An Introduction to Ayn Rand

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Reply Thu 18 Dec, 2008 03:51 am
Ayn Rand

Whether Ayn Rand is considered a Philosopher has ironically become a very subjective issue. Currently very few universities consider Rand or her philosophy of Objectivism a speciality or a research, though quite interestingly The Ayn Rand Society founded in 1987 after her death is affiliated with the American Philosophical Association. There is no doubt however that even with a lot of the controversy surrounding Ayn Rand her work has influenced many academics, politicians and members of the public. With her work having significant widespread appeal even too this day, with her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged selling 185,000 copies in 2007, fifty years after it was first published.

Life
Ayn Rand was born in St Petersburg Russia on the 2nd of February 1905. Rand was raised in middle class family, with her father being a successful pharmaceutical entrepreneur. Rand was 12 time at the time of the 1917 Russian Revolution which was of terrible disruption too family life with her father's Pharmacy being confiscated by the Soviets and also saw her family move away too the Crimea too recover financially. This time seemed to have a profound impact on the young Rand and stayed with her for the rest of her life.

Rand returned to St Petersburg (renamed Petrograd by the Soviets) too study at the University where she completed a three year degree in the department of Social Pedalogy which included the studies of history, literature, philosophy and philology. Rand focused her studies on history, while also taking particular interest in literature and philosophy. Rand was particularly impressed by the philosophical works of Friedrich Nietzsche particularly liking Nietzsche's depiction of a heroic and independent individual in Thus Spake Zarathustra, though Ayn Rand came to reject a lot Nietzsche's ideas. She also read the literary works of Edmond Rostand, Friedrich Schiller, and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

She completed her degree in 1924 and began to study screenwriting at the State Institute for Cinema Arts where her study was abruptly ended in 1925 when she received a visa too visit her American relatives. Though Rand's visit was Officially meant to be a short one, she left with no intention of ever returning to the Soviet Union. She stayed with her relatives in Chicago for six months spending her time learning English and working on idea's for stories and movie's she then set out for Hollywood with the aim of fulfilling her dream of being a screenwriter. Rand did not find much success in Hollywood with her screenplay Red Pawn which was sold to Universal Studio's, eventually being dropped. Ayn Rand completed her first novel We the living in 1934 but was not published until 1936.

Objectivism : The Philosophy of Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand displayed her Philosophical views through her novels such as the famous Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. She also wrote non-fiction pieces of philosophy both through works like The Virtue of Selfishness and through The Objectivist Newsletter which ran from January 1962 to December 1965 when it was replaced by The Objectivist which was a monthly magazine which ran for several years, Rand often expanded her views in these non-fiction pieces.

The three axiom's of Objectivism proposed by Ayn Rand where fundamental too her view's on many other issue's and looked something like this.

1. Existence exists - Rand held that anyone that attempts to argue against this is just affirming the axiom of existence.

Once Ayn Rand had justified her view that this axiom was fundamentally solid and correct she said that this implied two further axioms. Which Rand proposed too be

2. Existence is Identity (Law of Identity) - To be is to be "an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes.That which has no attributes does not and cannot exist. Or as Ayn Rand wrote "A leaf cannot be all red and green at the same time, it cannot freeze and burn at the same time. A is A."

3. Axiom Of Consciousness - Ayn Rand held the belief that too be Conscious was to be conscious of something. That Objective Reality must exist before for there too be anything to conscious of. The mind can not simply be conscious of itself.

Ayn Rand holds the view that these axioms ''are at the base of knowledge and thus inescapable''. Particular interest is too be paid too the axiom Existence is Identity as this is the foundation of Objectivist epistemology.

Objectivist epistemology rejects all forms of Philosophical skepticism and that mans only way of gaining knowledge is through reason, which is the identification of the facts in reality. Objectivism also rejects faith and emotion as ways gaining knowledge. Though Ayn Rand recognizes that emotions where important in human beings, but she proposed emotions where a response to ideas that a person already held about reality and therefore could not be a way of achieving knowledge. This objectivist epistemology was of crucial importance too the rest of Ayn Rand's views on egoism, ethics and capitalism.

"I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows."

Rational Self Interest is the basis for Ayn Rand's ethical positions. Objectivism maintains that unlike other organisms we cannot just act automatically in accordance to natural instincts to survive and that we rely on reason for our survival and that we are own means to our ends. Ayn Rand also believed that in humans, who are conscious organisms, the motivation to pursue life is experienced as the pursuit of a conscious state - the pursuit of happiness. We are not born knowing what is good for us; that is learned. Nor are we born knowing how to achieve what is good for us, Rand proposes that it is by reason alone that we learn what is food and what is poison, what animals are useful or dangerous to us, how to make tools, what forms of social organization are fruitful, and so on. The moral person by Rand's account, is someone who acts and is committed to acting in his best self-interest. It is by living the morality of self interest that one survives, flourishes, and achieves happiness.

From this basis of rational self interest Ayn Rand build's her political philosophy which is in the classic liberal tradition with emphasis on individualism and the constitutional protection of individual rights to property, life and liberty. She showed great support for the views of Ludwig Von Mises and the Austrian school of economics and there belief in free markets without Government intervention.

Criticism of Objectivism
Objectivism has received particular widespread criticism compared with her contemporary's and this may be why Rand's position as a Philosopher is still a point of heated debate. Many people have presented Ayn Rand's ethical view's as monstrous and have heavily denounced them. The axiom's that are fundamental too Rand's other belief's have also come under fire from people especially the Axiom of Consciousness, these questions about Rand's fundamental axiom's brings her whole philosophy of Objectivism into question. People have also criticised adherence to Objectivism on psychological ground's with people claiming that a strong adherence to Objectivism can lead to repression, guilt and self alienation. The literary quality of her work has also been criticised with many people feeling that her work is somewhat cumbersome to read and that the characters feel static and dry, her novels received almost unanimously bad reviews when they where first published.

Influence of Rand's work
The exact influence of Rand's work is very hard to determine, she has been widely scorned by the Philosophy world but Rand has undoubtedly had a influence on a large number of people, all the works that where published during her lifetime are still in print and have sold more than twenty million copies. Polls conducted in 2007 estimate that 8% of American Adult's have read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Many people have citied Ayn Rand as influence on there on there life's such as Ron Paul and Alan Greenspan. Libertarian think tanks such as the CATO institute have been influenced significantly by Rand with the CATO institute stating that those holding the highest positions within the organisation are all Objectivists. Rand has been noteworthy for attracting many individuals to libertarianism, even though she had a deep dislike for libertarian's.

Books
Fiction

  • Night of January 16th (1934)
  • We the Living (1936)
  • Anthem (1938)
  • The Fountainhead (1943)
  • Atlas Shrugged (1957)


Non Fiction
  • For the New Intellectual (1961)
  • The Virtue of Selfishness (with Nathaniel Branden) (1964)
  • Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (with Nathaniel Branden, Alan Greenspan, and Robert Hessen) (1966)
  • Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (1967) (expanded second edition)
  • The Romantic Manifesto (1969)
  • The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (1971)
  • Philosophy: Who Needs It
Resources
Has Objectivism Gone Subjective http://web.archive.org/web/20020124040704/http://www.linguafranca.com/9909/rand.html

The Atlas Society http://www.atlassociety.org/

Ayn Rand Institute http://www.aynrand.org

The Project Gutenberg Etext of Anthem, by Ayn Rand http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext98/anthm10z.txt
 
MJA
 
Reply Thu 18 Dec, 2008 09:59 am
@RDanneskjld,
Thanks for the great intro to Ms Rand, I enjoyed reading it very much.

If I may say regarding who is a philosopher: Anyone who loves and tries to understand truth would be One. That would surely include Ms Rand, youself Mr. Dannesklold, as well as me.

And as for Objectivism: "A is A" can be reduced to something more fundamentally true, Simply "is".

Truth Is.

=
MJA

PS: Thanks again, I think I will read one of her books again, its been to long to remember them so.
 
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Reply Thu 18 Dec, 2008 12:53 pm
@RDanneskjld,
Another great intro. Keep it up!!
 
 

 
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