by Leonard Peikoff
This book summary has been generated and posted by me as a service to those who have an
interest in Objectivism as a philosophical system. A person's chosen philosophy can
be treated analogously to a computer operating system.
Like DOS, Linux, or Windows on a PC, a brain's philosophy will profoundly impact the
interpretation of incoming data, the treatment of that data, and the consequential output.
The advantages of using Objectivism as your brain's operating system are numerous and
profound. In my own life, Objectivism has allowed me to dismiss the assertions of
time-wasting mystics while focusing my energy on my moral purpose in life, which is to
prosper and to live happily.
Objectivism works harmoniously with your brain's nature as a reality-integrating
organ, allowing you to form valid concepts and draw realistic conclusions from any
situation in which you find yourself.
A philosophy is an integrated view of existence. As conscious human
beings, we all require a philosophy in order to assign appropriate meaning to the events
around us and thus to survive. Ayn Rand's philosophical system of ideas, which she called Objectivism,
can be broken into five branches and summarily defined as follows, in order of primacy:
Metaphysics: Man's relationship to the universe is Reality
Epistemology: Man's relationship with his mind is Reason
Ethics: Man's relationship with himself is Self-Interest
Politics: Man's relationship among each other is Capitalism
Aesthetics: Man's relationship with beauty is Romantic Realism
With that brief overview of Objectivism supplied, a step-by-step validation will be
constructed throughout the remainder of the book. This summary will present that
validation as levels of a philosophical pyramid properly constructed per the illustration
CHAPTER ONE: REALITY
Metaphysics is the study of the nature of the universe and man's
relationship to the universe. It is the first major branch of philosophy, and is the
branch upon which all others rely. This chapter validates the Objectivist view of
metaphysics as simply Reality.
Existence, Consciousness, and Identity as the Basic Axioms
An axiom is a fundamentally given, directly perceived identification of a
primary fact of reality. Axioms are irreducible and implicit in all facts and knowledge.
Ayn Rand distilled her philosophy to three and only three irrefutable, primary axioms:
existence, consciousness, and identity. Any attempt to deny the
self-evidence of any of these three axioms automatically requires the implicit acceptance
of all three axioms. All human cognition implicitly assumes that "There is (existence)--something
(identity)--of which I am aware (consciousness)."
Causality as a Corollary of Identity
A corollary is a self-evident implication of already established knowledge. An entity
is a subset of existence and is, therefore, an axiomatic concept, though not a basic
axiom. The law of identity states that an entity will have a certain kind of
nature under a given set of circumstances, and will have no other nature
under those circumstances. An action can only be performed by an entity, i.e. there
can be no such thing as an action that does not involve an entity. The law of
causality is simply the law of identity applied to action. Thus, causality is a
corollary of identity.
Existence as Possessing Primacy Over Consciousness
By the law of identity, existence exists. Also by the law of identity, consciousness is
the awareness of existence and can only be experienced by an entity. Existence is the sum
total of all entities. Therefore, without existence, there could be no consciousness.
Conversely, existence would continue to exist even if all its entities were unconscious.
The identity of existence and consciousness dictate that consciousness is simply an
awareness of existence, not a power to alter or control existence. Thus,
existence has primacy over consciousness and is a necessary precondition of
The Metaphysically Given as Absolute
By the law of identity, existence has a certain nature and only that nature. This metaphysically
given nature cannot be altered or controlled by consciousness, since existence has
primacy over consciousness. Through thought and action, man can rearrange entities to suit
his purposes, but in all cases, the metaphysically given laws of nature cannot be
broken. As Francis Bacon said, "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed."
Idealism and Materialism as the Rejection of Basic Axioms
Idealism advocates the notion of consciousness independent of existence. Materialism
advocates the notion of existence without consciousness, claiming that consciousness
is a biological illusion. Both of these philosophies reject the three basic axioms of
existence, consciousness, and identity. By the law of identity, existence exists and is a
necessary precondition of consciousness. The archaic myths of God, miracles,
and the supernatural blatantly contradict these fundamental axioms. Because of this
primacy of objective reality over subjective experience, Ayn Rand chose to
call her philosophy Objectivism.
CHAPTER TWO: SENSE PERCEPTION AND VOLITION
Epistemology is the second major branch of philosophy. It is the science that
studies the nature and means of human knowledge. It defines man's relationship with his
mind. In order to address this relationship, one must first study the bridge
between metaphysics and epistemology, which means between reality and reason. The two
components of this bridge are sense perception and volition. They are the metaphysically
given anteroom to epistemology. This chapter validates this bridge between existence
The Senses as Necessarily Valid
Consciousness is the awareness of existence. The means of this awareness are the senses.
Thus, the senses are a corollary of the axiom of consciousness. The senses are the self-evident
primaries of cognition. Any philosophical attack on the validity of the senses
automatically negates itself, since the content of the attack must rely on concepts that
are themselves constructed from percepts that were acquired through the senses.
Sensory Qualities as Real
Consciousness does not create its own content or even the sensory forms by which it
obtains its content. Those forms are determined by the perceiver's senses interacting with
external reality in accordance with causal law. The source of sensory form is thus
not consciousness, but existential fact independent of consciousness. In other
words, the source of sensory form is the metaphysical nature of reality itself.
Consciousness as Possessing Identity
By the law of identity, an entity will possess a certain kind of nature and no other.
Consciousness can only be experienced by an entity. Thus, consciousness will possess
a certain kind of nature and no other, and that specific nature becomes its identity.
The Perceptual Level as the Given
The first stage of consciousness is that of sensation, which is an irreducible
state of awareness produced by the action of a stimulus on a sense organ. By its nature, a
sensation lasts only as long as the stimulus. The most primitive conscious organisms, as
well as newborn infants, possess only the capacity of sensation. Over time, the human
brain enters the second stage of consciousness as it automatically integrates
sensations into percepts, which are the brain's internal representations of external
entities. This automatic percept-formation is a metaphysically given absolute.
Thus, any discussion of human knowledge must begin with percepts, not sensations, as the
base of cognition.
The Primary Choice as the Choice to Focus or Not
Focus in the conceptual realm names a quality of purposeful alertness in a
person's mental state. Focus is the state of a goal-directed mind committed to
attaining full awareness of reality. Until a mind is in focus, its mental machinery
is unable to function in the human sense--to think, judge, or evaluate. The choice to
focus is thus the irreducible primary choice on which all other choices depend. It
is a first cause within a consciousness, not an effect of preceding causes.
Human Actions, Mental and Physical, as Both Caused and Free
Man chooses to activate his consciousness or not. This is the first cause in
a lengthy chain, and the inescapability of such choice expresses man's essential nature.
On this basis, he forms the mental content and selects the reasons that will govern all
his other choices. Man chooses the causes that shape his actions.
Volition as Axiomatic
Volition is a corollary of the axiom of consciousness. Not every consciousness has
the faculty of volition. Every fallible, conceptual consciousness, however, does have it.
Like any rejection of a philosophic axiom, determinism is self-refuting. Just as one must
accept existence or consciousness implicitly in order to deny either of them, so
one must accept volition in order to deny it. Objectivism identifies the locus of
man's will as his conceptual faculty, arguing that the faculty of reason is
the faculty of volition. This theory makes it possible for the first time to validate the
principle of volition objectively. It removes the principle once and for all from the
clutches of religion.
CHAPTER THREE: CONCEPT-FORMATION
A concept is an intellectual abstraction drawn from two or more
percepts. Concepts are built on percepts and represent a new scale of consciousness, a
scale that leaps beyond the perceptual limits of animals. Concepts allow humans to
generalize, to identify natural laws, to understand what they observe.
Differentiation and Integration as the Means to a Unit-Perspective
A unit is an existent regarded as a separate member of a group of two or more
similar members. The ability to regard entities as units is man's distinctive method of
cognition. The processes of differentiation and integration of attributes
among observed entities allow a person to make an abstraction of these entities
into a single unit, which a person can then store mentally as a word.
Concept-Formation as a Mathematical Process
An attribute of an entity is any characteristic reducible to a unit of measurement,
such as shape, length, velocity, weight, color, etc. The Conceptual Common Denominator
(CCD) between two or more entities is the commensurable (commonly measurable)
attribute between those entities. For example, tables and chairs have the commensurable
attribute of shape, while tables and red objects have the incommensurable attributes of
shape and color. In turn, the CCD of shape allows a differentiation between chairs
and tables and an integration of all tables into a single concept called
"table". The field of pure mathematics offers the deductive method of reasoning,
while the process of concept-formation offers the first step in inductive
reasoning. Conceptual awareness is the algebra of cognition.
Concepts of Consciousness as Involving Measurement-Omission
A first-level concept is abstracted directly from concrete percepts. A higher-level
concept is abstracted from abstractions. Concepts differ not only in their concrete
referents, but also in their distance from the perceptual level. Concepts of
consciousness, such as "thought" and "love", are formed by the
same mathematical process as concepts of existence, such as "table" or
"organism". For example, two fundamental attributes of every process of
consciousness ("thought") are content and intensity of action.
These two attributes of every mental process are measurable relative to each other by
introspection. By omitting the measurements of these attributes, the concept of
"thought" is abstracted.
Definition as the Final Step in Concept-Formation
The basic function of a definition is to distinguish a concept from all other
concepts and thus to keep its units differentiated from all other existents. A definition
identifies a concept's essential characteristics, which are the genus (CCD)
and the differentia (differences from other existents that share the same genus).
These characteristics must be fundamental, i.e. they must be responsible for all or
most of the units' remaining distinctive characteristics. An excellent metaphor for the
term "definition" is that of a file folder with a label. The file folder
represents the concept, while the label represents the definition. The contents of the
folder can increase as more sensory knowledge of the concept is obtained, but the
definition remains the same.
Concepts as Devices to Achieve Unit-Economy
A mind can only retain conscious focus upon a limited number of concrete percepts. A
concept allows the conscious mind to cluster related percepts together as a single unit,
e.g. perceiving many chairs, observing their similarities and differences, and then
forming the concept "chair". Thus, concepts allow the mind to condense or economize
an unlimited amount of information into a finite number of easily processed, abstract units.
Concepts empower the mind to process far larger amounts of information than it could on a
strictly perceptual level, and thus enhance its ability to survive. Human beings are the
only creatures on earth known to possess the ability to form concepts.
CHAPTER FOUR: OBJECTIVITY
Thinking, to be valid, must adhere to reality. Objectivity allows a
person to achieve reality-oriented thought.
Concepts as Objective
Concepts do not pertain to consciousness alone or to existence alone; they are products of
a specific kind of relationship between the two. Abstractions are products of man's
faculty of cognition and would not exist without it. But a faculty of cognition is
concerned to grasp reality and must, therefore, adhere to reality. Concepts are
condensations of data formed by a volitional process in accordance with a human method.
They represent reality as processed by a volitional human consciousness.
Objectivity as Volitional Adherence to Reality by the Method of Logic
Knowledge is the grasp of an object through an active, reality-based process chosen by the
subject. Such grasp can be attained only by a complex process of abstraction and
integration. Since this process is not automatic, it is not automatically right, either. Logic
is a volitional method of conforming to reality. It is the method of reason. Logic is the
art of noncontradictory identification of objective reality.
Knowledge as Contextual
Human knowledge on every level is relational. It is an organization of elements,
each relevant to and bearing on the others. Knowledge is not a juxtaposition of
independent items; it is a unity. Because there is only one universe, everything in
reality is interconnected, and nothing is a completely isolated fact. Context means
"the sum of cognitive elements conditioning an item of knowledge." Context sets
an item's relationship to reality and thus the item's meaning and proper use. Context
must never be dropped. Any quotations, concepts, claims, or proposals that drop
context are by their nature invalidated, since their relationship to reality has been
Knowledge as Hierarchical
Knowledge has a hierarchical structure. A hierarchy of knowledge means a
body of concepts and conclusions ranked in order of logical dependence, one upon another,
according to each item's distance from the base of perceptual data with which
cognition begins. The hierarchical view identifies a particular kind of cognitive
relationship: it states not only that every (nonaxiomatic) item has a context, but also
that such context itself has an inner structure of logical dependence, rising gradually
from a base of first-level items. Reduction is the means of connecting an advanced
knowledge to reality by traveling backward through the hierarchical structure
involved, i.e. identifying in logical sequence the intermediate steps that relate a cognitive
item to perceptual data. Rand's Razor simply states, "Name your
primaries," i.e. name your irreducible axioms. This statement slashes off a whole
category of false or useless ideas by identifying whether their basic axioms are
existence, consciousness, and identity.
Intrinsicism and Subjectivism as the Two Forms of Rejecting Reality
Intrinsicism claims that conceptual information about entities exists intrinsically
within those entities, and that humans must simply observe those entities passively
in order for the concepts to imprint themselves onto human consciousness. Subjectivism
rejects the idea of knowing reality through objective concepts, and claims instead that
reality is whatever a person (or group of persons) says it is. Objectivism
recognizes that concepts are a union of reality-based sense perception and
thought-based concept-formation. Objectivism thus dismisses the so-called theory-practice
dichotomy by closing the breach between concepts and percepts.
CHAPTER FIVE: REASON
Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by
man's senses. Reason is the faculty which begins with facts (sensory data); which
organizes these data in accordance with facts (the mathematical relationship among
concretes); and which is guided at each step by rules that rest on the fundamental fact
(the law of identity). The rules of reason require that each cognition be reduced back to
the facts with which one started.
Emotions as a Product of Ideas
An emotion is a response to an object one perceives (or imagines), such as a man,
an animal, an event. The object by itself, however, has no power to invoke a
feeling in the observer. It can do so only if the observer supplies two intellectual
elements, which are necessary conditions of any emotions: identification and evaluation.
Emotions are states of consciousness with bodily accompaniments and with
intellectual causes. The four steps in the generation of an emotion are perception (or
imagination), identification, evaluation, and response. Because human minds learn to
automatize their evaluations over time, people frequently lack explicit awareness of the
intermediate steps of identification and evaluation.
Reason as Man's Only Means of Knowledge
Emotions are automatic consequences of a mind's past conclusions, regardless of how that
mind has been used or misused in the process of reaching them. Any appearance of conflict
between mind and emotion is, in fact, a clash between conscious and subconscious ideas.
The proper relationship between reason and emotion in a person's life is: reason first,
emotion as a consequence. A person's only path for resolving a conflict between feeling
and thought is full identification and rational analysis of his own ideas, culminating in
a new, noncontradictory integration. That person's only alternative is to place his own
emotions as absolute, then expect reality to conform to them. Because existence has
primacy over consciousness, reality will not conform to emotions, making this alternative
The Arbitrary as Neither True Nor False
A venerable rule of logic is that the burden of proof rests on the person who makes any positive
assertion (e.g. "there are gremlins on Venus"), and conversely, that one
must never attempt to prove a negative assertion (e.g. "prove that
there are no gremlins on Venus"). This rule springs from the basic axiom
of existence and its primacy over consciousness, i.e. one must start an assertion with
facts, not with the absence of facts. An arbitrary claim is one for which there is
no evidence, either perceptual or conceptual. Since the statement is detached from the
realm of evidence, no process of logic can assess it to determine its truth
(correspondence with reality) or falsehood (contradiction with reality). The rational
response to such a claim is to dismiss it, without discussion, consideration, or argument.
Certainty as Contextual
As a being of limited knowledge, man must acknowledge the context of his
conclusions rather than treat them as dogmatic absolutes disconnected from reality. A man
who follows this policy will enjoy a feeling of certainty about his conclusions, and he
will gain the benefit of having later discoveries augment earlier ones rather than
contradict them. Many complex higher-level conclusions require a man gradually to obtain
sensory evidence and integrate it to confirm those conclusions. During this gathering of
evidence, any confirmable conclusion must pass through a continuum from unknown
to possible to probable to certain.
Mysticism and Skepticism as Denials of Reason
Objectivism defines knowledge as a mental grasp of the facts of reality, reached either by
perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation.
Mysticism claims knowledge can be acquired through automatic internal feelings rather than
external percepts, while skepticism claims that knowledge of reality is impossible to man
by any means. Both mysticism and skepticism seek to escape the absolutism of reason
and thus to allow their followers to apply reason only when they feel like it.
CHAPTER SIX: MAN
With the fundamentals of reality and reason covered in the first five
chapters of this book, the time has come to analyze the entity that lives in reality and
possesses the faculty of reason: man. This chapter will make fresh observations about the
nature of man and integrate those observations with the axioms and principles covered
Living Organisms as Goal-Directed and Conditional
The most fundamental difference one can perceive among entities is living versus
nonliving. Nonliving entities merely react to the laws of physics. A living organism can
be distinguished by the fact that its actions are self-generated and goal-directed,
with the goal being the maintenance of the organism's life. Lower-level organisms
that rely only on sensations or percepts for survival have no choice in their
goal-directed behavior; their actions are automatic. Higher-level organisms that have the
ability to form concepts do have the power of choice. Thus, humans are unique in their
ability to choose between life-enhancing and life-destroying actions.
Reason as Man's Basic Means of Survival
Every living organism has a means of survival. Nonhuman species survive by automatic
functions that acquire and process metaphysically given raw materials, while humans
require knowledge about those raw materials and knowledge about how to use those materials
to their advantage. This uniquely human requirement of integrating past knowledge with
present observations in a form enabling a person to make long-range survival plans
demonstrates that reason is man's basic tool for survival. The mind-body
dichotomy was exploded as a myth by the Industrial Revolution, which thoroughly
illustrated that man's mind integrates holistically with man's actions to produce values
for man's benefit.
Reason as an Attribute of the Individual
Reasoning requires the exercise of volition, which is a metaphysically given attribute of
each individual, not groups of individuals. Thus, reasoning can only be exercised by an
individual. The individual may share his conclusions with others, but those others must
also choose to exercise their own reasoning in order to accept or reject those
conclusions. The advocates of the collective thought process theory are therefore
wrong at the metaphysical level, since there can be no such thing as a collective thought.
Advocates of determinism are also wrong, since they deny the process of conscious
concept-formation and instead argue that concepts and their ensuing emotional responses
are either inborn or are planted by external humans without internal processing. Finally,
the Christian notion of free will falsely declares that volition is an attribute
supernaturally planted by God into man, thus treating volition as an unearthly
characteristic rather than a practical worldly tool of survival. Objectivism
uniquely treats the individual human as a sovereign being totally responsible
for his own thoughts and actions and capable of determining what choices he ought
to make for himself.
CHAPTER SEVEN: THE GOOD
Ethics is the third major branch of philosophy. It is the science that studies
the nature and purpose of human behavior. It defines man's relationship with himself.
The science of ethics provides a code of values to guide a person's choices and
actions. Objectivism addresses three primary, interrelated ethical questions and provides
- Q: For what end should a man live?
A: His own life.
- Q: By what fundamental principle should he act in order to achieve this end?
A: His own rationality.
- Q: Who should profit from his actions?
Objectivism holds that these answers are the product of cognition, not feeling. The
proof of these answers follows.
"Life" as the Essential Root of "Value"
Ethics centers around the concept of "value," which is anything that an entity
strives to gain or to keep. The concept presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve
a goal in the face of an alternative. Only living entities possess this capability,
because they are the only entities that are goal-directed and conditional. The
alternative of existence or nonexistence--of life or death--is the precondition of all
values. An indestructible robot would have no need of values, since its existence
would not be conditional. Thus, by the very nature of "value," any code of
values must hold life as the ultimate value. Remaining alive is the goal
of values and of all proper action.
Man's Life as the Standard of Moral Value
Plants and animals have no choice in their pursuit of values; they pursue them
automatically based on their inbuilt survival mechanisms driven by sensations and
percepts. Because human beings are volitional and conceptual, they follow no automatic
course of action. Thus, unlike all other organisms, human beings require a code of
fundamental values accepted by choice in order to survive. Morality is that
code of values. A valid moral code must address human needs long-range, conceptualizing
the requirements of human survival into an integrated, hierarchically structured,
noncontradictory system of reliable principles. Such a code must thus hold human
life as its standard of value.
Rationality as the Primary Virtue
The three supreme and ruling values for which a human being should strive in order to
sustain his own life are Reason, man's only tool of knowledge; Purpose,
man's selected forms of happiness; and Self-Esteem, man's sense of certainty that
he is able to live and worthy of living. Of these three, reason is the most important
value and the one that makes all others possible. Virtue is the action
required to gain or to keep a value. Rationality is the virtue required to gain and
to keep reason, and it means simply the acceptance of reason as an absolute principle
of human survival. Thus, a person practicing rationality will not tolerate within his
mind any form of evasion, of blanking out some fact of reality which he dislikes.
Evasion takes many forms, including the acceptance of the God myth, the desire for causes
without effects or effects without causes, and the worship of whims. Consistent evasion
brings harm to the evader and to those he touches. The cure for evasion is the consistent
and ruthless practice of rationality.
The Individual as the Proper Beneficiary of His Own Moral Action
Objectivism advocates egoism, the principle that each person's primary moral
obligation is his own well-being. Egoism is simply the corollary of individual
human life as the moral standard. This view opposes the ethical tradition of altruism,
the notion that a person's primary moral obligation is to serve some entity other than
himself, such as God or society, at the sacrifice of his own welfare. Objectivist
egoism explicitly advocates long-term, rational self-interest and should not be
confused with subjectivist egoism, which through the centuries has advocated short-term,
irrational self-interest through hedonism, irresponsibility, context-dropping, and
whim-worship. A society based on Objectivist egoism benefits the rational members
who wish to produce and trade freely in all aspects of life--food, clothing, education,
knowledge, friendship, love, etc. Such persons would willingly help others of known or
potential value (spouses, children, friends, perhaps even strangers) without being
obligated to help those of no known value or of disvalue (beggars, enemies, criminals).
The degree of assistance would be dictated by the provider's calculated self-interest in
the situation, and no deliberate self-sacrifice would occur.
Values as Objective
For Objectivism, values, like concepts, are neither intrinsic nor subjective, but
objective. Values (such as objects and actions) are good to man and for the
sake of reaching specific goals, the most fundamental of which is the sustenance of an
individual's own life. Thus, the conscious choice to live precedes and underlies
the need of morality. Both intrinsicism and subjectivism reject the notion of objective
values for the same reasons that they reject the notion of objective concepts (see Chapter
4). Intrinsicism divorces "the good" from reason, claiming that "the
good" is an intrinsic property of external objects or actions. Subjectivism divorces
"the good" from reality, claiming that "the good" is whatever a person
(or group of persons) says it is. Thus, neither philosophy provides a real-world,
practical code of morality. Instead, both philosophies pit human beings against
objectivity and thus against their own well-being.
CHAPTER EIGHT: VIRTUE
Objectivism identifies six interconnected virtues required to practice the
overall virtue of rationality. This chapter defines those virtues and also the primary
vice that destroys them.
Independence as a Primary Orientation to Reality, Not to Other Men
Independence can be defined as "one's acceptance of the responsibility of forming
one's own judgments and of living by the work of one's own mind." A person living
alone on a desert island would have to exercise independence or perish. In principle, an
independent person is as alone in society as he is on a desert island, since in either
situation he accepts the primacy of existence as absolute. By contrast, a dependent
person lives through or within others and accepts the primacy of consciousness as
absolute. Thus, to a dependent person, solitude means death. In a free society,
independent producers can enjoy the benefits of dividing labor, specializing their
products and services and trading with each other for the net gain of all parties
involved. This interdependence should not be confused with dependence. The
order of a person's productive development in such a society is dependence (as a
small child), then independence (a necessary virtue for rationality), and finally interdependence
(the mutual benefits of trade among independent producers).
Integrity as Loyalty to Rational Principles
Integrity can be defined as "loyalty in action to one's convictions and values."
It is the virtue of acting as an absolute on rational principle. A person of
integrity will learn the proper principles of living, then follow them regardless of
unwarranted protests from either his own or others' emotions. Practicing integrity based
on rational principles leads to self-preservation, while attempting to practice integrity
based on mystical principles leads to self-destruction and thus to the belief that
real-world integrity is impossible. A compromise is valid only when concessions are
made within the framework of rational moral principles that both parties accept, e.g. a
buyer and seller negotiating the price of an item. A compromise is invalid when rational
moral principles are conceded even a small amount, e.g. a man freely giving to a burglar
"only part of the goods" the burglar came to steal.
Honesty as the Rejection of Unreality
Honesty can be defined as "the refusal to fake reality or to pretend that facts are
other than what they are." It is a rational virtue because pretense is metaphysically
impotent, i.e. pretense can neither erase an existent nor create one. A con man who dupes
gullible people into providing him a livelihood works against his self-interest by falling
into the primacy of consciousness trap and becoming dependent on those
people. The commission of a vice (such as lying) in order to obtain a value (such as an
income) invalidates the acquisition of the value. In other words, the end never
justifies the means when those means are irrational. Because the ultimate standard of
value is individual human life, moral principles are absolute within their proper context.
Thus, lying to obtain cash from an honest and productive person is morally wrong, while
lying to protect one's children from kidnappers is morally right.
Justice as Rationality in the Evaluation of Men
Justice can be defined as "the virtue of judging people's character and conduct
objectively and of acting accordingly, granting to each person that which he earns."
It is adherence to the trader principle. Its mandate is to sanction people's
virtues while condemning their vices, thus encouraging good (life-enhancing) behavior and
discouraging evil (life-diminishing) behavior. Justice demands the use of reason to reach
one's moral estimates through two steps: first, identification of the relevant facts;
second, evaluation of those facts by reference to objective moral principles. Moral
judgment can only be passed on observable behavior, not psychological problems. Evaluative
subjectivism occurs when a person judges others based on either whim or irrational
principles. Either form tends to promote the evil at the expense of the good. Moral
inversion, moral neutrality, and sweeping condemnation all defy the virtue of justice.
Because what really counts in life are the virtues that support life, one should praise
and support virtues first, and combat and brush aside vices second. Forgiveness can
be legitimately earned, while mercy never can be. The purpose and result of egalitarianism
is to smash the good by encouraging "completely equal" treatment of everyone
regardless of their virtues or vices.
Productiveness as the Adjustment of Nature to Man
Productiveness can be defined as "the process by which man's consciousness controls
his existence, a constant process of acquiring knowledge and shaping matter to fit one's
purpose, of translating an idea into physical form, of remaking the earth into the image
of one's values." Humans are one of only a few species on earth who survive by
adjusting their backgrounds to themselves; the remaining species must adjust themselves to
their backgrounds or perish. Productive people do not merely acquire knowledge for
pleasure, they embody knowledge into the physical world for the definite practical
interest of human survival. Productiveness integrates mind and body, thus exploding once
again the archaic myth of the mind-body dichotomy and its human archetypes, the spiritualist
and the materialist. A person's consciously chosen central purpose
explicitly defines his abstract values and their associated concrete goals and action
plans, allowing that person to integrate smoothly all his actions into a rational whole.
Thus, purpose itself becomes a supreme and ruling value. Productive work is the
only activity that can maintain a person's right relationship with thought, reality, and
values. Neither social relationships nor recreational pursuits can replace it.
Pride as Moral Ambitiousness
Pride can be defined as "the commitment to achieve one's own moral perfection by
shaping oneself into the image of one's own chosen values." Productiveness requires a
person to shape outside material in the image of his values; pride requires a person to
shape his own character in the image of his values. The commitment to achieve moral
perfection reduces ultimately to the commitment to follow reason. The ultimate reward of
pride is the value of self-esteem, which is a fundamental, positive moral appraisal
of oneself--in essence, as affirmation of the dual and inseparable conclusions that
"I am able to live and I am worthy of living." A person who gauges
self-esteem by irrational standards will experience a conflict between his self-esteem's
requirements and his life's requirements, and he will probably become an anxiety-ridden
evader until he corrects his error. The Christian myths of "Original Sin" and
"pride as a deadly sin" make any attempt at moral perfection by their standards
The Initiation of Physical Force as Evil
Rationality requires the exercise of volition, which is the metaphysically given
faculty of reason. Human beings must exercise reason (and therefore volition) in order
to live. Because thought is an individual and not a collective process, different
individuals may draw different conclusions about how to live. Two or more people who
disagree about this issue have only three ways to resolve the dispute. The first is simply
to go their separate ways; the second, to use persuasive argumentation; and the third, to
initiate direct physical force (or its indirect version, fraud), which renders the
victim's reasoning irrelevant and therefore impotent. Because individual human life is the
standard of value and the individual's own reasoning and property is his proper method of
sustaining that value, the initiation of physical force or fraud against the individual or
his property is the basic moral wrong and evil. This holds true even if an individual's
conclusions about how he should run his life eventually prove to be self-destructive,
since he is the exclusive owner of his life and he alone will pay the price for his own
CHAPTER NINE: HAPPINESS
The moral man's existential reward is life; his emotional reward is happiness.
Because the individual is the proper beneficiary of his own moral action, happiness
is the individual's only moral purpose in life.
Virtue as Practical
Practical can be defined as "that which reaches or fosters a desired result."
Historically, a dichotomy between morality and practicality has been preached. This
argument is rooted in the age-old dichotomy between concepts and percepts, which has
recently been closed by the Objectivist theory of concept-formation. Objectivism defines a
practical set of virtues which are, by definition, the behavior patterns required to
achieve values that support individual human life. Because Objectivism closes the
moral-practical dichotomy, moral human beings now have the philosophical power to reject
any immoral persons who seek to survive as parasites on their virtues.
Happiness as the Normal Condition of Man
Happiness can be defined as "that state of consciousness which proceeds from the
achievement of one's values." Just as physical sensations of pleasure and pain serve
as the self-preservation mechanism of the human body, the emotional sensations of joy and
suffering serve as the self-preservation mechanism of the human mind. Unlike physical
sensations, however, emotional responses rely on the contents of the individual's mind,
which may or may not accurately map objective reality. Persons with inaccurate world views
must deal constantly with the conflict between inner concepts and outer percepts, which
robs them of happiness. Intrinsicism cheats its followers out of happiness by
asserting that such an emotion is lowly, materialistic, and unworthy of attention when
compared to the "supernatural" or other "higher causes" to which
"duty" and "sacrifice" are owed. Subjectivism cheats its
followers out of happiness by leading them to hedonism, the notion that the
standard of value is short-range pleasure rather than long-range life sustenance. Objectivism
leads its followers to happiness by advocating the benevolent universe premise,
which holds that human beings can expect happiness when they conform to the
metaphysically given facts of reality through reason.
Sex as Metaphysical
An animal's emotions are the product of its automatic perceptual associations, while a
human's emotions are the product of his conceptual ideas. Thus, sexual pleasure for
animals is primarily physical, while for humans it becomes dominantly intellectual. A
person's tastes, preferences, and choice of partner are thus profoundly dictated by his
philosophy of life. Intrinsicism condemns sexual pleasure as
"animalistic" and condones sex as merely a "necessary evil" for
procreation. Subjectivism treats sex as a purely hedonistic, physical pleasure
while dismissing its intellectual component. Objectivism treats sex as "an
intense form of happiness: the rapture of experiencing emotionally the two interconnected
achievements of self-esteem and the benevolent-universe conviction."
Thus, for Objectivism, sex is a person's metaphysical celebration of his own
existence. Sex is a person's ultimate union of mind and body into a state of ecstatic
happiness to be enjoyed with the person he values most.
CHAPTER TEN: GOVERNMENT
Politics is the fourth major branch of philosophy. It is the science that
defines the principles of a proper social system, including the proper functions of
government. It defines man's relationship among each other by applying ethics to
Individual Rights as Absolute
Rights can be defined as "moral principles defining and sanctioning a person's
freedom of action in a social context." The opposite of acting by right is acting by permission.
A person's fundamental right is the right to sustain and protect his own life. The
major derivatives of this right are the rights to liberty, property, and the pursuit of
happiness, which together provide the political circumstances necessary for the individual
to satisfy his fundamental right to life. The only way to violate any of these rights is
to initiate physical force, threat of physical force, or fraud against others or
their property. Thus, no one has the right to claim or manage the life or property of
others without their consent. Because only individual human beings have the power of
choice, only individual human beings have rights. Groups, fetuses, and animals are not
individual human beings and thus do not have rights.
Government as an Agency to Protect Rights
A government can be defined as "an institution that holds the exclusive power to enforce
certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area." A rational government
will legislate only objectively verifiable laws that protect its citizens and their
property from domestic or foreign initiators of physical force, threat of physical
force, and fraud. To remove self-defense from the realm of whim, an Objectivist society
will delegate this right methodically to the government--with the obvious exception of
emergencies, such as home invasions. Because people do not always agree on the meaning of
contractual terms, a government based on objective laws must serve as the arbitrator in
contractual disputes. In Ayn Rand's words, there are three and only three proper functions
of government: "the police, to protect men from criminals--the armed
services, to protect men from foreign invaders--the law courts, to settle
disputes among men according to objective laws." Any other function of government
would require it to initiate force and would thus be immoral.
Statism as the Politics of Unreason
Statism can be defined as "any system that concentrates power in the state at the
expense of individual freedom." Historically, statism has concentrated on ruling
individuals' thoughts, actions, or both. Reason demands that individuals act on their own
best judgment; conversely, unreason demands that individuals forfeit their own best
judgment and instead obey the "authority" of the state. The ideological Old
Left advocated welfare statism as the solution to social problems; when its philosophical
premises about human nature were demonstrated to be wrong, it broke down into the
anti-ideological New Left. Anarchism advocates that there should be no government,
while ignoring the fact that lawless chaos is incompatible with survival. The mixed
economy advocates a mixture of freedom and controls, making a pretense of offering
"the best of both worlds" when in fact compromising the good to the evil,
which leads inevitably to the victory of the evil at the expense of the good. Conservatives
have destroyed more freedom than liberals and moderates precisely because
they make a pretense at defending free enterprise while spreading all the opposite
ideas and laws.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: CAPITALISM
The science of economics identifies how the principles of a proper
politics actually work out in regard to people's productive life, and what happens to
production under an improper system.
Capitalism as the Only Moral Social System
Capitalism can be defined as "a social system based on the recognition of individual
rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned." Because
it is the only system that allows people the freedom to act on their own conclusions,
capitalism is the only moral social system, i.e. the only system that does not initiate
physical force or threat of such force against its members. People are left alone by the
government to trade freely and voluntarily with each other, and those who practice the
Objectivist virtues of independence, integrity, honesty, justice,
productiveness, and pride benefit most. Evil is de-fanged by market
forces and by the prohibition of the initiation of physical force, threat of
physical force, and fraud. Although "the public good" ends up being the effect
of such a system, it is neither the cause nor the justification of such a
system. The cause and justification of capitalism is the protection of individual and
Capitalism as the System of Objectivity
Objectivity is reality-oriented thought, while virtue is reality-oriented action based on
that thought. Capitalism, the system of free trade, allows an objective market value
to be assigned to any product or service based on economic laws of supply and demand. Any
attempts at monopolies or price-gouging cannot last long before free competition drives
prices back to reasonable levels. Thus, both economic values and their associated profits
are objective under capitalism. As a free society grows more knowledgeable, the market
prices assigned to its products will move from the merely socially objective toward
the philosophically objective. In other words, a product's appeal must ultimately
serve individual human life or market demand for it will eventually wither. Economic
power should not be confused with political power, since the former involves
only voluntary trading while the latter involves the initiation of physical force or
threat of its use.
Opposition to Capitalism as Dependent on Bad Epistemology
Any argument for or against a political system requires a proper epistemology. Reasoning
based on concrete percepts and objective concepts, i.e. the Objectivist epistemology, has
already demonstrated that their can be no logical contradictions in reality, no conflicts
of interest among rational people, and no dichotomy between virtue and practicality.
Typical opponents of capitalism make these assumptions, though, and thus demonstrate their
disconnection from reality. They often spout self-canceling falsehoods, such as
"Capitalism is the system of coercive monopolies" and "Capitalism is the
system of cutthroat competition." People who preach such contradictory bromides do so
because of their bad epistemology, i.e. their rejection of objective reasoning.
CHAPTER TWELVE: ART
Aesthetics is the last branch of philosophy, the branch that studies art and man's
relationship with beauty. Aesthetics answers the questions: What is art? What is its
role in human life? By what standards should an art work be judged?
Art as a Concretization of Metaphysics
A work of art serves no utilitarian purpose beyond human contemplation of it. Ayn Rand
argues that good art should serve as an emotional fuel for human consciousness. In
her definition, "Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's
metaphysical value-judgments." A work of art thus reflects the artist's sense of
life, including his sense of the universe as benevolent or malevolent.
Art concretizes abstract principles back into concrete percepts that are impregnated with
profound abstract meaning. Even to a person without an explicit philosophy, a work of art
can still convey this profound sense of life.
Romantic Literature as Illustrating the Role of Philosophy in Art
Romanticism, the art movement dating from the early nineteenth century, can be defined as
"a category of art based on the recognition of the principle that man possesses the
faculty of volition." For a writer specializing in this category of art, the plot
of his story reflects the power of values (and thus philosophy) in human life. Such
stories reflect, in a consistent and intelligible fashion, why their characters are
pursuing certain goals. Romanticism illustrates heroic people "as they might
be and ought to be." By contrast, Naturalism attempts to portray people as
"the folks next door," thus reducing characters from potential heroes to mere
Aesthetic Value as Objective
An art work can be judged by two standards: metaphysics and aesthetics. The first,
discussed earlier, involves judging the artist's metaphysical sense of life and
evaluating it as proper or improper. The second standard involves evaluating how well an
art work actually concretizes the artist's sense of life. Ayn Rand advocated at
least three principles useful in judging an art work's aesthetic value:
- Selectivity in regard to subject: the artist must select a subject that best
represents his sense of life.
- Clarity: the artist must clearly convey his sense of life in his work.
- Integration: every element of the artist's product must in some way enhance and
relate to that work's central theme.
EPILOGUE: THE DUEL BETWEEN PLATO AND ARISTOTLE
Because human beings possess conceptual faculties, they act ultimately
on their beliefs. Belief systems, i.e. philosophies, have thus been the ultimate
driver behind major events in human history. Philosophies form within small subgroups of
people, who then spread their ideas and whose followers eventually create the application
systems for those philosophies. The two primary idea systems that have shaped Western
history have been those advocated by Plato and Aristotle. Plato's ideas of
"higher worlds" and self-sacrifice as "the good" helped to drive the
Catholic Church into power and plunged the Western world into the Dark Ages. Aristotle's
ideas of an objective reality perceivable by our senses and of happiness as "the
good" helped the West to rise out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance. Kant's
removal of paganism from Plato's philosophy made his idea system more virulent, and it
infected large portions of the West's intellectuals, leading to its inevitable political
applications as Nazism, Communism, and Fascism. Rand's removal of Plato's influence from
Aristotle's philosophy led to her development of Objectivism, which has the greatest hope
of sweeping Kantism from its position of influence on Western intellectuals.