An Introduction to Objectivism
A complete philosophy, even a false one, is categorised into the following branches –
Metaphysics – This branch deals with the nature of everything that exists. In other words, it deals with the nature of the universe or the nature of reality as such. Metaphysics answers fundamental questions about the nature of existence such as whether the universe exists or is an illusion, whether existence, including Man, is the creation of a supernatural entity or if such a question is improper to ask. An answer to these questions compels this branch to also answer questions regarding the nature of existents. Do things exist possessing specific attributes or an identity, or are things interchangeable and can apples then be merged into oranges, speaking metaphorically?
Epistemology – This branch deals with the nature of knowledge & Man’s method of its discovery & retention. Are men born with pre-determined knowledge of their previous births & future fates, or is Man, every man, born tabula rasa? Being born tabula rasa means that Man’s mind is a blank state which is then filled with impressions, opinions, knowledge as he progresses through life. Epistemology would also raise & answer questions such as – How do you know what you know? In other words, the discovery of the relevant laws of logic & proof.
Ethics – Does Man have the power of choice & free will? Or is Man’s fate to be determined by unknowable forces beyond his control? Can Man choose goals & achieve them to further his own life or is his destiny pre-determined by his race, his ancestors, or his faith? The answers to these questions determine the kinds of objectives that men ought to be pursuing & the kinds of actions they ought to be taking in pursuance of those goals. Ethics, briefly, answers the question – What must Man do?
Politics – What kind of society is it proper for men to live in? What must be the rules of conduct governing such a society? What must be the structure of government in such a society? Politics is an extension of ethics, in a social context, codifying into law the kind of ethics that a society has accepted.
Esthetics – Art as Ayn Rand puts it, “is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.” Esthetics is that branch of philosophy that studies art & derives relevant principles applicable to the evaluation of a work of art. What constitutes a great work of art & what is to be mediocre? Are all works of art equal in merit, recreation of reality, & theme? Is a blob of abstract colours such as Composition VII by Wassily Kandinski which is, commonly, termed a great painting of modern art equal in aesthetic merit with Leonardo da Vinci’s Monalisa or The Annunciation?
Objectivism, in brief, holds the following –
Metaphysics – The universe, or everything that exists, is not an illusion. That which is, is. In other words, Objectivism rests upon the fundamental axiom – Existence exists. Further, existence exists independent of a man’s consciousness. Man has the ability to perceive existence but existence is neither the creation of Man’s consciousness nor the creation of a supernatural entity. Further, Objectivism denies the existence of such a supernatural realm that is outside the perception of Man’s sensory faculty or outside the realm of his cognitive or conceptual faculty. Because existence exists, existents or the constituents of existence exist possessing a specific identity or a set of properties.
Epistemology - Because the constituents of existence exist possessing a specific identity, it follows that Man’s consciousness along with his sense organs is the faculty of sense perception, perceiving that which exists. Man senses his external environment through sight, smell, hearing, touch, & taste. In other words, Objectivism holds that to be conscious is to be conscious of something. A consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in words & such a proposition is meaningless. Put another way, Objectivism states that existence exists & Man exists possessing consciousness which is the faculty of perceiving that which exists. Objectivism neither denies existence nor Man’s consciousness. Objectivism, thus, holds that Existence is Identity & Consciousness is Identification. Or, to be something is to be something. Objectivism, further, holds that Man retains & classifies knowledge in form of concepts. Objectivism also states that Man, every man, is born tabula rasa. This means that Man is not born with prior or implicit knowledge at birth & all knowledge has to be learnt or discovered. At birth, Man’s mind is in form of a blank slate which is then filled with knowledge, impressions, & opinions as he progresses through life. For a complete discussion of Objectivist epistemology, the reader is advised to read ‘An Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,’ by Ayn Rand.
Ethics – Because existence exists & because all existents exist possessing a specific identity, Objectivism holds that Man exists possessing a specific identity. Objectivism states that Man is a being of volitional consciousness which means that Man has the choice to exercise his conscious faculty in the task of perception & conceptualization. Put another way, in any given moment, Man has the choice to think or not, to reason or not, to be rational or not, to act or not. Objectivism also holds that Man, like any other living creature, is natural – a part of this universe with a specific mode of survival like any other living being. Objectivism, further, states that man’s mind – his ability to think & reason – is his unique method of survival. Consequently, Objectivism holds that Man, primarily, survives by discovering knowledge or gaining it by learning & then putting that knowledge to suit his own purposes in the task of production.
Because Man is a being of volitional consciousness, Objectivism recognises that some men may choose to evade their reason or falter in the task of thinking because thinking is not automatically infallible. Again, because Man is a being of volitional consciousness, Objectivism recognises that men have a choice regarding the kinds of goals they pursue & what they value. Objectivism recognises the natural fact that all life is a process of self-sustaining & self-generating action & that this fact applies equally to Man as it does to all other living creatures. Consequently, Objectivism holds that Man’s life, each man’s own life, is the most fundamental value that every man must act to gain, maintain, & continue. Thus, of the Objectivist ethics, Ms. Rand states,
“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. “
His own rational self-interest & his own happiness ought to be the highest moral purpose of his life because a man’s own life is the most fundamental value that every man, as a natural fact, is required to gain, maintain, & preserve.
Politics – As mentioned earlier, politics is an extension of ethics in a social context, codifying into law the kind of ethics that a society has accepted. Based on the Objectivist ethics, the smallest unit of referent, in a social context, is not a group of men – religious or otherwise – but individual men. The law, based on the Objectivist ethics, must be to preserve the natural right to life of individual men of which property rights are an integral part. Consequently, Objectivism advocates Laissez Faire Capitalism in which all property & means of production are privately owned with the only purpose of Government being to secure & preserve the natural right to life of individual men. A Laissez Faire Capitalist society has a strict separation of state & economics in the same manner & for the same purpose as the separation of state & religious institutions because Objectivism recognises that, in order to survive, Man must be free to think & then to act upon that thinking to fulfil the task of production.
Because Man is a being of volitional consciousness, Objectivism recognises that some men may evade their reason or err in the exercise of it. Consequently, Objectivism recognises that such men are a potential threat to the lives & property of other men. Such men, who willfully or otherwise, fail in the exercise of their reason, initiate force against their victims when they cause harm to their victims’ lives & property. An Objectivist society recognises that such victims ought to be compensated for their loss & the perpetrators brought to justice after an objective determination of facts. Thus, Objectivism recognises that Government is an instrument of the retaliatory use of force against aggressors, foreign or domestic, who initiate the use of force. Objectivism also recognises that Government, itself, may turn into an aggressor or initiator of force & Governments, as such, must be limited in their functions & scope by a carefully worded Constitution & an appropriate mechanism of checks & balances. The Constitution serves as a fundamental check on the powers of Government.
Writes Ms. Rand of Laissez Faire Capitalism –
“It is the basic, metaphysical fact of man’s nature—the connection between his survival and his use of reason—that capitalism recognizes and protects.”
“In a capitalist society, all human relationships are voluntary. Men are free to cooperate or not, to deal with one another or not, as their own individual judgments, convictions, and interests dictate. They can deal with one another only in terms of and by means of reason, i.e., by means of discussion, persuasion, and contractual agreement, by voluntary choice to mutual benefit. The right to agree with others is not a problem in any society; it is the right to disagree that is crucial. It is the institution of private property that protects and implements the right to disagree—and thus keeps the road open to man’s most valuable attribute (valuable personally, socially, and objectively): the creative mind.”
And, she writes,
“It is. . . by reference to philosophy that the character of a social system has to be defined and evaluated. Corresponding to the four branches of philosophy, the four keystones of [laissez faire] capitalism are: metaphysically, the requirements of man’s nature and survival—epistemologically, reason—ethically, individual rights – politically, freedom.”