Objectivism and Me

For the past two months I’ve been reading a lot about Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. I’ve also had the pleasure of interacting with an Objectivist on his blog and over e-mail.

Immediately I was struck by how many viewpoints (political, philosophical, and ethical), resonated with me; I had held them explicitly or implicitly for a long time but was unable to articulate them or justify them properly. There were also many consequences of these viewpoints that disturbed me at first, especially political. However, as a free-thinker, consequences of truth do not bother me as much as truth itself.

I wanted to refrain from writing about Objectivism until I was knowledgeable enough to argue it properly; I have a responsibility to myself to make sure I know what I’m talking about. After being prompted by A Load of Bright though, I’ve decided to comment on it “as I go”, but I will avoid referring to myself as an Objectivist or debating the philosophy deeply for now. This is only fair to my readers and myself.

I have been very disappointed with how poor the quality of counter-arguments against Objectivism are. As well as reading about Ayn Rand, I have of course (to avoid confirmation bias) sought out opinions on Objectivism from non-Objectivists. Some of them were very balanced and generous. Some of them were blatantly hostile. But, for someone who has only been studying it for a month or two, I found I could already refute most of the nonsense they were saying. A common misrepresentation of Objectivism is: “every man for himself”, or “survival of the fittest”. This is false.

Objectivism is an entire philosophical system that accounts for knowledge, metaphysics, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. It is grounded on axioms of existence and sensory validity. Any attempts to deny these axioms involve their utilisation, which is self-refuting. From these, and the identity of man as a kind of being that acts volitionally, everything else follows.

The fundamental right, the only existing non-reducible right that exists, is man’s right over his own life. As a moral being, this is a necessary corollary of that status, otherwise it would be impossible for men to live together. Therefore, the politics of Objectivism are based on the realisation of the individual rights of men. The individual rights of men are non-negotiable, until and only if a man initiates the use of force against others; in doing so he has attempted to violate the rights of others and so forfeits his own.

I have come across people who reject the consequences of Objectivism; usually they appeal to an altruist or collectivist theory of ethics, or just emotion. In my limited experience talking about Objectivism, I’ve noticed these people find it hard (or impossible) to reject the premises of Objectivism, but will still disagree with the (usually) politic corollaries, not realising they’re blatantly contradicting themselves.

As I adopt more and more the philosophy of Objectivism, I am finding it harder and harder to identify myself as a Humanist. I disagree with the opinions of some humanists on a variety of issues (such as animals rights, environmentalism, and politics), and whilst Humanists do not necessarily have to agree on everything (it’s not a religion after all), it is some of the foundations of Humanism that I am at odds with, and I believe it is incomplete as a worldview. This will not stop me of course hosting the Humanist Symposium on 16th December, which I volunteered for. But I thought I would talk about how my philosophy and politics are progressing, and the direction I am heading.

Finally, Objectivism is appealing to me for several reasons: it emphasises the necessity of rationality and logical thinking; it ennobles humans by forcing us to think for ourselves, and means that we must face the consequences of our actions; it treats men as adults that aren’t entitled to a free lunch or to parasitize off other people; it provides an epistemology and morality that are universal and objective; it dispenses with the nihilism of philosophical scepticism; and it respects individual rights to the core.

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