Objectivism: Philosophy of Ayn Rand



by Leonard Peikoff

Summary by Luke Setzer

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 below.


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 consciousness.

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.


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 and consciousness.

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.

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.

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 dropped.

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.

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 irrational.

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.

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 earlier.

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.


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 these answers:

  1. Q: For what end should a man live?
    A: His own life.
  2. Q: By what fundamental principle should he act in order to achieve this end?
    A: His own rationality.
  3. Q: Who should profit from his actions?
    A: Himself.

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.

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 impossible.

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 mistakes.

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.


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 social questions.

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.

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 property rights.

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.


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 plodding dolts.

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:

  1. Selectivity in regard to subject: the artist must select a subject that best represents his sense of life.
  2. Clarity: the artist must clearly convey his sense of life in his work.
  3. Integration: every element of the artist's product must in some way enhance and relate to that work's central theme.

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.


Objectivism 101
Objectivism 101