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There's an adage that goes: if you've got enemies, it means you stood up for something in life. Out of all of the potential philosophies that you could adopt in your life, perhaps none may be more controversial than Ayn Rand's Objectivism. The philosophy advocates "reason, individualism, enlightened self-interest, political freedom - and a heroic vision of life's possibilities."

Sales of her 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged continue to soar, one of the primary reasons likely being that the events and villains in the novel are incredibly similar to modern day. Part 1 of the novel was recently made into a movie and just opened on April 15 (US tax day). Although there are many differences between the movie and the book, there is a strong hope by Objectivists that the movie will drive more to read the book to gain a full appreciation for the ideas.

Ayn Rand's ideas have often been misrepresented and misunderstood, sometimes even by those who claim themselves Objectivists. But it seems fair to say that her protégé and "secret" lover understood them well. Generally, he thinks her ideas are wonderful. However, he does have some disagreements.

What do you think of the Objectivist ideas? Do you agree with some of Nathaniel Branden's critiques? What is your preferred philosophy? If you saw the movie this weekend, what did you think?

In this article, I cannot provide an overview of Rand's entire system, let alone discuss each point in detail. I want to discuss here only a few basic issues, a few broad fundamentals that strike me as particularly important in terms of their impact on her admirers.

What, in essence, does objectivism teach? What are the fundamentals of the Ayn Rand philosophy?

Objectivism teaches:

1. That reality is what it is, that things are what they are, independent of anyone's beliefs, feelings, judgments or opinions - that existence exists, that A is A;

2. That reason, the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by the various senses, is fully competent, in principle, to understand the facts of reality;

3. That any form of irrationalism, supernaturalism, or mysticism, any claim to a nonsensory, nonrational form of knowledge, is to be rejected;

4. That a rational code of ethics is possible and is derivable from an appropriate assessment of the nature of human beings as well as the nature of reality;

5. That the standard of the good is not God or the alleged needs of society but rather "Man's life," that which is objectively required for man's or woman's life, survival, and well-being;

6. That a human being is an end in him- or herself, that each one of us has the right to exist for our own sake, neither sacrificing others to self nor self to others;

7. That the principles of justice and respect for individuality autonomy, and personal rights must replace the principle of sacrifice in human relationships;

8. That no individual - and no group - has the moral right to initiate the use of force against others;

9. That force is permissible only in retaliation and only against those who have initiated its use;

10. That the organizing principle of a moral society is respect for individual rights and that the sole appropriate function of government is to act as guardian and protector of individual rights.

So, Rand was a champion and advocate of reason, self-interest individual rights, and political and economic freedom. She advocated a total separation of state and economics, just as - and for the same reason as - we now have the separation of state and church. She took the position, and it is a position I certainly share, that just as the government has no proper voice in the religious beliefs or practices of people, provided no one else's rights are violated, so there should be freedom or production and trade between and among consenting adults.

Obviously there is a good deal more to her philosophy than this brief sketch can begin to convey but we are talking here in terms of fundamentals - and these are the core ideas at the base of everything else she wrote...

The benefits

Now what are some of the values that Ayn Rand offers, as a philosopher, to the many people who have been moved by her work? To begin with, she offered a comprehensive and intelligible view of the universe, a frame of reference by means of which we can understand the world. She was a philosophical system builder who offered a systematic vision of what life on this planet is essentially about and a vision of human nature and human relationships. And the point right now is not whether she was right or wrong in all respects of that vision, but that she had a vision, a highly developed one, one that seemed to promise comprehensiveness, intelligibility, and clarity - one that promised answers to a lot of burningly important questions about life. And human beings long for that...

Her vision is a very uplifting one, it is inspiring. It doesn't tell you your mind is impotent. It doesn't tell you that you're rotten and powerless. It doesn't tell you that your life is futile. It doesn't tell you that you are doomed. It doesn't tell you that your existence is meaningless. It tells you just the opposite.

It tells you that your main problem is that you have not learned to understand the nature of your own power and, therefore, of your own possibilities. It tells you that your mind is and can be efficacious, that you are competent to understand, that achievement is possible, and that happiness is possible. It tells you that life is not about dread and defeat and anguish but about achievement and exaltation...

The Hazards

What I have to say will by no means be exhaustive or comprehensive, but I do want to touch on just a few issues that strike me as especially important. I want to share with you what I have observed.

Confusing reason with "the reasonable"

...There is a difference between reason as a process and what any person or any group of people, at any time in history, may regard as "the reasonable." This is a distinction that very few people are able to keep clear. We all exist in history, not just in some timeless vacuum, and probably none of us can entirely escape contemporary notions of "the reasonable." It's always important to remember that reason or rationality, on the one hand, and what people may regard as "the reasonable," on the other hand, don't mean the same thing...

Encouraging Repression

Now let's turn to another very important issue in the Randian philosophy: the relationship between reason and emotion. Emotions, Rand said again and again, are not tools of cognition. True enough, they are not. Emotions, she said, proceed from value judgments, conscious or subconscious, which they do in the sense that I wrote about in The Psychology of Self-Esteem and The Disowned Self. Emotions always reflect assessments of one kind or another, as others besides Rand and myself have pointed out.

We must be guided by our conscious mind, Rand insisted; we must not follow our emotions blindly. Following our emotions blindly is undesirable and dangerous: Who can argue with that? Applying the advice to be guided by our mind isn't always as simple as it sounds. Such counsel does not adequately deal with the possibility that in a particular situation feelings might reflect a more correct assessment of reality than conscious beliefs or, to say the same thing another way, that the subconscious mind might be right while the conscious mind was mistaken...

A clash between mind and emotions is a clash between two assessments, one of which is conscious, the other might not be. It is not invariably the case that the conscious assessment is superior to the subconscious one; that needs to be checked out. The point is not that we follow the voice of emotion or feeling blindly, it means only that we don't dismiss our feelings and emotions so quickly; we try to understand what they may be telling us; we don't simply repress, rather we try to resolve the conflict between reason and feeling. We strive for harmony, for integration. We don't simply slash away the pieces of ourselves that don't fit our notion of the good or the right or the rational...

Encouraging moralizing

She may have taught that "Man's Life" is the standard of morality and your own life is its purpose, but the path she advocated to the fulfillment of your life was a severely disciplined one. She left many of her readers with the clear impression that life is a tightrope and that it is all too easy to fall off into moral depravity. In other words, on the one hand she preached a morality of joy, personal happiness, and individual fulfillment; on the other hand, she was a master at scaring the hell out of you if you respected and admired her and wanted to apply her philosophy to your own life.

...part of her vision of justice is urging you to instant contempt for anyone who deviates from reason or morality or what is defined as reason or morality. Errors of knowledge may be forgiven, she says, but not errors of morality. Even if what people are doing is wrong, even if errors of morality are involved, even if what people are doing is irrational, you do not lead people to virtue by contempt. You do not make people better by telling them they are despicable. It just doesn't work. It doesn't work when religion tries it and it doesn't work when objectivism tries it...

Conflating Sacrifice and Benevolence

...I am referring to the principle of benevolence, mutual helpfulness and mutual aid between human beings. I believe it is a virtue to support life. I believe it is a virtue to assist those who are struggling for life. I believe it is a virtue to seek to alleviate suffering. None of this entails the notion of self-sacrifice. I am not saying that we should place the interests of others above our own. I am not saying that our primary moral obligation is to alleviate the pain of others. I am not saying that we do not have the right to place our own interests first. I am saying that the principle of benevolence and mutual aid is entirely compatible with an ethic of self-interest and more: An ethic of self-interest logically must advocate the principle of benevolence and mutual aid.

Given that we live in society, and given that misfortune or tragedy can strike any one of us, it is clearly in our self-interest to live in a world in which human beings deal with one another in a spirit of mutual benevolence and helpfulness. Could anyone seriously argue that the principle of mutual aid does not have survival value?

"...Have I ever said that charity and help to others is wrong or undesirable?," Rand might demand. No, she hasn't; neither has she spoken very much about their value, beyond declaring that they are not the essence of life - and of course they are not the essence of life. They are a part of life, however, and sometimes an important part of life, and it is misleading to allow for people to believe otherwise.

Overemphasizing the role of philosophical premises

I have already mentioned that there is one great missing element in the objectivist system, namely, a theory of psychology, or, more precisely, an understanding of psychology. Rand held the view that human beings can be understood exclusively in terms of their premises, that is, in terms of their basic philosophical beliefs, along with their free will choices. This view is grossly inadequate to the complexity of the actual facts. It is, further, a view that flies totally in the face of so much that we know today about how the mind operates.

Many factors contribute to who we become as human beings: our genes, our maturation, our unique biological potentials and limitations, our life experiences and the conclusions we draw from them, the knowledge and information available to us, and, of course, our premises or philosophical beliefs, and the thinking we choose to do or not to do. And even this list is an oversimplification. The truth, is we are far from understanding everything that goes into shaping the persons we become, and it is arrogant and stupid to imagine that we do...

Encouraging dogmatism

Ayn always insisted that her philosophy was an integrated whole, that it was entirely self-consistent, and that one could not reasonably pick elements of her philosophy and discard others. In effect, she declared, "It's all or nothing." Now this is a rather curious view, if you think about it. What she was saying, translated into simple English, is: Everything I have to say in the field of philosophy is true, absolutely true, and therefore any departure necessarily leads you into error. Don't try to mix your irrational fantasies with my immutable truths. This insistence turned Ayn Rand's philosophy, for all practical purposes, into dogmatic religion, and many of her followers chose that path.

The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand - A Personal Statement by Nathaniel Branden, PhD


Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on Apr 17, 2011 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=530

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