“”Conspicuous by their absence from Rand's list of virtues are the “virtues of benevolence,” such as kindness, charity, generosity, and forgiveness.
|—Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy|
“”How do you read fiction and come up with a political philosophy? It's fiction!
Objectivism is a "philosophy" formulated by novelist Ayn Rand. It has various tenets, but is best known for defining self-interest as a moral virtue. As one might imagine, Objectivism is very popular amongst those who hold a me-first view of the world. It lets them say, "Hey, I'm not being a selfish jerk, I'm following a philosophy!"
Objectivism has not met wide acceptance in academia. When they bother to comment on it at all, academic philosophers usually dismiss it as a rather juvenile imitation of a real philosophy. It is nevertheless very popular, and informs the beliefs of a great many libertarians and assorted whackjobs. Although it shares some beliefs with conservatism, it has not had much influence on that branch of politics due to its radical, anti-traditional, atheist nature; see, for example, Whittaker Chambers's criticisms of Atlas Shrugged. Objectivism introduces religious elements that were previously accessible to atheists only via some forms of communism, viz., an inability to define any non-self-serving epistemology and a violent idiocy on the part of believers. It was called Objectivism because, as Rand was the single smartest person in the history of the world, anything she said had to be objective.
Objectivism has some life outside Rand's shadow. While its largest faction is represented by the Ayn Rand Institute, led by Rand's
pet chihuahua intellectual heir Leonard Peikoff, an "open" faction exists outside Rand's circle, led by David Kelley and his group, The Atlas Society. The debate over how much of Objectivism is dependent on Rand's writings and how far it can go beyond that is a fierce one that has engendered numerous purges and bitter catfights over the years. Although it may not be striking, there is a difference between what people consider the philosophy of Objectivism to be today and Ayn Rand's personal life four decades ago. No greater example of this can be seen than in the bitch-fighting between the Ayn Rand Institute and the Atlas Society.
Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican candidate for Vice President, told a meeting of the Atlas Society, "I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are and what my beliefs are. It's inspired me so much that it's required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff." A few years later Ryan, a practicing Catholic, was served a stinging letter signed by numerous theologians and Jesuit priests, who took him to task for his "misuse of Catholic teaching to defend [his] budget plan," stating:
Rand summed up her philosophy with the following principles:
“”To exist is to be something, as distinguished from the nothing of nonexistence.
|—Galt Speech, Atlas Shrugged|
As a philosophy, Objectivism addresses the nature of reality, although not in a terribly original way.
Objectivism holds that reality is separate from human consciousness; no matter what a person might want to believe, a thing in reality will always be what it is with no room for subjectivity regarding its nature. The idea is supposedly based on the law of identity, A is A, which Rand ripped off of Aristotle — the only one of her rip-offs that she acknowledged. Unfortunately, its epistemological assertions (yes, this belongs in metaphysics) that anything can be known to arbitrary precision, contradicts modern physics (see Heisenberg's uncertainty principle), which some Objectivists have decried as being based on "Kantian assumptions." The Objectivist conception of causality rules out the possibility of "chance" events, meaning that everything has a cause, having ignored David Hume's destruction of causality as an analytic statement or Aristotle's prime mover (logical inconsistency is kept beautifully consistent by Rand. This leads Objectivism into problematic territory when it comes to quantum mechanics (see below). Objectivism views free will as a cause, and so is not deterministic on that issue.
“”Treat as potential killers those specimens of insolent depravity who make demands upon you, announcing that they have and seek no reasons, proclaiming, as a license, that they 'just feel it' — or those who reject an irrefutable argument by saying: 'It's only logic,' which means: 'It's only reality.'
|—Galt Speech, Atlas Shrugged|
“”There is one word that is forbidden in this valley: the word 'give.'
Objectivism holds, basically, that everyone should live by their own effort, neither accepting gifts from others nor giving them, as both actions are considered moral weaknesses. It attempts to apply the principles of laissez-faire to right and wrong. For Rand the individual’s life has supreme value and self-interest determines ethics. Therefore, Objectivism holds that all forms of altruism are irrational and immoral, even if they are done voluntarily. For example, they consider Mother Teresa immoral (just like Christopher Hitchens did, although for different reasons).
In situations like the Prisoner's dilemma each objectivist will try to benefit at the expense of the other and both will lose out. Rational individuals in prisoner's dilemma type positions should see cooperation and altruism is the better strategy. Different people’s self-interest frequently conflict and it is in our long term self-interest to act altruistically. There will be times when we need other people to act altruistically towards us. Not only this but it keeps no account of public goods or externalities or the fact that property is extremely hard to define. 
The closest known relative to Objectivism is the Sith Code, which also sees giving to and loving other human beings as irrational. Mercy and humility are also frowned upon, and Rand went to lengths to alter the definitions of these words to prove it. There is a major contradiction in Objectivist ethics: each person, according to Rand, is correct in believing that he or she is the only thing of value in the world. Logically, there cannot be more than one sole source of value -- but Rand's followers barely ever use logic, anyway.
“”The source of property rights is the law of causality.
|—Galt Speech, Atlas Shrugged|
Objectivism holds that free-market capitalism is superior to any other economic system, partially because it holds property rights to be grounded in reason, and partially because capitalism is held to be the only system in which it is possible for laws to be objective (because there is only one law allowed, aka. "Don't Touch My Stuff"). Objectivist politics either disregard or are unaware of the iron law of institutions. In the case of the economy, this law states that when not constrained by regulation, people or corporations will gain money and influence at the expense of the economy as a whole (e.g., Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, AIG, Fannie Mae... the list goes on).
 Conflicts with science
 Quantum physics and relativity
Some Objectivists like David Harriman and Leonard Peikoff actually seem to have a problem with modern physics, especially quantum mechanics due to its probabilistic nature. The breakdown of classical mechanics-style causality at the quantum level doesn't square with Rand's vision of causality. This has led to declarations by Objectivists that modern physics is "corrupted" or "tainted" by a "Kantian influence" and "bad philosophy" in general, in addition to various crank "refutations" of quantum physics and denial of some theories like Relativity (which was Petr Beckmann's specialty).
 Realism in psychology
Rand's notion that we can observe reality directly (known in philosophy as direct or naïve realism) is refuted by the current consensus in neuroscience, psychology, and the cognitive sciences (which accepts various forms of indirect or representative realism). In the cognitive sciences, raw input is called "bottom-up perception" and the way the brain interprets this input is called "top-down perception." The visual, auditory, etc. cortices essentially "reconstruct" the input from their respective sense organs, meaning there is always some element of top-down interpretation of raw stimuli. Thus, we do not experience reality directly but in some sense a perceptual facsimile of reality constructed by the brain. A simple example of this is the fact that the image formed on your eye's retina is upside-down, but the visual cortex flips it right-side up. There are numerous other examples as well, including hallucinations and cognitive illusions.
Ayn Rand also expressed doubts about the validity of the theory of evolution. Indeed, while Objectivism itself shares much in common with Social Darwinism, what she didn't like (that is, that according to the evolutionary theory, there is no real difference between human beings and animals, or that it might dilute or downplay personal responsibility) reminds of other right-wing criticisms of evolution.
 Environmental science
Because the magic of the free market can solve any problem, capitalism cannot cause environmental damage. And even if it did, nobody owns the environment, so caring about it would be immoral! Thus, anti-environmentalism is a common position among Randroids and they promote the usual associated pseudoscience and denialism on issues such as DDT, acid rain, and global warming. Rand herself was also known for denying the link between smoking and cancer, then got a good taste of karma after being treated for lung cancer in 1974.
 Strange definitions
“”'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.'
Objectivists commonly take a word, change its meaning to fit their needs, and then complain that no one else is using their definitions. This has often led to confusion in debates, as neither side knew that they were both speaking two different languages.
Some commonly warped words include:
- Altruism: The Objectivist definition is "...that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value." It's based mainly upon Auguste Comte's (who coined the term "altruisms") definition of altruism: "Self-sacrifice for the benefit of others." Translated from the jargon, Rand is trying to say that "altruism" is acting like a doormat and only working for others without consideration of one's own needs. Naturally, few people have such a view on life; even fewer do who actually practice it, and at that point only do to get something in return. In normal-speak, altruism is simply acting to benefit humanity. Like most straw men, the "Altruist" movement feared by Randroids cannot defend itself because it doesn't exist. While Comte did advocate something like this ("live for others"), people declined to obey his dictum.
- Mercy: Leonard Peikoff defined mercy as "unearned forgiveness." This basically means that if your enemy is on the battlefield, unarmed, and begging for mercy, it would be immoral to let him live. In this sense Objectivism is diametrically opposed to the Christian concept of salvation by unmerited grace.
- Reason: This one has actually at least two different meanings in Objectivist writings. One is pretty close to the usual meaning of the term. But Objectivism also argues that you must use your reason in order to be happy, which is kinda like trying to open your garage door with your driver's license. In this second, shifted ethical/political sense, it then roughly means "absence of ethical concerns regarding one's decisions." Outside the Objectivist funhouse, people who have no concern for the ethics of their decisions are called "sociopaths."
- Mind: The mind is an essential part of Rand's justification of property rights. Alas, her argumentation is weird (it's basically bad Locke) and ends up bearing almost no relationship with the usual concept of mind. Also, taxation and redistribution are "mind enslavement," apparently. To avoid such peculiar, loaded rhetoric, many other libertarians such as Nozick rather argue in terms of "self-property" than "mind," the idea being the same but less hypocritical.
- Evil: Because of the Objectivist ethical system, this word is given a meaning that is at least slightly different from everyday use. But Rand also used it to disparage thinkers she disagreed with, solely on the basis of their philosophical ideas. And then Randians complain that she isn't taken seriously by academia.
 Wacky positions
Many Objectivists, at least during Ayn Rand's lifetime, more than three decades ago, held that cigarette smoking is a moral obligation.
Objectivism's views on art and music tend to reflect Rand's own personal tastes, seriously constructing a philosophical basis in which the art and music Rand liked is moral, while anything else is not. One wonders what some of them think of Rush (the band), whose drummer Neil Peart wrote lyrics inspired by Rand but whose music was clearly not of the type approved by the ever-so-rational Miss Rand, even though she was alive when Rush were making their best, most heroic, and most individualism-celebrating music.
Just for lulz and to confuse people (including her dim-witted intellectual heir), Ayn Rand decided she didn't like libertarians and declared that they plagiarized her ideas when it suited them and besmirched her name when it didn't.
A criticism of Ayn Rand so obvious it's really kind of impressive that anyone follows her is based around a quote we already mentioned above:
“”There is one word that is forbidden in this valley: the word 'give.'
Again, Ayn Rand holds the position that it is immoral to give, or to receive aid to another of any kind. She explains this in an interview in 1959, where she specifically says that man must not live for others, and that altrusim is immoral.
This can be criticized on several grounds. Firstly, this means that it is immoral to be a child, or to raise a child, since a child requires constant attention and aid from the parents. This probably explains why Rand never had children, and also means that if the human species adopted this, we would be gone after one generation. Another criticism is that we are more-or-less not evolved to think this way. Aside from her strange definition of altruism, Rand would take a low position on evolutionary ethics, which is essentially the idea that we are evolved to act in the interest of the group as much as ourselves. This is why most people, cultures, and ethical systems don't consider self-sacrifice to be immoral, although Randian philosophy says that it is.
A stunning example of this problem, especially if you're Finnish, is the case of Simo Hayha. Hayha was a sniper in the Finnish White Army during the Winter War against the Soviet Red Army who killed 505 enemies, survived temperatures as low as -40C and numerous attempts to kill him both by carpet bombing and by assaults of infantry and mechanized units. The actions of Hayha were instrumental in preventing the Finnish from losing the Winter War, which prevented them from being taken over by the Soviets. When asked to explain actions like these (partly since actions like these happened in Atlas Shrugged) Randroids respond with a rather dehumanizing, and frankly insulting, response that the person is not acting out of group interest, but is instead expecting to survive and is trying to gain self-respect or popularity.
But alas, if he didn't care enough to do such a thing Finland would have gone Red. And ol' Ayn wouldn't have liked that, would she.
 See also
- Neo-Tech, one of Objectivism's loony-fringe offshoots.
- The video game Bioshock, whose setting is an Objectivist "utopia" gone horribly wrong. It contains so many Ayn Rand references that it may as well be considered a re-write of Atlas Shrugged, but as some would hold, far more realistic. Discounting the Splicers, Plasmids, and Giant men in diving suits protecting little girls that is. At the very least, it is far more fun.
- LaVeyan Satanism, which is essentially Ayn Rand in a goat mask.
- ARI Watch
- The Atlasphere (Find the Randroid of your dreams!)
- Objectivism forums discuss "the RationalWiki" - apparently they don't like us either. (Note the lengthy and pointless catfight over the meaning of "skepticism.")
- Criticisms of Objectivism
- Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature - A blog dedicated to refuting Objectivism
- The Unlikeliest Cult in History, Skeptic article by Michael Shermer that appears as a chapter in his book Why People Believe Weird Things
- Massimo Pigliucci: About Objectivism Part I: Metaphysics, Part II: Epistemology, Part III: Ethics, Part IV: Politics
- Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality, e-book by John Scott Ryan
- ↑ The Green Room with Paul Provenza – Season 2, Episode 4
- ↑ But this might be an example of psychological projection, as many academics also have a problem understanding the importance of matching socks.
- ↑ http://www.nationalreview.com/flashback/flashback200501050715.asp
- ↑ The Atlas Society versus Ayn Rand Institute
- ↑ Is Paul Ryan for or against Ayn Rand? CNN.com, August 14, 2012.
- ↑ 
- ↑ Causality, Ayn Rand lexicon
- ↑ The Ineffable Carrot and the Infinite Stick An atheist's view of morality
- ↑ http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2008/10/23/greenspan.html
- ↑ See David Harriman's lecture The Crisis in Physics and Its Cause as well as Peikoff's Weird Science.
- ↑ There is, of course, debate in these fields as to the exact implications of these phenomena on the philosophy of mind, however, they tend to flatly reject the naïve form of realism. Perception and Hallucination by Charles McCreery provides further explanation and counterexamples. See also Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature's series The Cognitive Revolution and Objectivism for more criticisms relating to psychology.
- ↑ Ayn Rand and Evolution
- ↑ Ayn Rand Institute on evolution
- ↑ Reject Environmentalism, Not DDT, ARI
- ↑ Against Environmentalism, ARI
- ↑ Altruism, aynrandlexicon.com
- ↑ Definitions of altruism from the philosopher who coined the term.
- ↑ The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult, Murray Rothbard
- ↑ Why don't more Objectivists love the rock band Rush?
- ↑ Rush - 2112 - Live 1976 - Part 1 of 2
- ↑ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ooKsv_SX4Y
- ↑ This tactic is generally applied to any act of kindness. For example, saving your children from being hit by a car by throwing yourself in front of it is only moral because of your selfish desire to have your children live on, rather than concern for their own lives. It's essentially the objectivist version of Goddidit.
- ↑ See the Wikipedia article on LaVeyan Satanism.