Philosophical Systems Part One: Objectivism
By John Cornell
Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise
Ayn Rand was once asked to stand on one foot and explain her
philosophy of Objectivism. She balanced herself and replied: "1.
Metaphysics: Objective Reality; 2. Epistemology: Reason; 3. Ethics:
Self-interest; 4. Politics: Capitalism." The table at the end of this
article expands this progression.
Rand was a proponent of the theory that the two basic branches of
philosophy, metaphysics (fundamental principles we use to explain
reality) and epistemology (the study or theory of the nature of
knowledge) and the beliefs or assumptions we hold in these realms
determine the ethical, political, and eventually, economic and
aesthetic values and systems we establish. Failure to think logically
according to such a framework still leads to the creation of such
institutions and other concretes in our political, economic and
artistic environments, but with the irrational, perverted
establishments we have had historically. Man needs a guide for life,
and reason is the only appropriate guide, as man is a being existing
in a universe with natural laws. A logical philosophy will lead to
logical political and economic institutions. Religion, tribalism,
pragmatism and all forms of collectivism and statism are derived from
faulty metaphysical assumptions and failures to think.
In "Introducing Objectivism" in The Voice of Reason, Rand
expanded on her balancing act: "1. Reality exists as an objective
absolute"; "2. Reason...is man's only means of perceiving reality";
"3. Man...is an end in himself...[and] rational self-interest...is
the highest moral purpose of his life"; "4. The ideal
political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism."
The metaphysical assumptions of Objectivism, besides believing in
objective reality, also support belief in the existence of the human
mind, but deny the existence of a god. The universe consists only of
that which man can perceive with his senses and interpret with his
reasoning mind. Negatives, or nonexistence, such as religious or
spiritualist conceptions of heaven, hell, an afterlife or other
worlds, cannot be proven, and therefore do not exist. The only
existence is that which you can prove or detect with your physical
senses and interpret with your reasoning mind. Therefore, all other
notions of gods, ghosts, angels, demons, trolls, spirits,
leprechauns, etc., are mystical nonreality. Additionally, everything
in our physical world has an identity and is equal to itself;
something cannot be itself and yet not itself nor something else.
Rand summed this Aristotelian logic of "A equals A" as her axiom
"existence exists." This is the logic of natural, physical laws.
Such a system, holding objective reality as supreme and all that
exists, and accepting the existence of the mind within that reality,
demands that reason be our highest means of constructing any
framework for day-to-day existence. Logic dictates that, in proper
cause-and-effect form, man is free to interact with nature and with
other men, and every human action must reap its consequences, or
rewards and punishments. Such a belief holds that every man is
responsible for his own life and should respect the lives of others.
This is the moral and logical basis of human rights: man having the
right to live for his own sake and pursue his self-interest. Man's
self consists of his mind and body, as well as property he acquires
-- as long as it is constructed or acquired without the use of force
against others or their property. Any interference with another man's
free actions or his property would be an initiation of force against
that man. Thus, we derive the principle of Objectivist and
libertarian thought of opposing the initiation of force.
Such a belief in individualism leads to a political system of
self-rule and an economic system that is laissez-faire. This was
approached for the first time in reality, but not fully attained, in
the nineteenth century in America. Additionally, in the arts, a
philosophy of individualism leads to the glorification of the free,
rational man of volition depicted in Romanticism -- showing (as Rand
quoted Aristotle defining fiction) things in life as "they might be
and ought to be." This was also approached in the nineteenth century,
and achieved by Rand in her novels in the twentieth.
A key factor Rand noted in her analysis of philosophical systems
other than Objectivism was the common notion that man's being is
divided into two realms of existence: the physical (or concrete) and
the spiritual (or abstract). Rand was a proponent of the concept that
man can and should lead a life based on the integration of his
physical and "spiritual" natures: his body and his mind, his
reasoning faculties and his emotions. (Keeping in mind the denial of
other worlds or some sort of afterlife or higher dimensions, in the
Objectivist context, Rand means thought or psychology when she uses
the term "spiritual.") Rand asserts that most people fall into a trap
of emphasizing one side or the other of their existence while
shunning or denying the other. This has led to the philosophical
errors behind the failures of man's usually irrational institutions
throughout history and his failed political and economic systems,
including monarchy, feudalism, socialism, communism, theocracy,
mercantilism, and essentially everything else. Thus the schizophrenia
of traditional liberal and conservative philosophies, as the former
emphasizes abstract value-formation and thought-processes but
disregards practical output, while the latter focuses on results but
generally disregards ethical processes or conveniently plugs in
religious morality as the supposed validation for its actions.
And thus the opposition of Objectivism to both of these
philosophies, as it is consistent in its interaction with the reality
of natural laws, and by the logic of its internal integrity.
Part Two will examine the philosophical systems behind liberalism
and conservatism and compare them to each other and to Objectivist
and libertarian philosophy.
John Cornell is a finance professional whose personal goal is to
spread rational, Objectivist and libertarian ideas by writing and
publishing libertarian science fiction and literary novels, stories
and articles and occasional pieces of political satire and humor.