Ayn Rand for Dummies

Anyone feel like breaking down Ayn Rand’s philosophy for me? I would really like to figure her out, but most of her stuff tends to sail over my head, and I need someone to really break her down as if they are talking to a child. Anyone want to take a shot at it?

I tried to read Atlas Shrugged and was lost half the time. I’m going to try it again, but I was hoping for a little help before I dive back in.

I have already been roundly laughed at by several people for not being able to grasp it, so I am already jaded to that response. No one need even bother.

Ayn Rand would have LOVED Dick Cheney.
Oh, and she would have been good buddies with Karl Rove as well.

Slate recently posted a review of two new biographies, How Ayn Rand Became an American Icon, which gives some less-than-glowing information about the tenets and effects of Objectivism.

She used to blow Greenspan who swallowed everything she gave. He of course took the world economy to its knees, which somehow seems fitting.

Ayn for Dummies:

Conventional morality demands that you be completely selfless, devoting yourself entirely to the well-being of others. That’s ridiculous. Therefore, you should be an Objectivist and devote yourself entirely to your own well-being.

I can’t get the link to work.

Since this is a discussion of Rand’s philosophy, I think it will do better in Great Debates.

I’d just say it is “screw you pal, I got mine”.

Ayn Rand for Dummies.

Just take this colon : place it midway in the word count, and you’ve pretty much got it.

Sorry, forgot to test my link: How Ayn Rand Became an American Icon.

Philosophy isn’t an easy subject whether we’re talking about Objectivism or something else. I think it’s really crappy that someone would laugh at you for not being able to grasp some aspects of a particular philosophy. Philosophy is serious business and it takes a lot of people multiple readings for the lessons to sink in. I know I don’t get everything on the first reading. So, no, I won’t laugh at you. Kudos to you for making the effort to expand your horizons.

Rand is a rather controversial figure as you might have noticed. This prompts some people to post some pretty worthless garbage that offer nothing to the discussion. The Wikipedia entry on Objectivism is a pretty good place to start if you haven’t done so already. I think a lot of her critics get hung up on Rand’s idea of rational self-interest. The idea is basically that the primary moral obligation of an individual is to achieve his or her own well being.
Where a lot of people get confused is that this does not grant individual’s a license to do whatever they want to achieve their own well being. For example, it’s not ok to steal someone’s blanket just because you’re cold.

You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.

Putting all one’s intelligence and creativity towards advancing their own agenda is righteous. Everybody is responsible for their own lives.

The Dope isn’t a good place to ask, as shown by most of the replies.

No. But if you’ve got a proof of that hidden up your sleeve somewhere…

I’d recommend Wikipedia, too. Don’t waste your time with most of the posters here-- AR is reviled by too many folks on this MB.

Or, you could start with A=A and see where you get from there. :slight_smile:

I do need to get new glasses, but I could not help but chuckle at my misreading of the title that whitetho mentions, which I saw as “How Ayn Rand Became an American loon”. :smiley:

I appreciate the replies. I am at work right now and can’t really click the links and get all into it the way I want to, but I will get on it from home.

Odesio, to be fair, I dish it out as well as take it. I tend to hang out with some real assholes and we kind of have an understanding that we can give eachother some good natured ribbing. None of us are as educated as we would like to be, so it is all in good fun.

Yes–a lot of people who want to boil Rand’s philosophy down into a soundbite do get hung up on “she’s telling you it’s good to be selfish!” Yeah, “The Virtue of Selfishness” was a catchy title to sell books, but it’s more complicated than that. What she’s really advocating is the morality of rational self-interest: the idea that your primary motivator should be to advance your own values. Now, there’s a lot of debate about the morality of various values–but it’s human nature to want to take care of one’s self and one’s own. For example, if there were two children in a burning building and you could only save one (even if you chose to sacrifice your own life to do so), then Rand would argue that letting your own child die to save a stranger would be immoral. Similarly, giving money to a charity because you support the charity or value its work is moral in Rand’s view (she had no issue with voluntary charity–in fact, she was in favor of it, feeling that it, not the government, should be responsible for taking care of folks who needed help), while giving money due to guilt or coercion is immoral because it contradicts your values.

As **Odesio **pointed out, what a lot of people don’t realize (because they have gotten their views of Objectivism second-hand instead of actually reading Rand’s work) is that nowhere does she ever advocate the “I got mine, buddy, screw you!” viewpoint. That would be morally repugnant to her. In her view, people should interact as traders, assuming that each side has his or her own best interests in mind, but also that they will interact with each other honestly and fairly.

Yeah, I know, human nature doesn’t make that possible a lot of the time, and that’s part of why Objectivism doesn’t really work in the real world: there are too many greedy people out there who *do *only want to get as much as they can and screw everyone else. But that’s kind of beside the point. Whether it works in the real world isn’t the same as understanding how it’s *supposed *to work.

I’m not a Randroid–I see a lot of faults with Objectivism (especially as it relates to the real world instead of a theoretical black and white Rand-approved reality), but I have never encountered a persuasive argument that rational self-interest (even if broadly defined to mean “self and friends/family”–essentially one’s Monkeysphere) is anything but a completely logical way to live one’s life. Sacrificing your own values and those you care about out of some misguided sense of altruism doesn’t seem to me to be a very good or happy or moral way to live.

She believed that the greater good is served by each people acting “selfishly” Kind of like “greed is good” from Wall Street. To a certain degree it is true. I personally think that the market allows the wealthy to attract so much power that it can lead to bad results in some cases (especially in the short term) and that things like progressive taxation and public schools are needed to achieve better results for the median citizen.

She was an ideologue, but she made some good points that should be part of the decision on what the govt vs private balance should be.

ETA: much better said in post above.

The most common thing you’ll see when people talk about Ayn Rand’s philosophy is “A is A”. This is shorthand for “Existence exists, independent of the perceptions and biases of the viewer.” In other words, “wishing doesn’t make it so.” She objected to Immanuel Kant’s subjectivism, the belief that things can be whatever we perceive them to be. Instead, she believed that things are what they are, and our task is to use empiricism and our senses to discover them.

This can be summed up as: Metaphysics: objective reality

From that axiom, she derives her epistemology. Man’s tools for discovering and understanding the details of the universe are his senses and reason, and the tools of logic. You could not discover reality through religious experience. There is no God, there are only people with brains attempting to understand the objective world around them.

This can be summed up as: ** Epistemology: Reason**

For man to be able to use reason, he must have freedom. Freedom to think and communicate whatever he wants. Freedom of thought, of expression. Man must also have the right to keep the fruits of his labor and be able to benefit or suffer based on his actions.

Rand did not believe that it’s wrong to help others. She felt that altruism was wrong. Altruism defined as the belief that it is more moral to help others than to help yourself.

In other words, if I donate to the Heart Foundation because I believe they do good work and are helping build a better world for my children and they espouse values I support, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if I am told that I MUST help the Heart Foundation because otherwise I am greedy and selfish and immoral, that is wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with living your life in a way that promotes your own happiness. No one has a claim on you.

A logical reason for this is that a system where everyone looks after their own interests is better than one in which everyone looks after someone else’s interests, because the individual is the best judge of what he or she needs. Adding a layer of indirection by making everyone responsible for everyone else just muddies the waters and removes the incentive and ability for people to use their minds in the most effective way. She ties the right to self interest with the exercise of reason. She hated hedonism, for example.

This can be summed up as: Ethics: Rational Self-Interest

So given that the ‘correct’ behavior of man is to use his intellect to improve his own life and to improve society by promoting his own values, it follows that the proper form of government is one which recognizes the supremacy of individual rights, including the right to create and sell products and services, choose who he wants to do business with and on what terms, and to benefit or be punished by objective reality based on the decisions he makes. Out of this comes the need for a government that enshrines free markets, freedom of thought and expression, absolute property rights, and the right to life for the benefit of oneself and not be a chattel of the state or of others.

This can be summed up as: Economics: Laissez Faire Capitalism

That’s a very short, very broad outline of what she believed.

She was a atheist, which is something that most right wing people who like to hawk her ideas like to gloss over.

Her parents had to flee Russian when the communists came. So she was very very very anti-communist. But, I feel, from reading a few of her books, that this lead her to hate any government program that helped poor people because it was socialism and socialism is next to communism and the commies killed my dad! (ok it is a simplistic view of her work, but it’s been years since I read it.)

I thought her writing was OK if you skip the chapter where a character would go on a chapter long rant to spell out her point in case you weren’t getting it.