philosophy faq

I. What is the Role of Philosophy in Human life?

Ayn Rand had the following to say about the nature of philosophy:

"Philosophy is the science that studies the fundamental aspects of the nature of existence. The task of

philosophy is to provide man with a comprehensive view of life. This view serves as a base, a frame

of reference, for all his actions, mental or physical, psychological or existential. This view tells him the

nature of the universe with which he has to deal (metaphysics); the means by which he has to deal

with it, i.e., the means of acquiring knowledge (epistemology); the standards by which he is to choose

his goals and values, in regard to his own life and character (ethics)- and in regard to society (politics);

the means of concretizing this view is given to him by esthetics."

"The Chicken's Homecoming," from "The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution," p107

Objectivism is the philosophy of Ayn Rand and is her discovery. It is her answer to the questions posed in these

five broad areas regarding the nature of the universe, how man comes to know it, the standards by which he

lives and and how to live with others in society. She also addresses the nature of the ideal of moral perfection

and the ideal art form in her philosophy of art.

II. What is Objectivism?

Ayn Rand summarized her philosophy in "The Objectivist Newsletter" in 1962 as

1.Metaphysics: Objective Reality

2.Epistemology: Reason

3.Ethics: Self Interest

4.Politics: Laissez-faire capitalism

5.Aesthetics: Romantic Realism

[ point 5 was not included in her "standing on one foot" presentation of Objectivism ]

1.Reality exists as an objective absolute- facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or


2.Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses) is man's only

means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of


3.Man - every man - is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own

sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational

self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.

4.The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one

another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary

exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting

to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts

only as a policeman that protects man's rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against

those who initiate its use, such as criminals and foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there

should be (but historically has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same

way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church."

The Ayn Rand Lexicon (HC) p344 quoted from "Introducing Objectivism," TON, Aug. 1962, 35.

III. Who is Ayn Rand?

Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was a Russian-born American writer. She grew up in St. Petersburg during the Russian

Revolution and graduated from the University of Petrograd in 1924. As a child at the age of nine, she had

decided that she would become a writer. Being directly exposed to the Soviet system, she rebelled even as a child

against the doctrines and practices of that oppressive culture. In 1926, at the age of 21, she went to the United

States to become a Hollywood screen writer and married in 1931.

She went on to write not only several screen plays but eventually several novels including the "We the Living"

(1936), the best-selling "The Fountainhead (1943)" and "Atlas Shrugged (1957)." Ayn Rand considered her novels

to belong to the school of art known as Romanticism as opposed to Naturalism. Additional works include a

novelette called "Anthem" and several plays including "Night of January 16th."

"'The Fountainhead', the story of an intransigent creator who refuses to surrender his integrity or his intellectual

independence to a world of second-handers was published in 1943- after having been rejected by twelve

publishers. It brought Ayn Rand international fame. With the publication of 'Atlas Shrugged' in 1957, Ayn Rand's

position in history -- both as novelist and philosopher -- was established. 'Atlas Shrugged' tells the story of what

happens to the world when its most intelligent and productive members, the men of the mind, go on strike

against the creed of self-immolation. This novel challenges at the root the altruist and philosophical ideas of the

2000-year-old Judeo-Christian tradition." (Ayn Rand Institute information packet)

Subsequent to "Atlas Shrugged", she published several newsletters including "The Objectivist Newsletter (1962-

1965)", "The Objectivist (1966-1971)", and "The Ayn Rand Letter (1971-1976)" All of these newsletters are still

available in print.

In the last 20 years of her life, she published several non-fiction works including "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

(1966)", "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (1979)", "The Virtue of Selfishness (1964)", "For the New

Intellectual (1961)", "The Romantic Manifesto (1969)", and "The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (1971)"

In addition, she appeared on radio and television talk shows, wrote editorials in such newspapers as the "LA

Times", spoke to enthusiastic audiences at events sponsored by such institutions as "The Ford Hall Forum" in

Boston, and taught and helped teach courses on her philosophy and romantic fiction.

After her death, the seminal "Philosophy: Who Needs It (1982)", "The Early Ayn Rand", and "The Ayn Rand

Column" were published by her intellectual heir, executor, and closest associate Dr. Leonard Peikoff.

Ayn Rand is buried in a cemetery near Valhalla, New York.

There is some biographical information in the now out-of-print "Who is Ayn Rand" from the early sixties. I do

not recommend any other biographical works from the authors of this book as they were written subsequent to

Ayn Rand's death so she couldn't answer their contents. The authors are openly hostile to Rand, and make

allegations that cannot be verified independently.

III. Ayn Rand's Debt to Aristotle

"The only philosophical debt I can acknowledge is to Aristotle. I most emphatically disagree with a

great many parts of his philosophy--but his definition of the laws of logic and of the means of human

knowledge is so great an achievement that his errors are irrelevant by comparison."

"About the Author," Appendix to "Atlas Shrugged" quoted from "The Ayn Rand Lexicon", p344

IV. Ayn Rand on Aristotle

"Aristotle's philosophy was the intellect's Declaration of Independence. Aristotle, the father of logic,

should be given the title of the world's first intellectual, in the purest and noblest sense of that word.

No matter what remnants of Platonism did exist in Aristotle's system, his incomparable achievement

lay in the fact that he defined the basic principles of a rational view of existence and of man's

consciousness: that there is only one reality, the one which man perceives--that it exists as an objec

tive absolute (which means: independently of the consciousness, the wishes or the feelings of any

perceiver)--that the task of man's consciousness is to perceive, not to create, reality--that abstractions

are man's method of integrating his sensory material--that man's mind is his only tool of knowledge-

-that A is A.

If we consider the fact that to this day everything that makes us civilized beings, every rational value

that we possess -- including the birth of science, the industrial revolution, the creation of the United

States, even of the structure of our language -- is the result of Aristotle's influence, of the degree to

which, explicitly or implicitly, men accepted his epistemological principles, we would have to say:

never have so many owed so much to one man."

Quoted from "For the New Intellectual, HC(20),pb(22)" from "The Ayn Rand Lexicon", p 35.

V. Was Ayn Rand a Conservative or a Libertarian?

"The "libertarians"...plagiarize Ayn Rand's principle that no man may initiate the use of physical force,

and treat it as a mystically revealed, out-of-context absolute....

In the philosophical battle for a free society, the one crucial connection to be upheld is that between

capitalism and reason. The religious conservatives are seeking to tie capitalism to mysticism; the

"libertarians" are tying capitalism to the whim-worshipping subjectivism and chaos of anarchy. To

cooperate with either group is to betray capitalism, reason, and one's own future."

Binswanger, "The Ayn Rand Lexicon", p254 from "Q & A Department: - Anarchism," "The Objectivist Forum",

Aug. 1981, 12.

Though some thinkers discussed the relationship of force and rights, it does not change the fact that Rand made

the evil of the initiation of force and its relationship to man's means of survival -- reason -- clear and explicit.

The definitive answer to this question is provided by the article, "Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty" by

Peter Schwartz. This tract and a revised version which appears in "The Voice of Reason: Essays on Objectivist

Thought" are available at Second Renaissance Books. (address below)

A note: Common cause for freedom cannot be made with Conservative or Libertarian groups. Conservatives

observe and complain about the rampant moral relativism taking over the world, but offer in its place a return

to Judeo-Christian values and "The Bible." Libertarians make many statements which appear to be pro-freedom,

but the arguments that they have to offer for justification amount to "do your own thing."

In my opinion, based on my personal investigations of such groups, many of the individuals participating in

these movements are sincere. The fundamental failing of such people in the United States is that most do not

understand the concept of proof and often intersperse true and often brilliant insights with other claims that fail

to withstand even casual criticism. Moreover, many cases made by Conservatives are interspersed with

statements that are so fantastic as to be unbelievable, even if they were true, yet are not given the extraordinary

proof that they require.

Hence, to use any such materials in building your case for freedom must be done with caution. Rand herself

addressed this very same issue in the article "What Can One Do?" I suggest that you read this article which is

published in her non-fiction.

Clearly then, on avowedly religious mailing lists, libertarian lists, or conspiracy lists, it weakens your case for

Objectivism to engage in philosophical debates there. I have found some valuable information on some of these

groups, but the risk of sanction makes participation undesirable at best. To debate Objectivism on these lists

trivializes your position and only teaches such people techniques to use against other rational individuals in the


Posting on other lists including alt.philosophy.objectivism or other philosophy lists requires caution. Before

plunging into a debate, make sure that the people involved are truly seeking answers or are instead engaged in

word games that will consume the time that you do not have.

VI. Where can one find out more about Ayn Rand's ideas?

Ayn Rand's books and the most important works of the advocates of her philosophy, especially "Objectivism:

The Philosophy of Ayn Rand" by Leonard Peikoff and "The Ayn Rand Lexicon" by Harry Binswanger can be

found in most metropolitan bookstores or can be ordered from the publisher or from Second Renaissance


The most complete collection of the works of major interpreters of Objectivism and of works which support the

values of reason, individual achievement, and individual rights and capitalism may be found at:

Second Renaissance Books

143 West Street

New Milford, CT 06776

For information, call 619-757-6149, or fax 619-757-1723. Or try their toll-free phone number: 800-729-6149

For free information on Ayn Rand's ideas including the following pamphlets:

"Playboy's Interview with Ayn Rand"

"Philosophy of Objectivism: A Brief Summary" by Leonard Peikoff

"Man's Rights and the Nature of Government" by Ayn Rand

"Philosophy: Who Needs It?" by Ayn Rand before West Point

and many more, please contact:

The Ayn Rand Institute

4640 Admiralty Way, Suite 715

Marina del Rey, CA 90292

Additional sources of information about Objectivism:

The Jefferson School (TJS) (A book service)

P.O. Box 2934

Laguna Hills, CA 92654

The Intellectual Activist (Publication of articles, reviews, current events)

P.O. Box 262

Lincroft, NJ 07738

Second Renaissance Conferences

130 Federal Road, Suite 56 S

Danbury, CT 06811

Lyceum International

P.O. Box 4315

S. Colby, WA 98384

TOF Publications

P.O. Box 1895

New York, NY 10156

VII. What about other electronic forums where her ideas are discussed?

There are several private e-mail discussion groups on which Ayn Rand's ideas are discussed.

One such group is the Objectivism Study Group, a commercial mailing list for serious students of Objectivism. It

is moderated by the publisher of "The Intellectual Activist", Bob Stubblefield.

Please send a message to "" to receive a contract and application form.

Other public discussions on Ayn Rand's ideas occur on sci.philosophy.meta, talk.philosophy.misc, and more. Since most of these groups are unmoderated, it is up to the reader to decide if a

posting which is critical of Rand's ideas is basing this criticism on fact or is based on an irrational premise or hasty

generalization. [see disclaimer]

Please consult Jay Allen's ORG file for information on how to join the Internet Relay Chat discussion in the

forum #AynRand which is moderated by Mark J. Gardner.

VIII. What about audio and video recordings of Ayn Rand and others?

Ayn Rand appeared on several TV shows including the Tonight Show, Donahue, and others. She spoke before

West Point, before businessmen and the aforementioned Ford Hall Forum. The majority of her extant

recordings as well as those by other prominent Objectivists is available at Second Renaissance Books.

IX. What about campus clubs? Where can I find out how to start my own?

An extensive list of campus clubs can be found in Jay Allen's Objectivist Resource Guide.

The Ayn Rand Institute now supports more than 60 campus clubs throughout the United States and Canada.

To quote from the ARI Campus Club Manual, "Campus clubs operate independently of ARI. We do not officially

endorse or sanction any clubs. We provide assistance to those in harmony with the principles described in our

Intellectual Charter. Our role is solely that of helper as we work together to achieve our common goal: the

advancement of Objectivism" (p. ii)

Please contact the ARI at the following address:

The Ayn Rand Institute

4640 Admiralty Way, Suite 715

Marina del Rey, CA 90292

XII. Major Objectivist Events

* The Ford Hall Forum frequently hosts Leonard Peikoff as a guest speaker. They did so on November 7,

1993 on the topic "Modernism and Madness" which showed the "astonishing similarity between modern

art and schizophrenia." Ford Hall Forum can be reached at (617)-373-5800 for schedules and for

information on how to make donations.

XIII. Local Events and Groups

The most complete list of local groups may be found on Jay Allen's list.

* The Hill Country Objectivist Conference held October 30-31, 1993 was a big success. The papers and

presentations were of high quality. I anticipate the same when the Houston Objectivist Society hosts it in


* The Austin Objectivist Society (TAOS) holds monthly meetings on the third Sunday night of each month.

"The purpose of The Austin Objectivist Society" is to promote the understanding and increased awareness

of the Objectivist philosophy through educational activities in the Austin metropolitan area."

It publishes the "Good Premises" newsletter, not to be confused with a newsletter of a similar name out of

Chicago, on a monthly basis.

For membership information, please write to:

The Austin Objectivist Society

12300 Painted Bunting

Austin, TX 78726

[There are membership restrictions-- Chris Walker]

Second Renaissance Conferences has a major conference coming soon. Please write to the address above for

more information.

XIV. Suggestions and Corrections

Please direct your suggestions, complaints, praise, and updates for this FAQ to Chris Walker,


Chris Walker



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