Rand’s Theories Dont Hold Water) Essay, Research Paper
No thinker, perhaps, has had more influence upon contemporary libertarians than the novelist and non-academic philosopher, Ayn Rand. For that reason alone, she deserves attention; however, many of her arguments have been misunderstood, misrepresented or ignored. As George Smith has commented, ?there has appeared relatively little in the way of competent reflection of Ayn Rand as a philosopher. Accounts?written by [her] admirers are frequently eulogistic and uncritical, where as accounts written by her antagonists are often hostile and, what is worse, embarrassingly inaccurate (Reeb 607).? Although researchers have discovered that parts of her objectivist theory are plausible, academic scholars avoid paying serious attention to her work due the fictional manner in which she first displayed her theory and its hypocritical and often nonsensical content.
Ayn Rand?s theory of objectivism is described as a philosophy for living on earth which is an integrated system of thought that defines abstract principles by which a man must think and act if he is to live the life proper to man (Rand 1961 57). The basic principals of her theory include metaphysics, epistemology, human nature, ethics, politics and esthetics (57).
The metaphysical argument aims to show that valuing depends in fact on life or, more precisely, that it depends on life as a conditional response (Rand 1962 54). Because of such dependence, it is only living beings that either do or can have goals. Ayn Rand further discussed this portion of her theory in her long essay ?Man?s Rights.?
The source of man?s rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A?Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man?s nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgement, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being (Reeb 201)?.
In addition, it follows the idea of ?esthetics? and groups her as a (self-proclaimed) ?romantic realist (Rand 1990 187).? She feels that her novels are written in reference to her “metaphysical? beliefs of the world (187). Art is only art if it creates or shows the artist’s view of reality. Thus, her entire theory finds basis in the one presumption of reality.
Furthermore, epistemology claims that the only way to gain knowledge is through reason (45). ?Man?s reason is fully competent to know the facts of reality (45). Reason, the conceptual faculty, is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man?s senses (46). Reason is man?s only means of acquiring knowledge,? explains Rand in her book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology(46). Following along a similar train of thought is human nature. She describes rationality as the only means of survival, yet each person must exercise individual selection (46). In Atlas Shrugged, John Galt portrays this theory best. He believes that man is a rational being who has complete control over his fate. Otherwise, you are “spending your life in apologies to every professional cannibal (Rand 1957 957).” In other words, a primary factor in objectivism is ?free will.? Rand also claims ?Man is a being of volitional consciousness,? in the Epistemology book (87).
Next portion of her theory is ethics, in which she once again enforces rationality as man?s basic virtue and explains that his three basic values are: reason, purpose and self-esteem (Rand 1962 103). Every man should theoretically live for himself, never sacrificing himself to others (103). Thus rejecting altruism as a common goal?the claim that morality finds basis in assisting others in need. John Galt best displays Ayn Rand?s unyeilding position, “. . .but if devotion to the truth is the hallmark of morality, then there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking (Rand 1957 566).?
Such fundamental laws of morality, that one is never justified in initiating the use of force against others has been adopted as the basic Principle of the Libertarian Party and thus is an intrinsic part of objectivism (Rand 1960 308). This is an illuminating version of the Moral Law in that it highlights an aspect of morality, politics, and law often overlooked: That they are about the justification of the use of force. People who casually toss around ideas about what should and should not be allowed in society, or what restrictions should be put on property rights, often don’t seem to be aware that they are talking about sending men with guns, against people who may not be willing to comply with them. Thus, since it has not seemed wise to many to “allow” people to harm themselves by freely using drugs, people have shown themselves willing to harm the uncooperative by denying them various rights and privileges of citizenship in addition to the natural penalties, such as they may be, of drug use–in short, by ruining their lives in retribution for disobeying “society.” Rand believes that the long term ramifications behind such conduct should be enough to control the population (304).
The later part of her theory is her political ideology. She finds strength in laissez-faire capitalism (Rand 1962 185). Men should interact with each other in mutual consent; each gaining benefit in a common exchange (185). This follows the rest of her theory by rejecting conformity and collectivism (185).
Ayn Rand overtly used her theory in her books which brings about two fatal flaws in terms of popularizing objectivism: her characters become littler more than a transport for her ideals, and her principles are shattered because of the hyperbole used in her fiction.
It is revealing that as Rand refined her idea of the heroic personality from the Howard Roark of The Fountainhead to John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, the type became steadily drained of personality. Galt seems little better than a robotic mouthpiece of merciless ideology. Howard Roark was already peculiar enough, since he would just sit staring at the phone while waiting for work (no less, for days at a time) (Rand 1943 607). He might at least have read magazines or succumbed to building ?typical,? skyscrapers. Subsidiary characters, like Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart, possess something more like real personalities. This deadness of such central characters is an excellent warning that Rand had passed beyond a desire for mere human beings as her ideals. Thus, when psychologists scrutinize her theory, they recognize the story as an unhelpful bit of falseness with which she burdened her case for capitalism.
Randian theories were was deemed unworthy of attention because her views were developed and expressed not in dissertations, but in novels and ?later?in articles in which philosophical discussion converged with cultural commentary and political advocacy. Since her stories are fictional, so far as this is the case, it is left to the reader to judge the psychological and social plausibility of dramatizations of her principles and their alternatives. Her writing style clearly utilizes both rhetoric and hyperbole to make the stories more accessible to readers (which was not necessarily true; The Fountainhead was turned down by 12 publishers). For example, in Atlas Shrugged, Rand obscured historical realities to reinforce her argument and once again exaggerated the situation.
Thus, the Taggart Railroad of the novel, the central setting, may strike someone with an average knowledge of American history as the kind of thing that never existed. Most people know that the transcontinental railroads were built with federal subsidies and federal land grants, (which is ironic within itself. Rand?s theory detests public aid, in other words, altruism) (Hornebrook 15). They may also know that such railroads were tangled up in hopelessly corrupt, politicized financial schemes and in the end were so badly run and managed that they all (Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, & Northern Pacific) went bankrupt in the Panic of 1893 (15). It takes somewhat better knowledge to know about James J. Hill, who built his own transcontinental railroad, the Great Northern, without public subsidies or land grants and often with the political opposition and obstructionism of the rival Northern Pacific and its political backers (15). Some of Rand’s stories about the Taggart, for instance the challenge of building a Mississippi bridge, seem to have been inspired by real incidents in the building of the Great Northern (15). Unlike the other transcontinentals, Hill’s railroad was financially sound; and after they went bankrupt, he was able to buy the Northern Pacific and also the Burlington. Hill, sadly, had to end his days furious and frustrated with the ignorant manipulations of the Interstate Commerce Commission. By merely fictionalizing Hill, Rand did not help combat the standard, biased history of American railroads. Her informal and inductive ideas draw from the central concept of her theme.
After understanding her theory and reasons why it was never heeded, there are additional, equivocal flaws that most readers should discover. She devoutly defended rational self-interest in ethics and of laissez-faire capitalism (which is quite distant from the mainstream consensus) (Rand 1962 157).
Rand?s case for libertarian rights consists of two phases. The first argues for a variety of ethical egoism, that is, for the position that each person?s actions should be directed to the promotion of that person?s rational interests (Howard Roark?s utilitarian style and John Galt?s devotion to morality). The second aims to demonstrate or exhibit a connection between egoism and rights.
Despite this edifying emphasis placed on learning from your own mistakes, Rand’s moral principle is clearly incomplete. The first argument would prove that Ayn Rand either didn?t think through her theory or is completely insensitive. First, it makes no provision for ?privileges of necessity,? which means it would be morally acceptable to let a drowning person die or a starving person starve even if it would present no burden or difficulty to rescue them (Rand 1990 83). No use of force would be involved, simply a wrong of omission.
The second problem with the principle is that it leaves issues of property rights entirely undefined. Is stealing someone’s unattended luggage at an airport a moral wrong? It involves no obvious use of “force” against the victim’s person. Therefore, if “force” is to mean any unauthorized action against property, property rights must be independently defined. Decisions in that area, however, can be no logical consequence of Rand’s moral principle.
Why do objectivists think that egoism coheres with the principle that individuals are ends in themselves? Well, because they only look at one side of it: they see that egoism means that the justification of one?s own actions is always that they serve themselves. One?s actions do not need to serve others. However, the other side of the coin is that other people’s actions or inactions need take no account of the good of others and in fact would be wrong to do so. If egoism is true, others will regard my life as merely a potential resource serving them, just as they should regard everything in the world. My next door neighbor therefore views my life as only good insofar as it helps him. While this result sounds paradoxical, perhaps even contradictory, it is justly drawn from the theory. What matters to each person is solely what serves that person’s interests.
Perhaps her greatest irony is her determination to prove egoism as an essential part of Objectivism. Rand blatantly said that those who depend on others for their support ?are parasites incapable of survival, who exist by destroying those who are capable (Reeb 67).? She seems to overstate the case since dependence is not destruction and if it were, she herself would be useless. It would prove for instance, that no one should depend on farmers for food, or the most hypocritical point, writers for entertainment. Her job in itself refutes her own point. A writer sustains himself on the paper that paper makers create and the assumption that the general public will buy his book. Furthermore, it would refute capitalism. Anyone who is a ?jack-of-all-trades,? has no need to use ?their capital? to make exchanges.
The primary problem with her argument is that realism can not always be determined. There are two types of thought: empirical knowledge and priori (Glenn 73). Empirical knowledge is either an observation or is justified by observations. Priori knowledge is that which is not empirical (73). Objectivists subscribe to empirical knowledge, however, anything that is empirical, needs to be proceeded by proiri thought(73). In order to observe any even (empirical knowledge) one must first theorize about the event (priori knowledge)(73). Thus, objectivists would like to try abstain from using priori thought, but in order to create empirical thought, a rationalist must use priori thought.
Probably the most controversial parts of Objectivism are the following five claims: reality is objective, one should always follow reason and never think or act contrary to reason, moral principles are also objective and can be known through reason, every person should always be selfish and finally capitalism is the only just social system (Reeb 30). It is in holding to these five propositions that Rand’s philosophy most contrasts with the prevailing philosophical attitudes of our culture. Our current intellectual culture is shot through with collectivism, irrationalism, and subjectivism. However, intellectual culture would agree that her theory is rational except that a society could never survive with egoism running rampant. Finally, her claims were in the form of fiction, which quite simply, would not hold water in a public court, nor in the minds of great thinkers.
Glenn, Paul J. The History of Philosophy: A Text Book for Undergraduates. London: Herder Books, 1948.
Hornebrook, Christopher. Literature Fallacies. New York: The Haworth Press, 1983.
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shurgged. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc, 1957.
Rand, Ayn. For The New Intellectual. New York: Penguin Books, 1961.
Rand, Ayn. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. New York: Penguin Group, 1990.
Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. New York: Penguin Books USA, 1943.
Rand, Ayn. The Virtues of Selfishness. New York: Penguin Books, 1961.
Reeb, Ryan. Ayn Rand The Objectivist. California: Palo Alto Book Service, 1966.