Credit: Adam Smith Institute
What is Objectivism?
In short, the philosophy of objectivism boils down to two main arguments: the belief that truth can be achieved and that true purpose can be gained through pursuing your self-interest. This belief system argues that reality and conscious perception are two separate entities. However, it believes we have contact with reality through sense perceptions, and through concept formation and reason, we can reach the truth.
Objectivist philosophy also argues that proper moral purpose can be achieved by pursuing individual happiness. This particular concept is also known as rational egoism. Ayn Rand, who is considered the mother of this philosophy, defines objectivism as “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." However, while on the surface this may seem selfish, she claims selfishness and other vices of character are not in your self-interest. Thus, acting for your own benefit is not considered mutually exclusive in its entirety and can benefit others.
Other than this, the ideas of objectivism view art as a means to express metaphysical concepts in physical form, allowing people to react and resonate with it. It believes that humanity has a need for art and that it is an effective way to communicate a moral ideal. However, it does not require that type of explicit purpose for artists in their work. Objectivist belief simply views art as a means for artists to express themselves and should represent the greatness of humanity.
Objectivism vs. Subjectivism
Objectivism at its core believes that reality and truth exist separate from our perceptions, but subjectivist philosophy claims this is not the case. Subjectivism believes instead that our subjective inputs create separate realities that all are real. So, in other words, both truth and our conscious perceptions cannot be separated from one another.
A Brief History of Objectivism
Objectivistic philosophy originated from Ayn Rand’s living under communism. Rand grew up in Russia and was the age of twelve when the communist revolution happened. It was then that she first heard the idea that man exists to serve the state, she perceived “...that this principle was evil and that it could lead to nothing but evil.” She managed to continue living by reading stories of heroes who were able to overcome great odds, which inspired her to become a writer.
In 1926, she escaped to the US and entered the Hollywood film industry. In 1951, Rand moved to New York City where she became involved with the liberty movement, a circle of intellectuals involved in the revival of classical liberalism. It was here that she met Isabelle Patterson, a vocal opponent of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who taught Rand the ideas America was founded upon. During World War II, Ayn Rand began expressing her ideas on philosophy and liberty using non-fiction for the first time in a newspaper called the Vigil.
This helped to put together the varying threads of Rand's thinking which she then used to create her most famous work Atlas Shrugged, which depicts her ideas on a societal level. Her work drew many Libertarian thinkers into Rand’s sphere of influence, though she later came to odds. The Libertarian movement went on to champion some of Ayn Rand’s ideas, but she had a falling out with their leadership over their failure to defend capitalism on moral grounds.
Objectivism’s Effect on the World
While the philosophy is not considered popular among academics, objectivism has affected cultural norms in a broader sense. Many ideas that libertarians and conservatives hold have some grounding in the tenants of objectivist thought, primarily its support of individual freedom. Western media, whether that be from video games like Bioshock or movies like The Incredibles, play with ideas that surround objectivist concepts. The belief system still exists also in the followers of the Atlas Society which holds events to support and spread the ideas of Ayn Rand. Art and novels by Rand have gone on to inspire many writers to critique and mold the philosophy into something better through other works. This philosophy has also influenced the art world as sculptures of Atlas and other art have been created to represent its ideas of humanity’s greatness.
Objectivism: Key Takeaways
While objectivism is a broad belief system and can be hard to understand, there are a few core concepts that can be applied to real life. Below are some key takeaways from the philosophy:
Don’t only live for others: Living for other people rather than yourself is demeaning and has little stability to pull from. When your identity is determined only by what others want, life will become unnecessarily hard and vapid. Drawing purpose both from yourself and others is the best bet to live a happier and more stable life
Freedom is Key: Without freedom there is no individuality that creates new ideas, art, and betters the world faster. While we may not all agree with one another, being bound to too much convention or law fails people and society as a whole. So, having freedoms that no one can take away from you like freedom of speech allows for the free commerce of thought, allowing us and the world to become better.
Don’t dispose of reason for emotions: Emotions are often fickle, unpredictable, and often hard to express for someone to understand. When we are trying to make sense of the world and people in general, using reason is the only way to help us understand what is real and what isn’t. Emotions are important, but a good balance between the two allows you to better articulate how you feel and achieve your goals with better success.
Objectivism: Additional Resources