In Objectivism, Peikoff covers every philosophic topic that Rand regarded as important—from certainty to money, from logic to art, from measurement to sex. Drawn from Rand’s published works as well as in-depth conversations between her and Peikoff, these chapters illuminate Objectivism—and its creator—with startling clarity. With Objectivism, the millions of readers who have been transformed by Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead will discover the full philosophical system underlying Ayn Rand’s work.
This book should be read by anyone interested in philosophy (which is hopefully a wide as audience as possible). Even for those who don’t agree with her, this book will present her actual ideas, which is very rare when her name is brought up in discussions. Read it for yourself and make your own conclusions about her ideas and where she may have erred.
Rand held that existence is the perceptually self-evident fact at the base of all other knowledge, i.e., that “existence exists.” She further held that to be is to be something, that “existence is identity.” That is, to be is to be “an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes.”
That which has no nature or attributes does not and cannot exist. The axiom of existence is grasped in differentiating something from nothing, while the law of identity is grasped in differentiating one thing from another, i.e., one’s first awareness of the law of non-contradiction, another crucial base for the rest of knowledge. As Rand wrote,
“A leaf … cannot be all red and green at the same time, it cannot freeze and burn at the same time.
According to Rand, attaining knowledge beyond what is given in perception requires both volition (or the exercise of free will) and adherence to a specific method of validation through observation, concept-formation, and the application of inductive and deductive reasoning. For example, a belief in dragons, however sincere, does not mean reality contains any dragons. A process of proof identifying the basis in reality of a claimed item of knowledge is necessary to establish its truth
To form a concept, one mentally isolates a group of concretes (of distinct perceptual units), on the basis of observed similarities which distinguish them from all other known concretes (similarity is ‘the relationship between two or more existents which possess the same characteristic(s), but in different measure or degree’); then, by a process of omitting the particular measurements of these concretes, one integrates them into a single new mental unit: the concept, which subsumes all concretes of this kind (a potentially unlimited number). The integration is completed and retained by the selection of a perceptual symbol (a word) to designate it. “A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted
Objectivism includes an extensive treatment of ethical concerns. Rand wrote on morality in her works The Virtue of Selfishness, We the Living, and Atlas Shrugged. Rand defines morality as
“a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life
“there is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action… It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death…”
“Man’s mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not. His body is given to him, its sustenance is not. His mind is given to him, its content is not. To remain alive he must act and before he can act he must know the nature and purpose of his action. He cannot obtain his food without knowledge of food and of the way to obtain it. He cannot dig a ditch—or build a cyclotron—without a knowledge of his aim and the means to achieve it. To remain alive, he must think.”
In her novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, she also emphasizes the central importance of productive work, romantic love and art to human happiness, and dramatizes the ethical character of their pursuit. The primary virtue in Objectivist ethics is rationality, as Rand meant it “the recognition and acceptance of reason as one’s only source of knowledge, one’s only judge of values and one’s only guide to action.”