||An excerpt from Chapter 1 of Objectivism:
The Philosophy of Ayn Rand
Philosophy is not a bauble of the
intellect, but a power from which no man can abstain. Anyone can say that he
dispenses with a view of reality, knowledge, the good, but no one can implement
this credo. The reason is that man, by his nature as a conceptual being, cannot
function at all without some form of philosophy to serve as his guide.
Ayn Rand discusses the role of philosophy in her West Point lecture
"Philosophy: Who Needs It." Without abstract ideas, she says,
you would not
be able to deal with concrete, particular, real-life problems. You would be in
the position of a newborn infant, to whom every object is a unique,
unprecedented phenomenon. The difference between his mental state and yours lies
in the number of conceptual integrations your mind has performed. You have no
choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences,
your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. 1
Your only choice, she continues, is whether your principles are true or false,
rational or irrational, consistent or contradictory. The only way to know which
they are is to integrate your principles.
integrates them? Philosophy. A philosophic system is an integrated view of
existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a
philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a
conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical
deliberation or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted
conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested
slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but
integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into
a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place
where your mind's wings should have grown. 2
Philosophy, in Ayn Rand's view,
is the fundamental force shaping every man and culture. It is the science that
guides men's conceptual faculty, and thus every field of endeavor that counts on
this faculty. The deepest issues of philosophy are the deepest root of men's
thought (see chapter 4), their action (see chapter 12), their history (see the
Epilogue) and, therefore, of their triumphs, their disasters, their future.
Philosophy is a human need as real as the need of food. It is a need of the
mind, without which man cannot obtain his food or anything else his life
To satisfy this need, one must recognize that philosophy is a system of
ideas. By its nature as an integrating science, it cannot be a grab bag of
isolated issues. All philosophic questions are interrelated. One may
not, therefore, raise any such questions at random, without the requisite
context. If one tries the random approach, then questions (which one has no
means of answering) simply proliferate in all directions.
Suppose, for example, that you read an article by Ayn Rand and glean from it
only one general idea, with which, you decide, you agree: man should be selfish.
How, you must soon ask, is this generality to be applied to concrete situations?
What is selfishness? Does it mean doing whatever you feel like doing? What if
your feelings are irrational? But who is to say what's rational or irrational?
And who is Ayn Rand to say what a man should do, anyway? Maybe what's true for
her isn't true for you, or what's true in theory isn't true in practice. What
is truth? Can it vary from one person or realm to another? And, come to
think of it, aren't we all bound together? Can anyone ever really achieve
private goals in this world? If not, there's no point in being selfish. What
kind of world is it? And if people followed Ayn Rand, wouldn't that
lead to monopolies or cutthroat competition, as the socialists say? And how does
anyone know the answers to all these (and many similar) questions? What method
of knowledge should a man use? And how does one know that?
For a philosophic idea to function properly as a guide, one must know the full
system to which it belongs. An idea plucked from the middle is of no value,
cannot be validated, and will not work. One must know the idea's relationship to
all the other ideas that give it context, definition, application, proof. One
must know all this not as a theoretical end in itself, but for practical
purposes; one must know it to be able to rely on an idea, to make rational use
of it, and, ultimately, to live.
In order to approach philosophy
systematically, one must begin with its basic branches. Philosophy, according to
Objectivism, consists of five branches. The two basic ones are metaphysics and
epistemology. Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of
the universe as a whole. (The Objectivist metaphysics is covered in the present
chapter on "Reality.") Epistemology is the branch that studies the
nature and means of human knowledge (chapters 2-5). These two branches make
possible a view of the nature of man (chapter 6).
Flowing from the above are the three evaluative branches of philosophy. Ethics,
the broadest of these, provides a code of values to guide human choices and
actions (chapters 7-9). Politics studies the nature of a social system and
defines the proper functions of government (chapters 10 and 11). Esthetics
studies the nature of art and defines the standards by which an art work should
be judged (chapter 12).
In presenting Objectivism, I shall cover the five branches in essential terms,
developing each in hierarchical order, and offering the validation of each
principle or theory when I first explain it.
The True, said Hegel, is the Whole. At the end of our discussion, to borrow
these terms, you will see a unique Whole, the Whole which is Ayn Rand's
philosophic achievement. You may then judge for yourself whether it is an
important achievement and whether it is True.
(1) Ayn Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1982)
New York: Signet, 1984. p. 5. [back]
(2) Ibid. [back]