The main idea of this book is to provide relatively concise, but complete presentation of philosophy of Objectivism as it was expressed by founder Ayn Rand not only in her writings, but also in her conversations within the small group of followers.
The key points of this philosophy are:
• The Philosophy is not just important, but it is indispensible part of human existence, so every human being has it. The difference between Objectivist and everybody else is that Objectivist is not only conscious about his philosophy, but has it built on as strong basis as mathematical theory with clearly defined axioms and logically non-contradictory inferences from these axioms
• Objective Reality exists independently from any form of consciousness and is the primary to anything else.
• Objectivism accept consciousness as non-material faculty inseparable from human beings
• Existence is linked to Identity and could not be without it.
• Human beings exist for their own sake and their lives have no other meaning. From here follows morality of individualism combined with individual freedom both economic and personal and rejection of use of force except for self-defense.
• Correspondingly the only acceptable form of society for Objectivist is capitalism with government limited to protection of individual rights especially property rights because these rights are under sustained attack from forces of collectivism.
Finally the point is made that history of civilization is history of philosophical duel between Plato and Aristotle representing ideas of consciousness being primary vs. material and objective reality being primary.
Chapter 1- REALITY
Philosophy is not an abstract knowledge that is possible to go without. Philosophy is the human need that is always satisfied by whatever set of believes a specific human being has. The only real choice is whether this philosophy is true or false in relation to reality, whether it is consistent or contradictory. Objectivism as any other philosophy based on axioms and this chapter reviews these axioms.
Existence, Consciousness, and Identify as the Basic Axioms
The first one: Existence exists.
The second: Humans have faculty of consciousness that equal to perceiving existence.
The third and final axiom: to be means to be something, to possess identity.
After establishing axioms, the text proceeds to demonstrate that denial of axioms is necessarily logically inconsistent.
Causality as a Corollary of Identity
Here text reviews process of human acquisition of understanding of axioms during process of maturity of a child with development of understanding of cause and effect law. Corollary is self-evident implication of established knowledge so according to this postulate, causality comes as corollary of identity.
Existence as Possessing Primacy over Consciousness
Objectivism infers from axioms primacy of Existence over Consciousness, while majority of other philosophies define primacy of Consciousness over Existence.
The Metaphysically Given as Absolute
The meaning of this is that there is no possible or imaginable alternative to the fact of reality. Metaphysically given = exists without human action or influence, such as universe. This notion is opposed to human created facts and realities that also exist, but are not absolute.
Idealism and Materialism as Rejection of Basic Axioms
That Idealism contradicts presented Axioms is self-evident, however it is discussed in details due to popularity of notion of omnipotent God. Objectivism is nicely defined here as a-theism, a-devilism, a-demonism, a-gremlinism, and a-anything-conscious-ism.
More interesting is discussion against materialism. Here Objectivism accuses materialism in denial of reality of Consciousness because it is byproduct of material brain. At the same time it is stated that Consciousness could not be separated from matter. It does not make a lot of sense to me, but I guess it is just an attempt to separate Objectivism from primitive materialism at the most basic level possible.
Chapter 2 – SENSE PERCEPTION AND VOLITION
This chapter is about objectivism’s Epistemology – science of what rules to follow to obtain real knowledge of reality that exists independently of consciousness.
The Senses as Necessarily Valid
The validity of senses comes from the fact that they necessarily caused by existing objects.
Sensory Qualities as Real
Objectivism rejects postulation of sensory quality as choice between “in the object” and “in the mind” approach. Its position: complex combination of both.
Consciousness as Possessing Identity
Objectivism’s approach: Identity is precondition of Consciousness.
A Perceptual Level as Given
Perceptual level is Epistemological primary, but not a Metaphysical primary. It is given and is a foundation of conceptual level.
The Primary Choice as the Choice to Focus or Not
Man is a volitional being who functions freely. However he can use available intellectual ability fully, only if he puts focus on the issue. So the real choice is what to focus on.
Human Actions, Mental and Physical as Both Caused and Free
Free will versus determinism does not make sense because every action defined by complex combination of previous physical condition of all parts and human selection of one particular course of action out of multiple available courses.
Volition as Axiomatic
Volition is the starting point of conceptual cognition and therefore could only be self-evident = axiomatic.
Chapter 3 – CONCEPT-FORMATION
The concept is human ability to build generic representation of the world from specific perceptual input of the senses. For objectivism it is what differentiate humans from animals.
Differentiation and Integration as the Means to a Unit-Perspective
This is discussion of human ability to regard entities as units and then use analysis and synthesis or differentiation and integration as tools to build useful models of reality.
Concept-Formation as a Mathematical Process
This is discussion of use of measurement and mathematics as human developed tools to dramatically improve validity of concepts and their relation to reality.
Concepts of Consciousness as Involving Measurement- Omission
Here the text is going into review of complexity of concepts and correspondingly notion of hierarchy of concepts. The building of higher-level concepts requires consciousness and act of abstraction: measurement-omission that involves two aspects: content and intensity.
Definition as the Final Step In Concept Formation
As such definition is contextual and evolving concept of entity with includes or excludes some parameters as needed for use of this concept. The analog provided is concept as file with related data and definition is as label on this file.
Concepts as Devices to Achieve Unit-Economy
This is discussion of concept as a tool that allow humans to operate in infinitely diverse world by picking up concept identifying features and use previously developed template of how to deal with this concept.
Chapter 4 – OBJECTIVITY
Objectivism defines Epistemology as practical tool necessary to conceptualize reality
Concepts as Objective
This is about integrating concretes into concept, which is possible for 4 categories: perceptual concretes, scientific discoveries, man-made objects, and complex human relationships. The difficult part is to define level of conceptualization so to avoid duplicates or too much of unnecessary specifics.
Objectivity as Volitional Adherence to Reality by the Method of Logic
Objectivism defines knowledge as the grasp of the object through an active reality-based process chosen by the subject. The chosen process should be logical, defined as non-contradictory identification. There is a nice example of logical and non-contradictory statement that is useless because it is not based on reality: “ Apples are razors and oranges are blades, therefore we can shave with fruit salad”
Knowledge as Contextual
Concepts are relational form of knowledge; therefore knowledge is meaningful only in specific context. Action based on statements of knowledge without context does not correlate with reality and often bound to fail.
Knowledge as Hierarchical
This is discussion about hierarchical structure of knowledge and necessity of moving up through integration and down through reduction in hierarchy as required to discover proves of this knowledge. Interesting concept of Ayn Rand’s razor is provided: “State your primaries”. In other words, what is taken as axiom at the beginning of logical construction, may define final result.
Intrinsicism and Subjectivism as the Two Forms of Rejecting Objectivity
Historically 3 theories of concepts: Platonic realism (non-material forms like goodness), Aristotelian realism (form + matter), and nominalism (every existent is unique). All of these reject objectivity. Per Rand: “Objectivity is achieved using logic, including context and hierarchy of knowledge” applied to perceptual data.
Chapter 5 – REASON
Objectivism based on Reason: facility that identifies and integrates material provided by senses.
Emotions as a Product of Ideas
This is Objectivist’s definition of emotions being states of consciousness, with bodily accompaniments and spiritual / intellectual causes. Per Ayn Rand emotions are redundant because they are just consequences generated by reason’s conclusions.
Reason as Man’s Only Means of Knowledge
Reason is faculty of awareness and volition directing human actions. There is no alternative to reason as means of knowledge.
The Arbitrary as Neither True Nor False
Arbitrary claim is claim that has no evidence either perceptual or conceptual to support it. As such it cannot be proved or disproved.
Certainty as Contextual
This discussion is about reason’s ability to lead to certainty. It is somewhat directed against skeptics who believe that doubt is a permanent state because no knowledge can be absolute. Objectivist response is that knowledge is valid in context and doubt is just a temporary state when switching from known to unknown context.
Mysticism and Skepticism as Denials of Reason
In objectivism knowledge is just a grasp of reality achieved using reason. Both mysticism and skepticism deny possibility to achieve knowledge of reality and therefore deny validity and ability of reason.
Chapter 6 – MAN
According to Objectivism a philosophical view of man rests on metaphysics and epistemology, but is not exhausted by them.
Living Organisms as Goal-Directed and Conditional
The main characteristics of living organisms, including man is that its actions are self-directed and goal-oriented.
Reason as Man’s Basic Means of Survival
Objectivism view is that mind and body is an integrated system with reason being the main tool of survival. There are plenty of real live confirmation of this from primitive tribes surviving by their knowledge and skills applied to environment they live in to highest achievement of technology when vast majority of people obtain everything necessary for live without ever doing any direct manual job.
Reason as an Attribute of the Individual
For Objectivism there is such thing as collective reason as there is no such thing as collective mind or collective brain. There are agreements achieved between individuals about coordinated actions, but they are never primary. Nothing is ever created by collective; it is always individuals who create new ideas, concepts, and act upon them. What is called a collective achievement is always just a combination of individual inputs that are always greatly different from microscopic simple action to the great innovation.
On the subject of nature of man Objectivism denies alternative of “nature versus nurture” as false choice, presenting man as an integrated entity with facility of reason.
Chapter 7 – THE GOOD
Objectivist position in regard to values: The ultimate value is life. The primary virtue is rationality. The proper beneficiary is oneself.
“Life” as the Essential Root of “Value”
The only alternative to life is death and that creates context for value-oriented action. The life as ultimate value is the end in itself that set a standard by which all other goals are evaluated.
Man’s Life as the Standard of Moral Value
The human life is continuous whole containing all time lived to the point and all projections for the future. The meaning is everything that required for survival of man as rational being. It does not mean survival at any price, but rather specifically as “rational being” with morality being: “everything supporting such survival is good, everything preventing it is bad”.
Rationality as Primary Virtue
Rationality leads to primary values of life: Reason – Purpose – Self-Esteem.
The Individual as the Proper Beneficiary of His Own Moral Action
This is discussion of value of egoism with reasons for objectivism’s promotion of rational-self interest. The rational self-interest could include practically infinite types of action including risking life for others in some very limited circumstances.
Values as Objective
For Objectivism values, like concepts, are not intrinsic or subjective, but objective. That means it exists independently, but in relation to a man and should not be invented, but discovered.
Chapter 8 – VIRTUE
Objectivism derives additional values from the key virtue of rationality: independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, and pride.
Independence as a Primary Orientation to Reality, Not to Other Men
Existential independence means supporting oneself in rational field of endeavor by using first-hand approach. Here objectivism divides people into rational creators and dependent non-creators. The first ones create everything valuable and the second type of people at the best supply creators with labor necessary to implement their ideas, or use force to pry results from creators for their own use. The real life interdependency is resolved via market. When buying bread from baker one pays money and therefore is not dependent on baker.
Integrity as Loyalty to Rational Principles
Integrity defined as “loyalty in action to one’s convictions”. Objectivism does not allow lots of wiggle space in question of integrity. One either has it or not. Metaphor is provided of mafia killer who kills on order, but in principle value human life and is true to his principle in 99% of encounters with other people.
Honesty as the Rejection of Unreality
“Honesty” is defined as refusal to fake reality. Especially important is Intellectual honesty because without it to act properly and consistent with reality is not possible.
Justice as Rationality In the Evaluation of Men
Justice is the virtue of judging men’s character and conduct objectively and of acting accordingly. From here discussion goes to problem of non-judgment (it is immoral), to mercy, forgiveness, personal change over time, and such. Interesting point is made on Egalitarianism, which is considered to be a complete repudiation of justice.
Productiveness as the Adjustment of Nature to Man
“Productiveness” is process of creation of goods and services necessary for human life. The productive man is moral man. Correspondingly all other activities like leisure and recreation are subordinate to productive activities.
Pride as Moral Ambitiousness
“Pride” is commitment to achieve one’s own moral perfection. It is discussed in relation to productiveness as in providing the best goods and services for internal satisfaction “self-esteem”.
The Initiation of Physical Force as Evil
The final discussion in this chapter is not about virtue, but rather about vice. This vice is Initiation of Physical force. Important is that vice is not just use of force itself, but initiation of force.
Chapter 9 – HAPPINESS
Objectivist defines happiness, as the good man’s experience of life, achievement of which is the only moral purpose.
Virtue as Practical
“Practical here means achieving desired result. This is a discussion of objectivist principle of harmony between moral and practical. It is also rejection of dichotomy between practical and moral.
Happiness as the Normal Condition of Man
Objectivist view is that Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy from achieving what is real without guilt or penalty. Moreover it is normal condition of man because universe is “benevolent” meaning has no intentionality toward man therefore if man successful in dealing with reality the happiness is achieved.
Sex as Metaphysical
This is discussion of sex as celebration of existence that should carry no guilt and should be considered a physical capacity in the service of spiritual need.
Chapter 10 – GOVERNMENT
This chapter reviews politics as a normative branch of philosophy defining the principles of a proper social system and government actions.
Individual Rights as Absolutes
Objectivism holds that the basic principle of politics is Individual rights. The fundamental is right to life with major derivatives being right to liberty and right to property. There is also interdependence of the rights: Individual freedom could not exist without political freedom, and political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom: free minds and free markets are corollaries. The Objectivist notion of rights has meaning of rights of Individual to act and be free from adverse action of other directed at individual. It absolutely excludes notion of rights as demand on other people to provide something to individuals. There are only individual rights, the notion of collective rights absolutely repulsive to Objectivism.
Government as an Agency to Protect Rights
Objectivism defines government as an agency that has exclusive power to use force on a given territory. Since without government the self-defense is the only way of protection everybody would be consumed by it with no time left for productive work. However as most powerful violent organization government should be under strict control and the only way to achieve it is to have democratically elected government of laws, not people.
Statism as the Politics of Unreason
Objectivism differentiates statism from proper government. The proper government exists to protect individual rights, while statism suppresses them. This difference is discussed in the view of dispute between old left and the new left. Old left saw statism as apex of human development when wise government scientifically manages economy, individual lives, and everything else. This vision failed after being implemented in Soviet Union in the form of International Socialism and in Germany in the form of National Socialism. New Left came up after this failure with idea of mixed economy when they agreed to allow some economic freedom, but as little as possible.
An interesting discussion about Liberal and Conservatives as subjectivists relying on mind-body dichotomy in their philosophy with liberals limiting economic freedom, but expanding personal freedom, while conservatives limiting personal freedom, but expanding economic freedom. Ayn Rand noted that each camp wants to control what they consider most important: for conservatives it is human mind and liberals human body (economics).
Interestingly enough both camps true to their philosophy only as long as they are out of power. As soon as they get power liberals happily suppress personal freedoms, while conservatives not less happily suppress economic freedom.
Chapter 11 – CAPITALISM
This chapter provides philosophical analysis of capitalism.
Capitalism as the Only Moral Social System
Capitalism is the only known system that recognizes all human rights: life, freedom, and property and therefore it is the only moral system for Objectivists. It does not need justification as more effective and efficient system then any other. This is given by just about everybody left, right, and in-between. Objectivist justification for capitalism is different because it is done on the philosophical and moral basis.
Capitalism as the System of Objectivity
Capitalism does not accept notion of public good achieved at the expense of individual because “public” always consists of individuals and therefore it always means sacrificing one individual for the benefit of other. Very important discussion is provided to repudiate notion of economic power as something of the same type as political power in the tradition of FDR’s “economic royalists”.
Opposition to Capitalism as Dependent on Bad Epistemology
The main idea of this part is that the decline of the capitalist society when it occur happens because people fail to develop proper philosophical approach to problems of their life and as result fall victim to all kind of political manipulation which typically results in dramatic decrease of quality of life for majority with correspondingly dramatic increase in power and wealth of politicians who exploit this philosophical defenselessness.
Chapter 12 – ART
This chapter relates to Objectivist esthetics view of the art as the last branch of philosophy making it a complete philosophical system in addition to view of the universe (metaphysics), view of the knowledge (epistemology), view of value (ethics), and view of society organization (politics and economics).
The chapter discusses the following issues:
• Art as a Concretization of Metaphysics
• Romantic Literature as Illustrating the Role of Philosophy In Art
• Esthetic Value as Objective
The Duel Between Plato and Aristotle
The epilogue is about philosophy as the main engine of human history when ideas developed by a few individuals find place in the minds of intellectuals who propagate them through art and education throughout the whole of population until they become a force defining actions of majority of people.
In view of this approach the history is looked at as duel between two set of ideas: one generated by Plato that defined consciousness and primary force, and another one by Aristotle that defined objective existence independent of consciousness as primary. Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is contemporary restatement and expansion of Aristotle and Kant is correspondingly contemporary restatement of Plato.
The final thought is that Objectivism is an American philosophy and being country without precedent America may eventually embrace it creating prosperity much greater the ever before.
MY TAKE ON IT:
Philosophically my views are close to Objectivism more then to any other philosophy that I know about and I agree with about 80% of ideas presented in this book. However there are some areas that I am not agree:
• Non-material character of consciousness – as far as I know consciousness is nothing more then result of electric activities in human brain based on network of neurons that are constantly changing their electric parameters as a consequence of these activities. There is a huge history of medical research and natural experiments confirming this view.
• Another problem I have is with constant paeans to rationality and reason. Objectivism seems to assume that it is always obvious what is rational and reasonable and what is not. I do not believe that it is correct. I do not believe that it is that simple. Reasonability is not obvious, but is rather subject to test. Here it goes to philosophy of science and I am big time adherent to Karl Popper’s falsification idea. Anything reasonable is so only if theory based on it has clearly stated a falsification criterion that was not falsified.
• Despite being individualist myself, I cannot fully accept Objectivist ideas of unabridged individualism. We humans are social animals and therefore our evolution works at the two separate levels: level of individual organism and level of the group individual organism belongs to. In order to survive human had to have two things: good enough body to survive whatever challenges presented by environment from bacteria to tigers; and belong to strong enough group that is capable to overcome whatever challenges presented by other group competing for resources. This thing – human survival stands on two pillars and would fall if any of them undercut.
• I agree that capitalism is the best of what we had come up with so far, even if it never ever been used in its ideal form without severe government intervention. However it carries within itself a destructive feature of perceived unfairness of property allocation that from time to time leads to explosion that is usually followed by move to some form of socialism with significant deterioration of quality of live at the best and significant loss of lives at worst. I believe that it could be corrected by implementing equal and marketable rights for natural resources, which would give everybody really unalienable property by removing persistent quest of propertyless to confiscate property from those who have “too much” of it.
In short if I would have to put label on myself, it would be label of “objectivism” rather then anything else. However since I do not have to be labeled, I would not call myself so.