What's The Straight Dope on Objectivism?

I used to be roommates with a serious objectivist, and I even read The Fountainhead once upon a time (my first experience with a willing rape). I’ve read articles on the Internet, looked over Wikipedia, and talked to several objectivists. No matter what I try to say about it, they always seem adamant about the fact that I don’t understand it. “No - that’s really not what it’s about.”

I have heard it called adolescent. I have heard that the name “objectivism” has absolutely nothing to do with the word “objective.” I have heard that serious philosophers consider it to be a joke. I have heard that its most widely used as an outlet for homosexuality. I have taken several philosophy classes and it has never come up. So finally, I am asking: What is up with this philosophy? What are its values? What is its take on morality? What do they think about existence? They do think there is an “objective” reality, right? What are the key facets of this philosophy, and just what do “serious” (academic, professional) philosophers actually think about it? Please - don’t spin me around anymore. I want TSD!

It is an overblown excuse for selfishness, & a knee-jerk reaction to Communism.

It doesn’t deserve your time. Ignore it.

They don’t. When somebody brings it up, they tell them to come back when they’ve grown up. Objectivism is Philosophy for 13 year olds, and not-very-bright ones at that.

I’ll outline it for you. Just listen to your radio starting at 3:00 pm EST and ending at 9:00 pm EST.

Or I can boil it down here:

A is A. You’d agree to that right? A=A. Very simple. Therefore… hand-wavy hand-wavy Greed is good. Not only is it good in a self-preservation-lifts-all-boats capitalism sort of way. It is good because altruism is bad. Altruism supports people who just drain wealth from the gifted and productive. So, be greedy.

I have exactly the same appreciation of “objectivism”. Glad to know I’m not the only one.

None of these sound like GQ answers.

For the OP, I assume, of course, that you checked out Wikipedia’s entry. The primary nonfiction source for Objectivism is Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. The two largest organizations propounding Objectivism these days are the Ayn Rand Institute and The Objectivist Center.

I’d suggest if an adolescent is going to fixate on an overblown pseudo-philosophy, better it be objectivism than communism. It makes the transition into adulthood easier.

In the spirit of a more “objective” GQ answer: one of the primary reasons philosophers and others deride objectivism is precisely because objectivists think there is an “objective” reality. That is, objectivism totally ignores the interpretive effects of consciousness, disregards without argument philosophical skepticism, and generally has a very unsophisticated view of metaphysics and epistemology that ignores nearly all of the philosophical history that preceded it. Now, you may disagree with nearly all of contemporary philosophy. That’s fine. But to do so arrogantly and without any real argument means that your philosophy will receive the same treatment.

Gee, I’m glad everyone is sticking to facts and not just giving opinions…

No, that’s not quite right. Objectivism doesn’t consider altruism, per se, to be bad. It considers selflessness to be bad. There’s a difference. And of course “greed” and “selfishness” are not the same thing. Gordon Gekko wasn’t an objectivist. :wink:

That is simply not true. Objectivists do not ignore these issues. They believe that they have arguments that address them. Whether those arguments are correct is, of course, a subject properly examined in GD.

It is a true that, as far as most professional Philosophers are concerned, where the arguments of Objectivism are convincing, they are not original, and where they are original, they are not convincing.

Well, if you prefer, the objectivist reponse if not absent is at least shallow and often misconstrues the arguments it is responding to. I agree with your second paragraph, but I don’t see that it is inconsistent with the specific things I wrote. I am unaware of an objectivist response to philosophical skepticism. What is it?

Perhaps they are skeptical of it. :wink:

Maybe **Liberal **will pop into this thread-- I believe considers himself an objectivist and can probably best describe its arguments (even if he has his own brand of objetivism that he adheres to).

Well, was Ayn Rand’s reaction to communism “knee-jerk”? She wasn’t a John Birch Society xenophobe. She actually lived in the Soviet Union before escaping the the US. It is impossible to understand Ayn Rand’s obsessions without understanding this. Almost all of her work can be considered a rejoinder to the collectivist propaganda she saw.

And the example of a nation turning itself into an impoverished dictatorship all while loudly singing the praises of collectivism and sacrifice for the greater good has got to sour anybody on altruism. The “knee-jerk” accusation is completely unfair.

That isn’t to say that her actual philosophy or epistemology should or should not be taken seriously. Just that although Rand liked to imagine herself springing full grown from the brow of Zeus, the pyschological underpinnings of her formative years should be pretty obvious. And of course, she would despise anyone who attempted such an analysis. Read “We, The Living” for some semi-autobiographical insight. Of course, if you aren’t interested in Ayn Rand to begin with, there’s not much point in reading further.


I thought objectivism was just the belief that there are objective morals that apply universally to everyone, regardless of culture, etc.

So, while some objectivists might say “Communism is objectively bad” others might say “Communism is objectively good”.
Or does objectivism refer to something more specific?

Objectivism, capital “O”, refers to philosophy developed by Ayn Rand. I would say that she thinks there are objective morals, but I think Objectivism isn’t “just” that. Someone already linked to the wikipedia article, so you might want to read it.

The OP’s got me genuinely curious. The wiki article isn’t clear enough for me. Exactly on what grounds and points do philosophers dismiss her ideas on?

This is inaccurate. Objectivists believe that there is an objective reality which exists and has properties which universally exist. Our senses may be inadequate to see it, and our biases may distort our view of it, but that doesn’t change its fundamental nature. It’s the opposite of “it is whatever you think it is.”

I happen to agree with Objectivists on this point. Where I think Rand goes off the rails is when she tries to take this fundamental axiom (which is by her own admission very old, and not original with her), and spin a whole intricate ‘correct’ belief system out of it, complete with descriptions of what art you must like and which kinds of books you would find most enjoyable. She’s guilty of serious overreach.

This kind of overreach is usually the hallmark of an amateur - someone who knows a little about a subject, and with incomplete knowledge suddenly coming up with some grand unified scheme that ties everything together. The serious scholars delve into the difficult problems, while the amateurs skate around them in intricate patterns.

Objectivist metaphysics may be as simple as you claim (and obviously not new or at all part of what earns it such derision), but I think Objectivist epistemology makes more radical and indefensible claims than you allow.

But on the whole, I agree with your post. She takes a very old position, adds nothing to its defense, and then uses to create all kinds of non-sequiters. Which is what I tried to summarize with my first post in this thread.

[emphasis added]


Roark rapes Dominique, but she really wanted him to do it.

It’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s the Reader’s Digest version.