The Free Radical

February-March 2005

 



Ayn Rand: Philosopher of Unity and Integration

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 and matter.

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 other part.

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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