Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Brief Introduction to Objectivism

By Diana Hsieh

Given that today is Modern Paleo's first day of Saturday blogging on Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, I wanted to introduce that philosophy. Since it's already past 11 pm, I'll be doing so briefly -- and mostly though Ayn Rand's own words.

In a short column entitled "Introducing Objectivism," Ayn Rand described her philosophy while "standing on one foot" as follows:

1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality
2. Epistemology: Reason
3. Ethics: Self-interest
4. Politics: Capitalism
She then described those four points in slightly more detail.
1. Reality exists as an objective absolute--facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes, or fears.

2. Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses) is man's only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.

3. Man--every man--is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.

4. The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man's rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.
As stated, these principles seem quite simple. Yet to really understand them -- to see why they're true and how they impact our lives -- requires some serious study and reflection. That can be fun -- and hugely rewarding -- but it's not a snap.

So what if you'd like to dig into Objectivism a bit deeper? I recommend that you start by reading Ayn Rand's novels, particularly The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.
Then move to her philosophical essays, collected in various anthologies. (I'd recommend something like this order... but mostly, you should read on topics that most interest you.)
After that, you can check out the resources listed on MP's Objectivism Page. That should keep you busy for a while!

Finally, I want to reiterate what I wrote about the relationship between Objectivism Objectivism and the paleo approach to health on the home page of Modern Paleo. I wrote:
As a philosophy, Objectivism is silent on scientific questions about nutrition, fitness, and health. On the distinction between philosophy and science, Ayn Rand wrote:
Philosophy studies the fundamental nature of existence, of man, and of man's relationship to existence. As against the special sciences, which deal only with particular aspects, philosophy deals with those aspects of the universe which pertain to everything that exists. In the realm of cognition, the special sciences are the trees, but philosophy is the soil which makes the forest possible. (Philosophy: Who Needs It, 2)
We [meaning the contributors to MP] regard Objectivism as compatible with a paleo approach to nutrition, fitness, and health. Yet we recognize that most Objectivists do not eat a paleo diet, just as most paleo diet advocates are not Objectivists. We're happy to forge our own path to secure our life, health, and happiness. That's what it means to be human.
And now... my own self-interest demands that I go to bed!

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