What is Objectivism? Ayn Rand’s Philosophy

Objectivism is a philosophy developed in the 20th century by Ayn Rand, a Russian writer and philosopher. It leans on the concepts of reason, self-interest, and capitalism.

Oct 30, 2023By Susanna Andrews, BA Interdisciplinary Arts

objectivism ayn rand philosophy


Objectivism is a philosophy of rational individualism that promotes reason as the absolute source of knowledge and the primary moral objective of attaining one’s happiness. Russian-born American writer and philosopher Ayn Rand created and established this ideology during the mid-1900s. The system of thought speaks to metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and politics, resulting in a complete philosophy that is still referenced today. Sectors of business and politics have been highly influenced by her ideas, and she has inspired many. Here is an outline of Objectivism and the core beliefs that make up the philosophy.


The Origin of the Name “Objectivism” 

Statue of Atlas in New York City, via Wikimedia Commons.


Objectivism’s name originated from the philosophy’s foundation in objectivity. Knowledge and values aren’t developed through thought but already exist and must be discovered by the mind. The creator of this philosophy, Ayn Rand, would’ve preferred a name directly referencing existence, but “existentialism” was already established by the time Rand was looking for a name.


Instead of questioning what happens beyond humanity’s time on earth, Objectivism focuses on reality and the nature of being alive in the here-and-now. It was developed through her well-known novels as well as her periodicals The Objectivist Newsletter, The Objectivist, and The Ayn Rand Letter. 


The Importance of Ayn Rand’s Background

Ayn Rand by Oscar White via The New Yorker


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Ayn Rand’s career was defined by her influential novels and the philosophy she created. Her most well-known novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, both promoted Objectivist ideals. She later dedicated her time to extensively writing about her philosophy through academic works and giving lectures on the topic.


Rand was born in 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia, and grew up in the turmoil of the Bolshevik Revolution, which naturally informed her morals and perspective about the world around her. She was passionate about political activism and vocal about her support of abortion rights, her opposition to the Vietnam War and the military draft, and had controversial opinions about homosexuality.


Her advocacy for individual rights, limited government, and laissez-faire capitalism aligned with Objectivism and has inspired modern-day right-wing, conservative Republicans. With influence in the political and academic sphere and over 37 million copies of her novels sold, Rand’s legacy lives on.


The Reality of Existence Existing 

Pillars of Creation, Eagle Nebula. Via NASA.


The root of the philosophy lies in the acceptance of reality first and foremost, without attempting escape or distraction from the truth. This includes the rejection of a higher power and a spiritual world.


From this mindset, Rand proposes three branches that define Objectivism: existence, consciousness, and identity, which all speak to the metaphysics concept of objective reality. The remainder of ideas within the ideology are based on the unarguable fact that existence exists and is identity. This implies that something lacking a specific nature or something that supposedly can transcend existence cannot exist. In relation to this, consciousness arises only when something exists to be conscious of; consciousness cannot be conscious of itself and create its own reality.


Reason: Perception vs. Sensation

Scherzo di Follia by Pierre-Louis Pierson, ca. 1861-7, via Met Museum.


Knowledge can be gained from solely perceiving surroundings, but an in-depth process of proof must be applied. What’s not clearly objective truth must be validated through inductive and deductive reasoning, which relates back to the epistemology of Rand’s philosophy.


Founding Objectivism’s logical methodology in the proposition that “consciousness is identification,” Rand defines reason as the way in which sensation is identified and integrated into the mind. On the other hand, perception is self-evident and therefore doesn’t require fact-checking. Her theory of perception differentiates form and object, stating that form is constituted by the physicality of sensory systems and object is what is perceived and equates to reality.


Concept formation is an integral part of attaining knowledge beyond pure perception and occurs through measurement omission. Rand’s pupil, philosopher Leonard Peikoff, describes this process as mentally collecting concrete perceptual units and omitting specific measurements of these units that don’t advance the concept that is newly forming. These concepts are then organized hierarchically, with concrete knowledge derived from perception integrated with abstract, open-ended classifications developed from available knowledge. This pool of existing knowledge doesn’t include emotions and feelings in Objectivism, which Rand believes are necessary, but not adequate tools for understanding reality.


The Value of Self-Interest

Ayn Rand by Leonard McCombe, via The Cut


A significant element of Objectivism is questioning the value of values. Due to the reality of existence, values subsequently exist too, and humans face the decision between life and death. Free will equals choice, and this includes the intentional choice to think with a purpose or to live in a semi-conscious state. This leads to the conclusion that values must be chosen and morality defined by the individual. To sustain life, one must sustain thinking.


The virtue that is central to Objectivism’s ethics is rationality, which reiterates the importance of reason as the only source of knowledge and values. This is the basis of one of Objectivism’s most important elements, the merit of self-interest. If an individual chooses their moral code, then, naturally, their own well-being would be the primary consideration in this decision. This concept of ethical egoism refutes that there is a moral obligation to exist for other people and that one must live altruistically.


This is another reason why there is no place for religion within Objectivism; the idea that one must serve God and ignore personal desires and interests isn’t supported by its ethics. Instead, Objectivism promotes rational selfishness and the vital pursuit of one’s own happiness.


Individual Rights and Capitalism

Themes of capitalism are found in Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, 1957. Image via Wikimedia Commons.


These beliefs of self-interest translate to the political sphere when considering individual liberty. As stated earlier, human knowledge is gained through reason and leads to the development of values and, consequently, survival. When a person encounters a threat, their capability of utilizing reason is taken away, which is why the assailer acts immorally. Using physical force against someone’s will is unethical, which means that voluntary cooperation or defensive force are the only acceptable methods of changing human behavior. Therefore, each individual must be aware of the potential to violate the rights of others in addition to protecting their own rights.


Positive rights, collective rights, and animal rights are not considered valid within Objectivism. The individual rights of Objectivism are only fully acknowledged in laissez-faire capitalism. Although the ideology recognizes the advantage it provides to society, the main reason this social system is praised is because of its morality.


Self-determination should only be granted to societies striving for freedom. Anarchism isn’t recognized as a moral political philosophy because the government has the ability to objectively control the use of physical force and, in turn, has the responsibility to protect individual rights.


The Purpose of Art for Objectivism

Wanderer Above Sea Fog Caspar David Friedrich, 1817, via Kunsthalle Hamburg


The objectivist perspective of art is that it serves the purpose of facilitating the understanding of concepts through perception. It’s viewed as an artist’s re-creation of their version of reality, representing what they hold as true. The abstractions that are conceived into concrete, logical thoughts can be physically manifested to be perceived. Art has the potential to be a channel for easily consumable communication and thinking about an individual’s value judgments, morals, and ethics. It is not believed to be a conduit for propaganda or a means of education, since often the creation is executed in an emotional state.


Rand’s own creative endeavors were showcased through her literary works. In The Fountainhead, her aim was to depict the ideal individual and portray traits that display the best of humanity. Her definition of great art was an expression that amplified the highest status of humanity.


Romanticism was the art movement that Rand believed encompassed this purpose the most successfully. Although “romanticism” is typically correlated to emotionalism, most creations out of this school of art were philosophically subjectivist and fall under romantic realism, which is not inherently emotional.


Rand expressed her philosophy of Objectivism through the art form of writing, and therefore believed in art’s merit. Aesthetics is just one of the many facets of this ideology that promotes rationality and the driving force of reason of human knowledge. The three axioms stated earlier—existence, consciousness, and identity—all serve as the base of the philosophy as true and unavoidable facts of reality. Rand developed Objectivism by relying on these three ideals, and this resulted in a comprehensive philosophy that continues to influence the fields of academics, philosophy, economics, business, and politics.

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By Susanna AndrewsBA Interdisciplinary ArtsSusanna is an artist passionate about generating concepts for creative writing pieces and short films. During this process, she loves to research topics related to art history and philosophy to inform her ideas. She graduated from the University of Washington with a BA in Interdisciplinary Arts and lives in Southern California.