Objectivism (Ayn Rand)

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The Russian-American writer Ayn Rand (1905–1982) describes the worldview she has developed as objectivism . Her philosophical activity peaked with the novel Atlas Shrugged in 1958 and in the two decades that followed.

Content overview


The starting point and basis of Rand's objectivism are three axioms .

  • Rand formulates the first axiom, the axiom of existence, tautologically : “Existence exists”. The axiomatic term existence summarizes everything that is, but does not make any special statements about what is special, i.e. what exists.
  • The second axiom is awareness , the "ability to perceive existence". Every form of perception and every understanding of being therefore implies the existence of a consciousness.
  • The third axiom is about identity . Whatever is is what it is (wording Ayn Rand: "An A is an A"). Existence and identity are equated, because the identification with the existing follows from consciousness.

In addition, everything that exists behaves according to the laws of causality , the principle of cause and effect. Causality is perceived as a corollary of identity, i. That is, a thing of a certain identity (e.g. a diesel-oxygen mixture) reacts under certain external circumstances (high pressure) according to its nature (it burns). A certain behavior is made necessary by the identity of the acting thing and the identity of the external circumstances. Existence therefore has an internal order and logic; she is absolute .

The relationship between existence and consciousness is determined by the primacy of existence ; That is, the world exists independently of our consciousness: a world without consciousness is possible; and an act of consciousness alone (e.g. a wish, an idea) has no influence on external existence (wording Ayn Rand: “Wishing won't make it so”).


In objectivistic epistemology, the mind is the only ability that enables man to acquire knowledge. Human consciousness is empty at birth, tabula rasa , and in the course of life is filled with a potentially unlimited volume of knowledge. The starting point of all knowledge are the senses , which are able to grasp reality: A healthy sensory perception automatically supplies information about the world. Sensory perceptions arise through causal processes in consciousness; however, that doesn't make them subjective .

The conceptual identification of the sensory content is made possible by the mind. Conceptual knowledge is the highest form of knowledge. Concepts emerge from observation and are shaped by a process in which the properties essential for a thing are abstracted, but the specific measures of these properties are omitted. An important result of the successful concept formation process is the correct definition.

In a rational consciousness, terms must be properly defined and be related to one another without contradiction through various differentiation and integration processes. The same applies to the statements formed from the terms. Using the methods of (classical) logic and empirical observation, human knowledge can be expanded practically without limits.

Man is fallible; but can gain certainty through rational epistemological methods .


The ability to make decisions is what makes ethical action possible. Ethics is also derived from a living organism's fundamental alternative of life and death. The highest ethical value is life; For a person, “good” is everything that promotes his own life as a rational being in the long term, “bad” everything that damages his own life. This highest value, one's own life, is universal, since the striving for self-preservation is inherent in human nature - as in the nature of every living being. Here is the conclusion from “is” to “should”, which is the basis of the objectivistic claim to a universally valid ethic. Since ignorance and error are useless or dangerous, while knowledge can be used by the world to advance life, and since the mind is the only reliable means of knowledge, the mind would be the "fundamental tool of survival . "

A value is something that one acts to achieve and / or maintain. According to objectivism, virtue describes the act by means of which values ​​are achieved and / or retained. Three objectivistic guiding values ​​are: Reason, goal orientation and self-esteem. The objectivist cardinal virtue is rationality , that is, the incessant use of reason in all areas of life. Various other virtues are derived from the virtue of rationality in objectivism: independence , the "main orientation towards reality, not towards other people"; Integrity , the "loyalty to rational principles"; Honesty , the "rejection of unreality"; Justice , the "rationality in judging people"; Productivity , the "adaptation of nature to humans"; Pride , the “moral ambition”. A basic moral vice is any form of initiating physical violence against other people. Every philosophical concept (from consciousness to justice to virtue ) is precisely defined in objectivism. In some cases, the meaning of the individual terms deviates from their popular meanings (e.g. egoism ) and gains additional abundance in the context of the philosophical system.

Objectivist ethics is also known as rational egoism . Ethics are selfish in that they hold that an individual should be the beneficiary of his own moral actions . However, objectivism distances itself from hedonism ; H. the pleasure principle, which says that only "good" is what causes a short-term and immediate positive emotion. Rather, the mind should identify things as good or bad (i.e., beneficial or hostile to one's own life) and guide moral action. In this regard, however, objectivism rejects any conflict between understanding and emotion: the emotions are definitely justified as a means of unconscious evaluation and motivation ; In their irrational form, however, they are not entitled to influence human thought and action. According to objectivism, emotions are also dependent on the mind: They embody the conceptual ideals that a person has consciously or unconsciously accepted and can therefore (according to the underlying evaluations) be both rational and irrational. Life - not happiness - is seen as the highest moral goal. However, the feeling of happiness ( eudaemonia ) is seen as a necessary emotional consequence of successful rational living.


Objectivism recognizes that individual people can benefit for themselves through social coexistence: enormous knowledge (e.g. transferred from generation to generation) and trade are named as two essential values ​​that arise from a society. In order for the social coexistence of people to develop the potential benefit for the individual members, certain framework conditions are necessary: ​​The rights of each individual member of society must be protected. The fundamental, inalienable right of every human being is the right to life ; this includes the right to freedom , property and the pursuit of happiness (in the sense of the American Declaration of Independence ). These rights (individual rights) do not give any person a claim to any positive thing (e.g. financial resources, housing, etc.); Rather, everyone has an absolute right to the omission of the negative (e.g. theft, murder, etc.) that violate his rights and thereby harm his life on the part of his fellow human beings. Rand observes that rights can only be violated through an act of physical violence. Theft , fraud, etc. are considered indirect forms of physical violence.

As a result, Rand's philosophy rejects social acts, especially financial support for the poor, the elderly and the sick by the state. In contrast to other libertarian currents , however, it advocates a minimal state (courts, police, etc.) that sanctions theft and murder. A state is the only institution that can effectively protect people's rights: its aim is to ban physical violence from human relationships by counteracting any initial use of force. Citizens, who have a moral right to self-defense, pass this right on to the state so that prosecution can be subject to objective rules. The three branches of the state are the police and the military to protect citizens from internal and external criminals, as well as the judiciary , whose task, among other things, is to resolve conflicts between people (especially with regard to contracts ) using objective laws and rules to prevent possible violent escalations and subjective vigilante justice.

The state itself is also subject to the legal system, ie it must respect the individual rights of its citizens. As a result, state activities that go beyond the protection of these rights (e.g. economic regulations, setting up a so-called "social network") are condemned as immoral by objectivists. The laissez-faire -capitalism (polemical and night-watchman state ) is regarded as the only moral and practical system of government.

Position in philosophy and literature

Rand's area of ​​activity is mainly limited to the English-speaking area. Contrary to the self-image of the objectivists, objectivism and corresponding ideas do not play a major role in current debates in the humanities, especially the emphasis on egoism is seen as being of little help in solving social problems. In literary studies, a special literary quality of Rand's works is denied, some critics also speak of kitsch .

Criticism of objectivism

Formal criticism

By inferring from being (= all people have an instinct for self-preservation) to what is ought (= all people should live out their instinct for self-preservation), one commits a fallacy in the sense of Hume's law .

Moral criticism

Other critics believe that Ayn Rand's positions are often characterized by a black and white thinking that lacks nuances. Ayn Rand's morality is also a pseudo-morality based on the seemingly objective opposition between communism and uninhibited capitalism, and only deduces the correctness of one's own position from the falsity of the ideas of an extremist opponent, communism. The worldview of Ayn Rand leads z. B. to ideas like:

“To win this war we need a fundamental shift in our moral priorities. The uprising could long have been put down and yesterday's attack averted had it not been for America's altruistic policies that put the lives of Iraqi civilians above their own self-defense. "

- Yaron Brook, President of the Ayn Rand Institute

This can be countered by the fact that in her works Rand always spoke out against violence to assert interests (see the statement on violence in the above Ethics chapter "A fundamental moral vice is any form of initiating physical violence against other people"). In the case mentioned, she would have spoken out against the Iraq war in principle (with reference to her statements on violence). Yaron Brook does not follow Rand's objectivism here.

The Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) and objectivism have repeatedly come under criticism for their emphasis on egoism , etc. a. after an ARI spokesman called for government funds not to be distributed to victims of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia . The ARI later published a "clarification" on the subject. In a completely free, "perfect" society advocated by the ARI, the government would not have the power to tax citizens and redistribute their wealth to charity, either domestically or abroad. Short-term disaster aid to foreign victims of a natural disaster is still one of the most harmless types of legal violations by the state. It was therefore inappropriate to single out and condemn disaster aid. Although it would have been better to use the aid money for a “legitimate” state purpose, such as for the equipment and arming of US troops in Iraq , there are thousands of state actions that are more damaging to “our” rights. It would have been far worse, for example, if the government had pumped the money into the anti-cartel department of the Ministry of Justice, which is directly responsible for “prosecuting” successful business people.

Criticism from Libertarian Philosophers

Robert Nozick shares many of Ayn Rand's libertarian views, but finds the reasoning she uses to justify them to be inadequate. Their radical individualism or their initial idea of individualistic self- centeredness rationalize every individual value preference indiscriminately, for example also when an individual decides to die and wants to let as many other people as possible die on this occasion, and furthermore every other meaning, value and Rejects moral idea . Ayn Rand, on the other hand, did not grant anyone this right (“you have no right to kill people”).

Works by Ayn Rand

  • [early fictional work] The Fountainhead (1943; German: Der Ewige Quell )
  • [fictional masterpiece] Atlas Shrugged (1957; German Title: Atlas Shrugged , Who is John Galt? , The Strike )
  • [Excerpts] For the New Intellectual (1961)
  • [Ethics] The Virtue of Selfishness (with Nathaniel Branden ; 1964)
  • [Politics] Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (with Nathaniel Branden, Alan Greenspan and Robert Hessen; 1966)
  • [Epistemology] Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (1967)
  • [Aesthetics] The Romantic Manifesto (1969)
  • [Politics] Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (1971)
  • [Introduction] Philosophy: Who Needs It (1982)


Individual evidence

  1. Patrick M. O'Neil: Ayn Rand and the Is-Ought Problem (=  The Journal of Libertarian Studies . Volume VII , no. 1 ). 1983, p. 81 f . ( PDF ).
  2. Moral Cowardice Prevents Winning the War , Yaron Brook
  3. The Last Person On Earth To Turn To Now Is Ayn Rand , by Johann Hari , in: The Huffington Post , March 10, 2009
  4. a b U.S. Government Should Not Help Tsunami Victims (Updated)  ( Page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Dead Link / www.capitalismmagazine.com   (Original ARI article and later "clarification" in Capitalism Magazine ).

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