As a philosophy instructor I’ve of course learned and taught about Ayn Rand, but only recently have I really looked at her, as a person, instead of “just” the philosophy she adopted as her own and presented to the public. Ayn had a lot of interesting philosophies, and many of those philosophies have a place in our current society, and could even be embraced by Christians; however, Ayn also had many personal and psychological issues that get in the way of her own philosophy.
Contrary to Ayn’s own apparent belief, her philosophy had been around for thousands of years before she was born; her objectivism wasn’t so much a new philosophy, as it was a mix of philosophies that could be found in the annals of philosophy that came before her. She also lacked a logical basis for her philosophy, though that idea would insult her very much.
First, a run down of what “objectivism” is, according to Ayn. Objectivism is espoused to be an answer to subjectivism. Objectivists like Ayn believe that our senses actually and accurately inform us about reality. Human logic stands in for God (which is an illogical position that I’ll address later); meaning Ayn believed that human reason alone could result in absolutes. For example, we can rationally conceive of a morality totally defined via human reason and have it be absolute.
One of the hallmarks of Ayn’s morality was the idea of selfishness; that selfishness is morally right. She was fond of bashing (and misunderstanding) altruism, as well as Christianity. And, the one big thing we’ve heard recently because of the state of our economy and country; she pushed for laissez-faire capitalism with extraordinarily limited gov’t interference in the business world.
Ayn’s philosophies never caught on in any academic sphere. One reason; she disliked academics, so there was her strike against the liberals. She disliked religion and denied there was a God, so there was her strike against the conservatives. She effectively cut off both routes to respect and implementation of her philosophies (this is important because one reason she wrote what she did when she did was to try to change the directions of the U.S.). While her philosophies are popular amongst college/high school students, it is her stories that are popular amongst the “common folk” whom she often complained did not understand the deeper implications of her work.
Surprisingly enough, Ayn was anti-feminist and anti-homosexual, finding both positions to be immoral and disgusting. She had odd ideas about sex and sexuality that are apparent just by reading her fiction stories. To be a “good” objectivist was to believe that it was the man’s place to be worshiped, and a woman’s place to be submissive and to be owned. Authors tend to write themselves into certain characters and by reading Ayn’s descriptions of her female characters, we can see a common thread that is both sad and disturbing. I intend to take a look at this in my next blog post as well as discussing her take on altruism and morality.