Ayn Rand: Philosopher of Unity and
by Dr. Edward Younkins
Professor of Accountancy and Business
Administration at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia and author of
Capitalism and Commerce.
Ayn Rand (1905-1982), the controversial American novelist and
philosopher, has done more than anyone else in history to develop a moral
case for capitalism. She accomplished this by presenting a coherent view of
ethics, economics, and politics in both fictional and nonfictional forms.
During the last half century, no one person has done more than Rand with
respect to winning converts to the philosophy of freedom.
Rand considered herself to be primarily a novelist and only secondarily to
be a philosopher. Accordingly, she first became enormously popular as a
brilliant novelist of ideas and only more recently as a respected
philosopher with well-argued positions in all the important divisions of
philosophy. All of Rand's books are still in print and have enjoyed a
perennial popularity with a general audience. More recently, the growing
impact of this powerful thinker has been evidenced by the attention and
respect her works, such as An Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology
and Atlas Shrugged, have received from those in the scholarly and
academic communities. Increasingly, excerpts from her writings have been
included in philosophy textbooks and anthologies. In addition, Atlas
Shrugged is beginning to be taught in colleges and universities,
especially in business ethics and economics courses. Also, Rand studies have
crept into the American Philosophical Association which now includes an Ayn
Rand Society. Finally, there is now a scholarly journal, the Journal of
Ayn Rand Studies dedicated to the study of the ideas of this great
imaginative writer and systematic thinker.
In her epistemology, Rand transcended both Platonic rationalism and Humean
and positivist empiricism. By reframing the essential characteristics of a
concept as epistemological rather than as metaphysical, Rand developed an
innovative, singular, and controversial solution to the problem of
universals. Her theory of concept formation did not diverse mind from
reality or universals from particulars. In addition, she courageously
challenged generally accepted ideas by rejecting both the analytic/synthetic
dichotomy and the notion of a priori knowledge.
Written in 1957, Atlas Shrugged presents a monumental and
comprehensive statement and detailed illustration of Ayn Rand's original and
perceptive philosophical ideas and moral vision. For Rand, the right
philosophy is necessary to create the right story. She magnificently uses
the story of Atlas Shrugged as a vehicle for incarnating her ideas,
bringing abstract philosophy to life through plot and character.
Encyclopedic in its philosophical, political, economic, and psychological
scope, this masterwork of logic has a wonderfully constructed plot and
expounds an exhaustive, fully-integrated philosophical system.
Atlas Shrugged is a story of human action on a grand scale. In it, Rand
adeptly connects physical actions to primary and significant human values.
She chooses and integrates actions and events that dramatize the various
elements of her philosophy. Rand thinks in essentials in uniting all aspects
of her novel. Atlas Shrugged's plot action is based on the
integration of values and action and of mind and body. This enables her to
illustrate actions reflecting broad abstract principles. By including only
that which is vital and necessary, Rand demonstrates the associations
between metaphysical abstractions and their concrete embodiments.
Ayn Rand's literary style is organically linked to the substance of her
philosophy. Atlas Shrugged, an embodiment of unity and integration,
contains many integrated layers of meaning. Rand masterfully integrates her
philosophy and the theme (i.e., the role of the mind in human existence) of
Atlas Shrugged into the novel's actions and characters. Her morally
idealized heroes reflect the inextricable and indivisible unity of mind and
body and reason and emotion and unified conceptions of self, productivity,
love, sex, and relationships that her philosophy of Objectivism expounds.
Emphasizing that dualism is incompatible with one's existence as an
authentic human being and indivisible entity, Rand explains that full
realization of a person's potentialities requires integrity of consciousness
Ayn Rand recognized that the key to understanding ethics is in the concept
of value and thus ultimately is located in epistemology and metaphysics. One
of her greatest contributions was to delineate and explain the inextricable
linkages between the various components of a philosophy based on the nature
of man and the world properly understood. Rand's philosophy of Objectivism
is a systematic and integrated unity with every part depending upon every
Ayn Rand, a supreme systems-builder, understood that all aspects of the
universe are interconnected. Metaphysically, there is one universe in which
every entity is related in some way to all the others. No aspect of the
total can exist apart from the total. All entities are related through the
inexorable laws of cause and effect. No concrete existent is totally
isolated without cause and effect. Each entity affects and is affected by
the others. As inhabitants of the universe, each person is linked, via cause
and effect, to everything that exists.
According to Rand, it follows that all true knowledge is interrelated and
interconnected properly reflecting the single totality that is the universe.
The key is Rand's view that the relationship of a man's consciousness to
existence is objective. Through the use of reason and its methods, objective
concepts can be formed and brought together according to objective
relationships among the many existents. The gaining of objective knowledge
is a metaphysically grounded process because all concretes are different and
related to every other concrete and to the total that is the universe. Rand
emphasized the need to understand the nature of knowledge and its unity and
the requirement for a man to interpret and to synthesize knowledge from
various specialties and from various levels of abstraction.
Rand explains the key to understanding ethics is found in the concept of
value - it is thus located in epistemology and metaphysics. Her
revolutionary theory of concepts is what directly led her to innovations in
the fields of value theory and ethics and moral philosophy. She saw that
standards of value and moral goodness are grounded in the facts of the
nature of man and the world objectively understood. Her emphasis on organic
unity is marvelously embodied in Objectivism's integrated views on
metaphysics, epistemology, value theory and ethics. The reciprocal
interactions and interconnections between these areas are such that each
supports, affects, and mutually implicates the others and the whole and
makes them possible. Rand's revolutionary philosophy has found a way to
objectively connect consciousness with actual integration in the real world.
Ayn Rand will not only be remembered as a major intellectual of the 20th
century who challenged a collectivist world, her powerful and cohesive
philosophy is capable of significantly improving the future. Her works can
be highly instrumental in teaching people about the importance of
metanormative mutual consent and the desirability of a libertarian political
system grounded in the larger framework of her Objectivist philosophy.
Rand's philosophy is a powerful tool to educate, persuade, and convert
people to a moral political and economic order that reflects the true nature
of man and the world.
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