Frequently Asked Questions About Objectivism

I have finished reading Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, and I want to learn more about Objectivism; where should I begin?

Here are some suggestions. On our Suggested Reading page, you will find a list of recommended Objectivist works. In addition, you may also consider taking one of the university-level courses offered at ARI’s Objectivist Academic Center.

What was Ayn Rand’s view of the libertarian movement?

See Ayn Rand’s Q&A on Libertarianism

Has ARI changed its view of libertarianism?

See ARI’s Q&A on Libertarianism

Is Objectivism atheistic? What is the Objectivist attitude toward religion?

“They claim that they perceive a mode of being superior to your existence on this earth. The mystics of spirit call it ‘another dimension,’ which consists of denying dimensions. The mystics of muscle call it ‘the future,’ which consists of denying the present. To exist is to possess identity. What identity are they able to give to their superior realm? They keep telling you what it is not, but never tell you what it is. All their identifications consist of negating: God is that which no human mind can know, they say—and proceed to demand that you consider it knowledge—God is non-man, heaven is non-earth, soul is non-body, virtue is non-profit, A is non-A, perception is non-sensory, knowledge is non-reason. Their definitions are not acts of defining, but of wiping out.”

—Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

And from a 1964 interview in Playboy magazine:

“Has no religion, in your estimation, ever offered anything of constructive value to human life?”
“Qua religion, no—in the sense of blind belief, belief unsupported by, or contrary to, the facts of reality and the conclusions of reason. Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason. But you must remember that religion is an early form of philosophy, that the first attempts to explain the universe, to give a coherent frame of reference to man’s life and a code of moral values, were made by religion, before men graduated or developed enough to have philosophy.”

What was Ayn Rand’s view on charity?

“My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.”

—From “Playboy’s 1964 interview with Ayn Rand”

Does Objectivism hold that all individuals have something valuable to contribute? What about people who lack creativity or ability? Would they fit into a pure capitalist society?

“Intelligence is not an exclusive monopoly of genius; it is an attribute of all men, and the differences are only a matter of degree. If conditions of existence are destructive to genius, they are destructive to every man, each in proportion to his intelligence. If genius is penalized, so is the faculty of intelligence in every other man. There is only this difference: the average man does not possess the genius’s power of self-confident resistance, and will break much faster; he will give up his mind, in hopeless bewilderment, under the first touch of pressure.”

—Ayn Rand, “Requiem for Man,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

“Look past the range of the moment, you who cry that you fear to compete with men of superior intelligence, that their mind is a threat to your livelihood, that the strong leave no chance to the weak in a market of voluntary trade. What determines the material value of your work? Nothing but the productive effort of your mind—if you lived on a desert island. The less efficient the thinking of your brain, the less your physical labor would bring you—and you could spend your life on a single routine, collecting a precarious harvest or hunting with bow and arrows, unable to think any further. But when you live in a rational society, where men are free to trade, you receive an incalculable bonus: the material value of your work is determined not only by your effort, but by the effort of the best productive minds who exist in the world around you . . . .

“Every man is free to rise as far as he’s able or willing, but it’s only the degree to which he thinks that determines the degree to which he’ll rise. Physical labor as such can extend no further than the range of the moment. The man who does no more than physical labor, consumes the material value-equivalent of his own contribution to the process of production, and leaves no further value, neither for himself nor others. But the man who produces an idea in any field of rational endeavor—the man who discovers new knowledge—is the permanent benefactor of humanity. Material products can’t be shared, they belong to some ultimate consumer; it is only the value of an idea that can be shared with unlimited numbers of men, making all sharers richer at no one’s sacrifice or loss, raising the productive capacity of whatever labor they perform. It is the value of his own time that the strong of the intellect transfers to the weak, letting them work on the jobs he discovered, while devoting his time to further discoveries. This is mutual trade to mutual advantage; the interests of the mind are one, no matter what the degree of intelligence, among men who desire to work and don’t seek or expect the unearned.

“In proportion to the mental energy he spent, the man who creates a new invention receives but a small percentage of his value in terms of material payment, no matter what fortune he makes, no matter what millions he earns. But the man who works as a janitor in the factory producing that invention, receives an enormous payment in proportion to the mental effort that his job requires of him. And the same is true of all men between, on all levels of ambition and ability. The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains. Such is the nature of the ‘competition’ between the strong and the weak of the intellect. Such is the pattern of ‘exploitation’ for which you have damned the strong.”

—Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

What is the connection between an individual’s moral worth and his intelligence, in the Objectivist view?

“Man has a single basic choice: to think or not, and that is the gauge of his virtue. Moral perfection is an unbreached rationality—not the degree of your intelligence, but the full and relentless use of your mind, not the extent of your knowledge, but the acceptance of reason as an absolute.

“Learn to distinguish the difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. An error of knowledge is not a moral flaw, provided you are willing to correct it; only a mystic would judge human beings by the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience. But a breach of morality is the conscious choice of an action you know to be evil, or a willful evasion of knowledge, a suspension of sight and of thought. That which you do not know, is not a moral charge against you; but that which you refuse to know, is an account of infamy growing in your soul.”

—Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

I am interested in attending lectures on Objectivism. How can I find out if there are any in my area?

There are many ways to see lectures by Objectivist speakers, both in person and on the Web. ARI’s speakers frequently lecture under the auspices of Objectivist campus clubs, which can be found at universities and colleges throughout the United States and around the world. Such live lectures are open to the public and are listed on ARI’s Campus Events Calendar. Objectivist Conferences holds a summer conference each year, with many speakers and events to choose from, as well as other occasional conference events; information is available at the Objectivist Conferences Web site. Many online recordings featuring ARI speakers are also available, including video and audio on Ayn Rand’s books and ideas, and commentary on current events.

ARI also hosts regular free public lectures in Southern California as part of its ongoing ARI Lecture Series; upcoming events are listed on ARI’s Events page. Those who cannot attend may view recordings of past lectures in ARI’s Registered Users area (free registration required). Also available to registered users are free audio and video recordings of many of Ayn Rand’s lectures and public appearances.

I’m interested in studying Ayn Rand’s books and ideas in college. Are there any universities to which you recommend I apply? Are there any schools where I can study under Objectivist professors?

While there are many ways to learn about Ayn Rand’s books and ideas in college, the most important consideration in choosing a school is how well the school will prepare you for your future career. In some cases, you will be able to find well-ranked programs in your field where you can work with Objectivist scholars. (Visit anthemfoundation.org for more information about where to find Objectivist academics.) But in many cases, the best programs will not have Objectivists teaching at them. Moreover, the fact that an Objectivist currently teaches at a school is no guarantee he will be there a year from now. For these reasons, we do not recommend choosing a school on the basis of your desire to study Ayn Rand. (An extensive discussion of how to choose a college can be found at aynrand.org/education_academic_intellectual_careers.)

Instead, if you are interested in studying Objectivism and in having regular contact with other Objectivist students and teachers, consider applying to ARI’s Objectivist Academic Center. This distance-learning program offers an in-depth, systematic study of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Courses are taught by ARI fellows and outside Objectivist professors, and can be taken as an adjunct to your regular course work. More information can be found at objectivistacademiccenter.org.

Once on campus, you may wish to join or start a campus club dedicated to exploring the work of Ayn Rand. Campus clubs are a great way to find like-minded students, make friends and learn more about Ayn Rand’s ideas. You can find more information at aynrand.org/education_campus_index.