fascism, anarchism, and theocracy. Also, it rejects the current “mixed economy” of today’s American economy (and those of other semi-free countries).
Esthetics is the study of art, asking questions such as “What is art?” “What is the value of art?” Objectivism states that art “is the selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments”; art displays what the artist thinks is important/significant about reality and/or man. By doing so, it allows men to contemplate their concepts directly (perceptually) by observing the art-work. Art is the technology of the soul; literature in particular is capable of presenting an ethical ideal in concrete terms, where ethics is comparable to theoretical engineering. Ayn Rand originated the school of art (literature specifically) known as Romantic Realism: “I am a Romantic in the sense that I present men as they ought to be. I am Realistic in the sense that I place them here and now and on this earth.”
1. Rand, Ayn. The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature, second revised edition, New York: Signet, 1975, p. 19
2. Ayn Rand, quoted in “The Essentials of Objectivism,” included in Signet’s 1992 edition of her novel Atlas Shrugged
Links to Other Introductory Objectivist Material
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Roderick Fitts is the current Vice-President of UMSO and a sophomore majoring in Philosophy.