Criticisms of Objectivism (Ayn Rand)

Criticisms of Objectivism (Ayn Rand)

Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism has received criticism from academic philosophers and other intellectuals, distinct from criticisms of the related Objectivist movement.


Rand's ideas have largely been ignored or harshly criticized by academics. Rand's work was described as "fiercely anti-academic" by journalist Scott McLemee,cite web | last = McLemee | first = Scott | url = | title = The Heirs Of Ayn Rand: Has Objectivism Gone Subjective? | date = September 1999 | accessdate = 2007-07-20] and as a collection of "non-mainstream philosophical works".cite this quote In the words of David Sidorsky, professor of moral and political philosophy at Columbia University, Objectivism is "more of an ideological movement than a well-grounded philosophy". [cite news | last = Harvey | first = Benjamin | url = | title = Ayn Rand at 100: An 'ism' struts its stuff |publisher = Rutland Herald | date = 2005-05-15 | accessdate = 2007-07-20]

The problem of universals

Rand's claim to have solved the problem of universals has been disputed by critics.context needed Scott Ryan asserts that Rand has misapprehended the problem; that the genuine problem of universals is an ontological issue regarding whether attributes are identically present in diverse contexts. Ryan claims there are exactly two answers: realism, which posits that some universals do exist, and nominalism, which claims they do not. Ryan says that no third way is possible, and that Rand's discussion of concept-formation, which she proposed as her solution in her "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" (1979), [cite book | last = Rand | first = Ayn | title = Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Expanded 2nd Edition | year = 1990 | isbn = 0-452-01030-6 ] does not address this question. [Ryan, Scott. "Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality", Writers Club Press (2003), ISBN 0-595-26733-5]

Theoretical content

Objectivism holds that reality exists independent from consciousness; that individual persons are in contact with this reality through sensory perception; that human beings can gain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation; that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness or "rational self-interest"; that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights, embodied in pure, consensual "laissez-faire" capitalism; and that the role of art in human life is to transform man's widest metaphysical ideas, by selective reproduction of reality, into a physical form — a work of art — that one can comprehend and respond to.cite book | last = Peikoff | first = Leonard | title = Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand | publisher = Meridian | year = 1993 | isbn = 978-0452011014 ]

Academic philosophers have generally dismissed Rand's ideas, and "Atlas Shrugged" in particular, as sophomoric, preachy, and unoriginal, [Citation
last = Tisdale
first = Sara Dabney
title = A Celebration of Self
newspaper = U.S. News & World Report
pages = p. 72
year = 2007
date = August 13
url =
] and they have marginalized her philosophy. [Citation
last = Karlin
first = Rick
title = Ayn Rand Followers Push on Objectivists Reflect the Philosophy Found in 'The Fountainhead'
newspaper = The Times Union (Albany, NY)
pages = p. C1
year = 1994
date = August 26

A notable exception to the general lack of attention paid to Objectivism in academic philosophy is the essay "On the Randian Argument" by Harvard University philosopher Robert Nozick, which appears in his collection, "Socratic Puzzles" (1997). [Nozick, Robert, "On the Randian Argument," in "Socratic Puzzles", Harvard University Press, 1997, pp. 249-264] Nozick is sympathetic to Rand's political conclusions, but does not think her arguments justify them. In particular, his essay criticizes her foundational argument in ethics — laid out most explicitly in her book "The Virtue of Selfishness" — which claims that one's own life is, for each individual, the ultimate value because it makes all other values possible. [cite book | title="The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism" | last=Rand | first=Ayn |coauthors=Branden, Nathaniel | year=1964 | publisher=New American Library | city=New York] Nozick states that to make this argument sound one needs to explain why someone could not rationally prefer dying and thus having no values. Thus, he argues, her attempt to defend the morality of selfishness is essentially an instance of begging the question. Nozick also argues that Rand's solution to David Hume's famous is-ought problem is unsatisfactory.

Raymond Boisvert, a philosophy professor at Siena College, has opined that Rand's theories are out of sync with the complex interrelationships and interconnected systems of modern life. [Citation
last = Karlin
first = Rick
author-link =
last2 =
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title = Ayn Rand Followers Push on Objectivists Reflect the Philosophy Found in 'The Fountainhead'
newspaper = The Times Union (Albany, NY)
pages = p. C1
year = 1994
date = August 26
url =


Murray Rothbard,cite web | title="The Sociology of the Ayn Rand cult." |last=Rothbard |first=Murray |authorlink=Murray Rothbard | url= | accessdate=2006-03-31| |date=1972] Jeff Walker,Walker, Jeff (1999). "The Ayn Rand Cult". Chicago: Open Court. ISBN 0-8126-9390-6] and Michael Shermer cite journal | last=Shermer| first=Michael| autorlink=Michael Shermer| title="The Unlikeliest Cult in History"|url=| accessdate=2006-03-30 |journal=Skeptic |volume=2|issue=2 |year=1993 |pages=74–81] cite journal|last=Hudgins |first=Ed |title="Out of Step: TNI's Interview with Michael Shermer"|url=–M_Shermer.aspx |journal=The New Individualist| volume=10 | issue= 1–2 |year=2007] have argued that Objectivism's claim "that there are objective truths and realities, particularly in the moral realm dealing with values" contributes to manifestations of cultism that they found within the Objectivist movement, including slavish adherence to unprovable doctrine and extreme adulation of the founder. In his 1972 article "Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult", libertarian intellectual Rothbard wrote that "the guiding spirit of the Randian movement was not individual liberty … but rather personal power for Ayn Rand and her leading disciples." Shermer specifically cited the philosophical content of Objectivism as bearing responsibility for the what he saw as cult-like behaviour:

In response to one fan who had offered her cult-like allegiance, Rand declared, "A blind follower is precisely what my philosophy condemns and what I reject. Objectivism is not a mystic cult". [Rand, Ayn "Letters", p. 592 Letter dated December 10, 1961, Plume (1997), ISBN 0–452–27404–4, as cited in cite web|title="Ayn Rand Biographical FAQ: Did Rand organize a cult?"|url=|accessdate=2006-06-25] Rand's close associate, Mary Ann Sures, remarked:

Psychological criticism

Psychologists Albert Ellis and Nathaniel Branden have argued that adherence to Objectivism can result in hazardous psychological effects. They state that there are beneficial psychological effects as well, but that the potential hazards outweigh the benefits. [Ellis, Albert. "Is Objectivism a Religion?" Lyle Stuart, New York 1968.] Branden, Nathaniel. cite web | title="The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand." |url= | accessdate=2008-04-08 "Journal of Humanistic Psychology" v.24, no. 4, pp.39-64.] Branden, a former member of Rand's inner circle, cited in particular the "destructive moralism" of Rand and her followers, a moralism which he claimed "subtly encourages repression, self-alienation, and guilt."


Further reading

* "Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature", by Greg S. Nyquist, AuthorHouse, 2001, ISBN 0595196330
* "Is Objectivism A Religion?", by Albert Ellis, L. Stuart, 1968, ASIN B0006BV6Y2
* "Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality: A Critique of Ayn Rand's Epistemology", by Scott Ryan, AuthorHouse, 2003, ISBN 0595267335
* "Reconsidering Ayn Rand", by Michael B. Yang, Enclair Publishing, 2000, ISBN 1579212557
* "The Ayn Rand Cult", by Jeff Walker, Open Court, 1998, ISBN 0812693906
* "With Charity Toward None: An Analysis of Ayn Rand's Philosophy", by William F. O'Neill, Littlefield Adams, 1977, ISBN 0822601796

External links

* [ Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature] - Greg Nyquist's Criticisms of Objectivism
* Critiques of Libertarianism: [ Criticisms of Objectivism (or Ayn Rand)]
* "National Review" : [ "Big Sister Is Watching You"] , by Whittaker Chambers, December 28 1957
* "The New York Times:" [ "Considering the Last Romantic: Ayn Rand at 100"] , by Edward Rothstein, February 2 2005
* [ The Objectivism Reference Center] — Index of essays critical of Objectivism

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