This is a question in response to this other one that I asked. I didn't really get a satisfactory answer, mostly because it seems like Rand's work is largely ignored by academics. The highest voted answer starts with "you'll be hard-pressed to find a serious philosopher who takes Ayn Rand seriously". Why is this the case? To a layperson like myself, her ideas seem pretty well thought out, self consistent, and thought provoking, if a bit black-and-white. Is her work lacking rigor? Is the problem that her work takes the form of fiction rather than non-fiction? Are the ideas presented flawed in a way that is not obvious to me?

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    Again, wikipedia offers some helpful context: "The tenor of the criticism for her first nonfiction book, For the New Intellectual, was similar to that for Atlas Shrugged, with philosopher Sidney Hook likening her certainty to "the way philosophy is written in the Soviet Union", and author Gore Vidal calling her viewpoint "nearly perfect in its immorality". Her subsequent books got progressively less attention from reviewers."
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Nov 14, 2011 at 21:01
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    @JosephWeissman So the rejection was based on her presentation and not the ideas themselves? Have the ideas themselves ever been addressed academically? What I'm really looking for with this and the previous question is some suggestions on reading material for investigating Rand's ideas further. Literature either in support or against her ideas would be helpful. Commented Nov 14, 2011 at 21:06
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    @jkohlhepp - It's just not very good philosophy. Not very insightful. Contains basic errors that anyone trained in philosophy (and some who have not) should be able to catch pretty easily. For example: kiekeben.com/rand.html
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Nov 14, 2011 at 22:10
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    @Chad - An answer deserves somewhat more depth than was found in my comment.
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 18:13
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    @RexKerr: As to the contradiction between libertarianism and determinism, Isaac Beshevis Singer used to say "We have to believe in free will, we have no choice." Acceptance of the effects of the free-will concept does not necessarily conflict with determinism. Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 21:24

16 Answers 16


Ayn Rand isn't well liked because her work doesn't fit into the mold of what academia deems acceptable philosophy. This makes perfect sense when you understand that Ayn Rand's view of philosophy is different (she wasn't trying to meet the standards of academic philosophy). Rand views philosophy as an indispensable component of human life, while academics treat philosophy like more of a discipline one does simply because one can. If you were to ask an academic what the purpose of philosophy is they're likely to be confused by the question.

Often her conclusions are misrepresented (as they are in the highest voted answer in this thread by Jaime Ravenet, and by Robert Nozick's work On The Randian Argument). Even more often people treat her works of fiction as philosophical arguments and attempt to extract an argument from some character's dialogue, or they attack her personal life and don't even try to hide their ad-hominem.

Example of dismissal:

She relies on absolute self-certainty where she should be relying on well-reasoned arguments.

This attempts to ignore or dismiss her arguments on the foundations of philosophy. Specifically, beginning from the beginning by establishing the absolute baseline of what must be taken as a given. Irrefutable absolutes she referred to as axiomatic concepts. These were not "absolute self-certainty", they were where she argued one must begin because that is the point at which no further reduction is possible... and because any attempt to refute them fails by first affirming them. Every argument has its premises, Objectivism as a whole is no different.

Here is an example of misrepresentation:

there are still WAY too many questions left unanswered for us to stop doing philosophy.

This implies that it was Ayn Rand's goal to answer all possible questions such that we "stop doing philosophy" right? Actually Ayn Rand argued in Philosophy: Who Needs It? that Philosophy is a fundamental part of everyday life for every human being, and you need it badly like it or not.

So you can see even in the "popular" view in this thread you've got dismissal and misrepresentations. Most of the people I attempt to discuss Objectivism with are like this. They read one of her works of fiction at some point and fancy themselves knowledgeable enough to speak on the subject.

In reality it's become fashionable to dislike Ayn Rand.

I actually do not know of any particular arguments she did offer, but I...

...but you're going to write another few paragraphs on why she can be safely disregarded.

Ayn Rand had an unfortunate disposition. Originally from Russia, she wasn't a very good communicator verbally or on paper unless you spent some time listening to her. On top of English being her second language and the subject being often complex, it required too much effort to really get a grasp of what she was trying to communicate.

The time period she lived in has a lot to do with it also. The "collectivist" counter-culture was on the rise; the political atmosphere and governmental policies in the United States (she felt) were pushing the nation in the same direction as Russia, the country she fled. She felt a very immediate threat from the direction the country was moving in, both culturally and politically, because of what she experienced in Russia first hand. This first hand experience provided a lot of the motivation behind strong positions against things she would come to call "evil" etc...

So when you mix together someone who is an outspoken critic that holds strong unpopular positions and someone that isn't a very good public speaker you end up with the common view of Ayn Rand. "An angry tirade occasioned by mistaking philosophical disagreement for a personal attack and/or evidence of unspeakable moral corruption."

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    Sure, what else would you like referenced? I gave direct links for her input on Axiomatic Concepts, and a reference to quotes from Philosophy: Who Needs It?, and a link to what I think sums up common perceptions of Ayn Rand. In addition to those three citations I quoted three examples from Jamie (representative of the majority view in this thread with the most up votes) to support the point I was making that most dismiss or misrepresent Rand's work. You going to dismiss my references and ask for references?
    – Lucretius
    Commented Feb 11, 2012 at 5:07
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    A response with 7 references would be more "robust" than a response with 6. The same criticism could apply to a response with 7 references because a response with 8 references would then again be more "robust." Your criticism just shows you're going to be disagreeable under all circumstances (since more citations would always be possible). My answer was more than adequate to communicate my position, and sufficiently answers the question in the thread.
    – Lucretius
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 17:57
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    Joe, have a look at the top response from Jamie. Count the references. You'll find one unrelated link. Why not respond to him? Bias... The Ayn Rand lexicon is a very relevant source in this discussion because that site is simply quotations from her. Jamie seems to think she based her arguments on nothing, I gave a link to her own words on her basis for her philosophy. The question is about why her arguments are ignored by academics, and I linked her view of philosophy to contrast it with the view of philosophy from academics. You saying that this is "opinion" makes no sense.
    – Lucretius
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 0:26
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    Thanks for clarifying your concern; I'll try to do the same: the issue here is not the absolute number of citations, it's about value. Your larger argument -- that it's merely "fashionable" to dislike Rand -- feels unsupported to me, as do what I think I can safely call your strong implications of misrepresentation on the part of other answerers. I get that you don't like Jaime's answer -- but it does seem to me to try to objectively and from a neutral point of view respond to the question -- which I guess I'm saying I think citing outside sources may help your post with.
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 0:33
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    The issue is that personal interpretations grounded in axiomatic concepts are not philosophy. Such criteria make Deepak Chopra as much a victim of academic fashions as Ayn Rand. I think we all agree that she wasn't engaging in academic philosophy. Commented Jul 18, 2012 at 8:55

"you'll be hard-pressed to find a serious philosopher who takes Ayn Rand seriously". Why is this the case?

This is the case because Rand offered very few philosophical arguments. I actually do not know of any particular arguments she did offer. By this, I mean that in what I’ve read from her I do not see recognizable or memorable arguments that I can bring up here to analyze directly. I see descriptions, assertions, metaphor, opinion, etc., but I don't see argumentation per se. However, I will assume that she at least attempted to offer some.

Is her work lacking rigor?

In the analytic tradition, philosophical arguments consist of clearly stated premises and logically sound conclusions. Some (already noted) attempts to locate in Rand's work such specific premises and conclusions show that her positions on several important points (e.g. causation and free will) are self-contradictory and inconsistent. This makes her conclusions irrelevant to the philosophical discourse in which she appears to have been attempting to participate. So in this way, the answer to your above question is a resounding "YES!"; a lack of argumentation entails a lack of rigor in argumentation.

Upon reflection, I realize that one could respond here by saying that Rand was engaged in a more Continental approach to philosophy. Consider her tendency to employ fiction to "make her point" – a strategy (as previously mentioned in another answer) employed by Sartre and Camus, among other Continentals. Reading her this way, Rand's work could be seen as having a place within some larger historical philosophical discourse. However, her well-documented ideological struggle against Marxism undermines her own argument again here; the Marxist dialectic underpins the Continental approach to philosophy. If we are to take Rand's conclusions seriously, which is to say that if we take her particular anti-Marxism to be the point she is making, then she is using the Marxist dialectic to completely disavow Marxism, thus ending the dialectic. There are two problems with this. First, her work would be little more than her bid to be the "the champion of all philosophical discourse", and second, there are still WAY too many questions left unanswered for us to stop doing philosophy.

So frankly, she has written nothing particularly philosophically interesting or compelling.

To a layperson like myself, her ideas seem pretty well thought out, self consistent, and thought provoking, if a bit black-and-white.

This highlights another frustration some academic philosophers might have regarding Ayn Rand. She relies on absolute self-certainty where she should be relying on well-reasoned arguments. One problem here is doing this often resembles well-thought-out, consistent philosophy, but in terms of actual philosophy, it amounts to nothing more than polemics and screeds. From her writings, all that can be logically deduced are her opinions, yet I have no doubt that Rand dislikes Marxism, nor do I doubt her love of Capitalism. Another problem is that assuming the certainty of your conclusions is simply poorly-executed philosophy – every philosopher must be willing to accept that they could be wrong about their conclusions, or else they are not doing philosophy.

Again, her work is thus philosophically uninteresting. But if your thoughts are provoked by her writing, that's a good thing. I recommend taking some time to sketch out her arguments and see for yourself if her conclusions actually follow from her premises.

Are the ideas presented flawed in a way that is not obvious to me?

I hope this is answered above.

  • 31
    -1 for "I actually do not know of any particular arguments she did offer". If you don't know of Ayn Rand's arguments, you are not competent to comment on their quality, and yet you do.
    – philosodad
    Commented May 30, 2012 at 3:27
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    @philosodad: i think that ravenet is simply stating that her purported arguments are in fact statements. Commented Dec 3, 2012 at 1:06
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    You make a false equivalence; most continental thinkers are influenced by Hegel, as was Marx, but there are plenty of continental thinkers of importance e.g. Husserl who were not Marxists.
    – J. LS
    Commented Apr 4, 2015 at 14:06
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    @curi - or read, but didn't find anything similar to an actual argument. I wouldn't know, I won't let myself being found in the same bookshop as a copy of her, erm, "works". But there are things you don't need to read to dismiss as bullshit. Have you read Mein Kampf? I did, but not under the delusion that there would be any arguments there. Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 15:53
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    @Ben - Of course. I am a history major; Mein Kampf is of undisputable historic interest (you know, it is at the roots of a world war and a massive genocide). Atlas Shrugged is not - perhaps thankfully. Commented May 16, 2018 at 13:48

There are a number of interlocking reasons.

First, as you point out, she wrote fiction, not philosophical papers.

Second, she did not appear to engage in any substantive way with the prior philosophical work done on the subjects that interested her. Her only connection to the philosophical tradition (writ large) is what we can charitably call a highly idiosyncratic reading of Aristotle.

Third, her arguments (once extracted from the fiction) appear to most philosophers to be lacking subtlety and depth. They may seem like deep thoughts to casual readers, but they are not at a level of sophistication anywhere near that of mainstream philosophers. In fact, her arguments are generally polemical in nature.

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    This answer is not true. It appears from this answer that you are unfamiliar with Rand's (quite substantial) non-fiction work. She published around six books of non-fiction essays on her philosophy, covering explicit arguments on metaphysics, epistemology, moral philosophy, political philosophy, and aesthetics. Rand regarded fiction works as being a good vehicle for the embodiment of philosophy (explained in her aesthetics), but it is simply not the case that her arguments need to be extracted from her fiction work.
    – Ben
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 23:55
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    If I may be so bold, I think this gets to the real reason that Rand is dismissed in academia. There are so many people in academia that openly misrepresent her writings (or even their existence) than many academics simply have no idea what she has published, or what it says.
    – Ben
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 23:56
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    @Ben: I agree with Dorfman here. Ayn Rand is essentially a polemicist, in the same way that Thomas Paine was. She's not a philosopher per se and this is why her work is neglected by those who take philosophy seriously. It's as though one was to take an author of a popular work on physics that sold millions as a physicist. This isn't how there work is valued as physics by physicists, valuable as their work may be in educating the populace. Commented May 2, 2018 at 21:14
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    Whether you choose to characterise her as a polemicist instead of a philosopher, it is simply untrue, as a matter of basic fact, that "she wrote fiction, not philosophical papers". Rand wrote a large number of non-fiction philosophical papers (probably as many as most philosophy professors publish in a career). These were not fiction works - they were essays directly on philosophical topics.
    – Ben
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 23:41

I think there's a simpler explanation for why Rand is generally ignored in academia. She loathes Kant (presumably would also Berkeley and the British Empiricists) and defines herself in perfect opposition to him. She refuses to even acknowledge the possibility that he might be right, and takes all of his questions to be ridiculous and evil pseudoquestions.

But this is where much of the debate about her kind of philosophy (Metaphysical, Scientific, Moral Realisms; see the various respective articles on the SEP for examples) lies - how do you resolve the question about internal versus external realism, given the sorts of challenges that Kant and his predecessors/successors put forward? Some philosophers will defend antirealist arguments, and others will oppose, in order to develop their respective positions.

If you refuse to engage in the debate that academic philosophers are having, then it should hardly seem a surprise that they would not address your opinions.

  • 4
    +1, though I do think there may be a bit more to her blanket dismissal by "academia" than her anti-Kantianism (if only because plenty of other acclaimed thinkers of the last century held Kant as an enemy as well, though of course perhaps it is possible their treatments, critical readings, etc. may have been more robust than Rand's.)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Feb 12, 2012 at 18:55
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    Thanks for the clarification; I hope I didn't give the impression that everyone needs to think Kant himself is pivotal. It's more that Rand's response to the debate that directly impacts her work is to rubbish the proponent, rather than address the argument, which misses out on any kind of constructive development of her philosophical position.
    – Paul Ross
    Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 10:50
  • You seem to be suggesting that Rand refused to engage in the debate on realism versus anti-realism, while implicitly accepting that this was actually one of the main parts of her philosophy (her opposition to Kant and her arguments in favour of realism). Why should she "acknowledge the possibility he may be right"? Is that a criterion for academic debate - that you are not allowed to say that Kant is definitely wrong?
    – Ben
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 23:50
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    @Ben, you are absolutely allowed to argue that Kant is definitely wrong, but merely stating it and decrying his writing as immoral without any form of argument is not doing the form of philosophy that is in question.
    – Paul Ross
    Commented May 6, 2018 at 9:45
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    One can write entire libraries and not produce an argument.
    – Paul Ross
    Commented May 7, 2018 at 11:05

The issue has been explained in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on Ayn Rand:

She wrote polemical, philosophical essays, often in response to questions by fans of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead; lectured on college campuses; and gave radio and television interviews. Her views of past and contemporary Anglo-American philosophy, however, seem to have been based largely on summaries of philosophers' works and conversations with a few philosophers and with her young acolytes, themselves students of philosophy. Unfortunately, this did not stop her from commenting dismissively, and often contemptuously, on other philosophers' works. Contemporary philosophers, by and large, returned the compliment by dismissing her work contemptuously, often on the basis of hearsay or cursory reading. A common source of misunderstanding is Rand's use of “selfishness” to mean rational self-interest rather than “pursuit of one's own interests at the cost of others' interests,” and “altruism” to entail abject self-sacrifice rather than “other-regard”. But there are also other barriers to an academic study of Rand's work: most of her non-fiction is written for the general public, and lacks the self-critical, detailed style of analytic philosophy; understanding her views requires reading her fiction, but her fiction is not to everyone's taste; she developed many of her views in lectures and essays and letters written in response to questions sent by her readers, but never took the time to defend them against possible objections or to reconcile them with the views expressed in her novels; and finally, her polemical style, often contemptuous tone, and the dogmatism and cult-like behavior of many of her fans suggest that her work is not worth taking seriously. Last but not least, her advocacy of a minimal state with the sole function of protecting negative individual rights is contrary to the welfare statism of most academics. For all this, however, in recent years academic appreciation of Rand's work has increased, and many philosophers now recognize it as often original, containing insights that sometimes anticipate later academic work.

I have copied almost a whole paragraph, but the author seems to have covered all the bases.

  • 1
    Thanks for the quote. It definitely helps to clarify why Rand is viewed the way she is by academia. Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 14:55
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    The text basically says is that recently academia grudgingly admits that she might be right on some issues but it's still her fault that they didn't listen because she had a bad attitude. This is ironic, since it's that attitude that is as unscientific as it gets and in turn justifies any bad attitude that Rand (or her "fans") might have had. There is no need to show respect to snobbish morons and in fact it's wrong to do so.
    – John
    Commented Dec 14, 2013 at 19:21
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    @John: I disagree with your last two sentences. In academia, the ones that are known for clear thinking do not engage in ad hominems. That's not the case in popular culture, though. Also keep in mind that your last sentence justifies how both sides of the argument behave with each other: they both considered the other side to be snobbish morons.
    – prash
    Commented Dec 15, 2013 at 9:30
  • It is disingenuous for the Stanford article to describe altruism as "other regard". The most quoted and well established proponents of altruism make it clear that it is best defined against self interest. "Other regard" does not qualify as altruism when it is also in your own self-interest, otherwise it's just self-interest. The case is made most clearly by Kant, who has been summarized as "doing good when it benefits you is noble, when it benefits others but not you, nobler, when it benefits others but harms you, noblest." This is the core argument of academics, so of course they shun Rand.
    – inTEGraTOR
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 1:34

Ayn Rand wrote political rhetoric not philosophy. It is intended to provoke emotion not thought and targets the weakest points of her opponents and ignores the failings of its own.

Her work of philosophy was built upon her fictional world and appeals to emotion. Her attempted foray into philosophical work(Essays written to various publications) was really prompted by her cult like following, that developed subsequent to the publication of Anthem, Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged. But even this work was designed consumption not analysis. It is full of Appeals of Emotion , Fear, and Ad Hominem Tu Quoque. These are effective tools for political muck raking but not the types of arguments that sway critical thinkers.

I would expect that these issues would be overlooked and someone would take the ball and run with it developing Objectivism into a valid philosophy. Save for the fact that Ayn Rand had a penchant for attacking anyone who did not agree with her labeling them Communists and criminals, especially attacking those in the liberal arts academia. So combining her vitriol for academia with a pseudo-philosophy that essentially labels academia as worthless, and it is anti-intuitive for those academics to validate her works. And those few who have risked the ire of the academic community as well as turning out works that no longer invoke the emotion that drew those who would follow in first place.

  • 1
    Disclaimer: None of this is intended as an attack on anyone. Many of ideals Ayn Rand espouses correlate well with my own.
    – Chad
    Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 14:42
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    Your position is going to be pretty tough to support. She developed her philosophy into 5 branches, politics being only one of them (and not even the most developed). How can you reduce her work to "political rhetoric?" You've also taken the position that Objectivism was never developed further, when you have publications by Peikoff (most importantly), Binswanger, and Bernstein (among others) that have developed her work further. Granted, most publications about Rand are geared toward dismantling or dismissing her.
    – Lucretius
    Commented May 30, 2012 at 12:42
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    @Lucretius - The question is "Why is Ayn Rand's Objectivism philosophy dismissed by academics?" This is the answer to that not does it deserve to be dismissed, or is it unfair to dismiss it or has anything been done further. This question might be of interest to you though.
    – Chad
    Commented May 30, 2012 at 12:52

The comments on this blog post on Brian Leiter's blog provide many good resources.

A lot of the problem here is that no Academic can be bothered to take the time to debunk Rand. This is something I can understand but which is still unfortunate.

This Mike Huemer post I find to be a particularly good take down of objectivist ethics.

Robert Nozick, an Arch-Libertarian, has a pretty good article called "On the Randian Argument". A quick google search will turn up some results, but I hesitate to post links since I don't know whether these sites are violating copyrights.

Here is a quote due to Nozick taken from an interview:

The followers of Rand, for example, treat "A is A" not just as "everything is identical to itself" but as a kind of statement about essences and the limits of things. "A is A, and it can't be anything else, and once it's A today, it can't change its spots tomorrow." Now, that doesn't follow. I mean, from the law of identity, nothing follows about limitations on change. The weather is identical to itself but it's changing all the time. The use that's made by people in the Randian tradition of this principle of logic that everything is identical to itself to place limits on what the future behavior of things can be, or on the future nature of current things, is completely unjustified so far as I can see; it's illegitimate.

This is just the sort of silliness that prompts serious philosophers to get too annoyed with Rand to bother seriously responding.


In light of some confusion/dissatisfaction with the Nozick quote (expressed in the comments to this answer), here is a detailed explanation of the point Nozick latches on to. This is a well known objection to Rand that is so well-known as to be akin to the self-defeating objection to the verificationist theory of meaning (in that philosophers will often joke about it and hold it up as the paradigm of a faulty theory).

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    The weather is identical to itself but it's changing all the time.?! Seriously? He uses such a vaguely broad concept to counter the proposition that, if A = A, A will always be A? I don't know enough about Rand to assess whether she made such a claim to begin with, but if she did, this is a silly rebuttal. I can't imagine A, here, should be taken to mean a concept as broad as the weather. Also, Nozick's rebuttal of Popper's stance on the problem of induction, in an earlier paragraph, is just silly. Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 12:16
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    @fireeyedboy, it is an example of a thing which exhibits the law of identity and yet has almost unlimited capacity for change. Would "a rain cloud" have been better suited? Colloquially, those are often referred to as "the weather." Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 18:26
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    @fireeyedboy, Nozick wasn't trying to be philosophically rigorous, he was responding to a questions in an interview. I'm not sure what your experience is with public speaking, but it's quite impossible to construct an impenetrable argument in air while addressing an audience. Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 23:13
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    @fireeyedboy I really am baffled as to what you are so hung up on here. You seem to be latching on to all of the wrong points in the quote. I didn't provide the quote because I thought that his example of a possible violation of the necessity of identity was interesting. Rather, I provided it because he notes that Rand mistakenly takes the law of self-identity (a logical truth) to entail the necessity of identity (a substantial metaphysical thesis). That is the only point relevant here, and it points out the sort of sloppiness common in Rand's "arguments".
    – Dennis
    Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 23:49
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    @fireeyedboy Nozick made that point perfectly well, the only point of the weather example was to point out that while self-identity is obviously true of everything, it is not clear that the necessity of identity is true. Weather was meant to be a putative example of such an instance of the failure of the necessity of identity. If you don't like that, then take anything which changes but which you intuitively want to say is the same object. But even then, whether or not the necessity of identity is true is immaterial. The relevant mistake is that Rand takes it to follow from self-identity.
    – Dennis
    Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 23:51

While I like Lucretius diplomatic answer, there's also a Randian one that is more likely to arouse hostility itself - an answer that should be obvious to anyone standing on Objectivist theory.

I take "Rand is ignored by academics" to mean "Rand is ignored as a philosopher by established philosophers." - as opposed to IT professionals, for example.

I use the term "established" to talk about philosophers who either have a tenure at a university or is accepted by those who do. That excludes people like Stefan Molyneux on YouTube and his own "Freedomain Radio", who calls himself a philosopher and even makes a living on it by accepting donations, but is probably as least as disregarded by those I call the established ones as Rand was and still is.

Now put yourself in the shoes of someone who works for a university: You are knowledgeable in your field, but your skills are difficult to market. Your income depends on your status as an accepted member of academia and that traps you: In contrast to shop owners or professionals, you can't just relocate somewhere else, another country even, unless you'll find an educational institution there that accepts you.

The funding of those institutions (at least as far as philosophy is concerned) depends on either the government or voluntary donations - as philosophy and many of the social sciences have little to no funding by the economy.

If you are in such a situation, would you rather like ideas ranging from social contract theory to communism, ideas that support the notion of unconditional funding for those institutions (and by extension yourself) and so give the necessary taxation the appearance of moral justification, or would you rather be attracted to Ayn Rand, who openly condemns such things?

This explanation doesn't only explain the hostility towards and rejection of Ayn Rand - in fact it explains quite a lot of why certain ideas achieve popularity in established academia and certain others do not.

Austrian economics, for example, have a hard time gaining popularity among US academics. In the German-speaking world they are even less popular - ironically.

Communism and racism are the most obvious examples of something that once was popular in academia and both are sets of ideas that maintain that certain groups of people should "stick together".

Austrian economics, to make an example to the opposite, imply that state interventions cause more harm than good, ie that collective action is bad: Would you like to hear that as someone whose income depends on exactly that? Keynes may support capitalism, but at least he claims that there has to be someone to spread money around in times of depression and obviously those people need a steady pay cheque.

It's important to realize that these thoughts are not conscious plans. People like certain ideas and dislike others. It is immaterial that many who like collective action and support collectivist tenets in the end don't benefit from them. The theory still explains why they liked them in the first place.

For example, an established philosopher might passionately argue for a stimulus in times of high unemployment or for a draft in times of war even when he's not going to benefit from the stimulus in any way or might even have a son harmed by the draft. He argues that way based on principles he holds - but principles he might have been attracted to because of his situation.

And for anyone who himself stands on Objectivist tenets, it should be obvious how only a few strongly influenced that way can drag a whole society into a specific direction: Most ideas held by an individual are not verified or even originated in his mind, but adopted second-handed:

Many people who one wouldn't suspect to be attracted to certain ideals are living and working in a social milieu where those attitudes are generally accepted. Those will need a strong motivation to deviate from them in their own world-view. For example, you will need a strong motivation to begin to believe that taxation is a form of theft when everyone around you considers this notion to be absurd.

From a bird's eye view, this phenomenon of intellectual cohesion among people is the Zeitgeist. Rand was pulling that Zeitgeist in the opposite direction of those she was ignored and scorned by - which isn't surprising.

  • 4
    +1 You saved me the labour to write an answer. I'd still point out that Ayn Rand explicitly favored and praised capitalism, whereas "intellectuals" (especially the ones that get paid by tax money) tend to support, if not lead, the anti-capitalist movement and its mentality.
    – Ingo
    Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 16:12
  • 1
    Interesting. My sense is that Rand is near-uniformly not treated as philosophically significant by academic professional philosophers in the US. But if the unconscious motivation you describe were the cause of that, wouldn't you expect to see disproportionately more Ayn Rand enthusiasts at private institutions? Yet, in the US, there are about 3 times as many private as public 4-year colleges. I don't have the comparison data, but your argument would seem to apply to only about 25% of US institutions, right? Commented Dec 14, 2013 at 22:03
  • 1
    @ChristopherE As I said, it takes only a small number of people so influenced to drag a Zeitgeist with them, especially within their own social milieu. Heretical opinions have a hard time to challange established doctrines and Rand is about as heretical to the current academic mainstream as Calvinism was to Catholicism. Universities are somewhat independent financially, but they share the same common ideas to which Rand is a threat, so they still act in sync. I do think this is changing though, and it's changing in the US: They only place where there is something such as a private university.
    – John
    Commented Dec 15, 2013 at 2:41
  • 1
    This is a conspiracy theory, not an answer.
    – augurar
    Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 18:39
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    @augurar Then you must believe that the Catholic church used to fall under what you call a "conspiracy" in the middle ages also. I think that's inappropriate, since neither those nor academic philosophers are conscious about their motivations, nor do they talk about it among themselves - meaning they don't actually conspire.
    – John
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 10:55

I'm having a hard time reading many of the Objectivist responses, because they seems to be based on a completely mistaken understanding of the differences between Aristotle and what could be broadly termed "idealist" philosophy. First, to say that "Perception is reality" in Kantian terms does not in the least mean that the reality human beings perceive doesn't run by regular and objectively quantifiable laws; nor does it mean that reality is different for every human being. Objectivists might remember from the Critique of Pure Reason that Kant proposes as the root of his philosophy that the human mind has certain inbuilt categories that determine perception and make it the same for every human being: time, space, and causality. So this talk of "the Matrix" and "bending spoons" is really just dishonest subterfuge.

Aristotle and Kant wouldn't disagree that every human mind perceives the same reality. What they disagree on is whether that reality has an existence independent of the human mind. Aristotle posits that it does; Kant that it doesn't. Aristotle believes that the being and predictable behavior of perceived objects is a result of an independently existing nature, which exists through a substantial form. Kant believes that the being and predictable behavior of perceived objects comes from an inbuilt mental conditioning of an unknowable outside Thing-in-itself through the categories of time, space, and causality. The Kantian position is a little counter-intuitive, but a loose understanding of it can be gained by imagining every human being as having a built in virtual reality system that transforms all material data from the outside world into something completely different; and since the program for every one of those virtual reality systems is the same, each human being perceives the same "empirical" reality. (The difference between this analogy and Kant's actual position, of course, is that Kant left the question open as to whether perceived, "empirical" reality matches or is different from the independently existing reality of Thing-in-itself).

In fact, it's Aristotle's philosophy that leaves the way open for things not explainable by normal "scientific" reasoning, and Kant's that closes the door. This is because Aristotle believed that beings exist through having a certain nature, while Kant believed that that beings, or at least beings in perceived reality, exist through a kind of pre-determined conditioning. Thus, in Aristotle's system, there could very conceivably be beings whose nature has a power beyond the human to effect results by means beyond human understanding; and in fact Aristotle thought the natural world could not be fully explained except by positing such beings, which he called "separated substances." In Kant's system, on the other hand, what human beings can perceive is limited by the human mind's pre-determined conditions; which conditions, having certain severe limits, produce a perceived reality completely predictable and regular to which no exception can ever exist. The perceived reality can always be quantified by mathematics, and thus the empirical world is entirely explainable by scientific measures. There can be no extraordinary occurences, no "miracles", no "bending spoons." So it seems like Aristotle is rather a peculiar ally for Rand and the Objectivist. Kant would seem much more in line with their so-called epistemology.

I think it's reasons like this that have led to Rand's philosophy being dismissed by academics. Rand didn't understand philosophy, and consequently Objectivism is based not on real premises and arguments but on a whole host of misunderstandings and half-truths about what other philosophers actually thought. So Objectivism isn't really a philosophy. It's internally self-contradictory - if anything, it can be best called a political ideology.

For the record, I'm an Aristotelian.

  • 2
    You spend a lot of time debating between Aristotle and Kant, and then end by saying Rand is not internally consistent, without offering an example. Where is the internal inconsistency? Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 5:59
  • Your last paragraph implies that in order to do real philosophy you have to understand other philosophers first - which is of course nonsensical as there had to be a first one. - Personally I reject Kant for another reason (I didn't even know that he said what you argue about in your text.): His duty-ethics. I'm pretty sure that this bit was way more instrumental for the disasters of the German idealist tradition than musings on the objectivity of reality.
    – John
    Commented Dec 14, 2013 at 19:27

Because it's garbage! Do you think there is a correlation between bad metaphysics in popular science and second-rate philosophers dominating public discourse like Rand? I do. It is definitely a sign of the state of things. She became popular here in the US where it is almost a civic duty to be philosophically illiterate. Philosophy is not only viewed with contempt, but it isn't seen as practical or consistent with the mentality of "get er' done." Under such conditions what looks like philosophy gets peddled about as the real thing, and who is really going to judge the difference?

A writer like Rand doesn't need academics under such conditions. I don't think it is her fault since she does feel the void for public intellectuals to be philosophical--however impoverished it is. And it is bad! The closest thing you will find to philosophy in the mainstream is either a cosmetic brand of women's makeup that goes by the name on the Home Shopping Network, or the new MTV show called Failosophy which makes fun of wild viral videos. So the fact that Rand has not been read or taken seriously by us academics is a blessing and a curse. For people know who she was and talk about her books. When it comes to academic philosophy nobody knows what we do or actually cares. Her rhetoric and imaginative literature have been able to resist the social pressures which are making philosophy (at least in the academic sense) an irrelevant relic or as a student just told me last semester, what "looks more like your hobby!" It would be difficult to refute that she knew this and could play with people in all kinds of idiosyncratic ways, even in her coffin.

Now for the curse, she falls into the fetish of pop culture and academics alike! She is an ideologue with her social blueprint and "ready-to-hand" ISM. I agree with Eric Voegelin that "None of the ideological Isms is acceptable in a critical investigation" (Order and History, Vol. 4, 236). Rand provides another deformative symbolization in the littered "wasteland" of ideologies. She is an irresponsible reader of other philosophers and history. But what else would you expect from one who weaves fiction in as a cover of mass ignorance? She has low standards and that is the bottom-line. Without getting all high-brow or looking for ultimate answers, it is not too much to ask that we shoot for a higher threshold. We have to remain open to the search and possibility of what can be salvaged without settling for "smart idiots" (Eric Voegelin's term) like Rand.

  • 1
    Waiting to hear some feedback! I would like SEP to consider that we need to write a 500 word response for every "critic" vote. I wrote a constructive answer and instead of giving constructive feedback we have dogmatists policing votes just because they don't like something. This is similar to how governments are ran and your vote is probably worth less than it is in a US presidential election (it's like dot and 7 zeros). SO, can you drop the fanfare and write a response? Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 2:43
  • -1: What should the reader learn about Rand's philosophy, even if it's just its flaws, from your answer? I learnt nothing. Comparisons to Home Shopping, MTV, etc. sounds like just rhetorical gas. There is quite a bit of that here, actually. "So the fact that Rand has not been taken seriously..." re-states the false assumption that the questioner made. Even the bits you quoted of Voegelin are devoid of information. The only part where I agree with you is that she is an irresponsible reader of other philosophers. But you did not substantiate that either.
    – prash
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 13:26
  • @prash: Thanks and your objections are duly noted! Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 21:17

There are many "reasons" why academics dislike Rand's work.

Rand disagrees with a lot of bad ideas that are fashionable among philosophers. Many philosophers want to say that it is sometimes right for you to sacrifice your own interests, or those of others. An example, of this would be the framing and discussion surrounding the trolley problem. This is a fictional scenario in which they say your only options are to allow one person to die (or murder him by pushing him off a bridge), or let lots of people die. It is notable that the people proposing this never flesh it out in any detail: they say you can't solve the problem by fiat. But in reality, you either lack the knowledge required to make the judgement necessary to kill people, or there are other options that may be difficult but might work, e.g. - tapping on the rails to warn people of the approaching train by Morse code. Many philosophers interpret insistence on individual rights as lack of nuance, but in reality they are the ones who neglect the complexity of real life, and the fact that you have to adopt moral principles to deal with it.

A related issue is that many philosophers seem to imagine they can prove their views, but that Rand can't prove hers. Neither Rand nor her opponents can prove their views correct because proof is impossible. (To clarify, this is not Rand's position, it is mine. In this respect, I am closer to Karl Popper than to Rand, see "Realism and the Aim of Science" by Popper. Rand did have some good epistemological ideas, like the idea that knowledge is contextual, see Peikoff's "Understanding Objectivism" for a good discussion.) But Rand came up with devastating arguments against common, flawed ideas about morality, partly by regarding morality as a set of ideas you have to be able to enact in reality. She also explained and illustrated a lot of detail about the logic of both good and bad ideas and what happens if you act on them in her novels. But most philosophers imagine they can prove their ideas and so are not interested in criticism. There are rituals among philosophers that pass for critical discussion, see "Words and Things" by Ernest Gellner for a description of this that applies to most philosophers, not just the language philosophers he happened to criticise. Philosophers who don't want to do that and insist it is not acceptable are not part of the club. Rand is not the only example of this, Popper also didn't want to play that game and was hated as a result.

In addition, Rand was opposed to the idea of the state doing anything other than national defence, courts and police, including handouts to academics. Her best description of the ideas that lead academics to want government support is her description of Robert Stadler in "Atlas Shrugged", a description that goes far to explain why academics hate Rand.


A brief comment. Rand's "epistimology" is an egoist ideology at best, or a idealization of self-centrism at worst. Simply put, she does not state philosophy. She states simple beliefs she labeled as objectivist. The problem is that objectivism self-destructs when presented from such a quasi-solopsistic point of view; indeed, it becomes subjective.

The fact is, Rand's limited training in philosophy simply doesn't stand up to standards that raise it to a philisophical level. Even Popper does a better job at this, from and his work is relatively simple to present refutations. The fact is, like other quacks, as far into lunacy as L. Ron Hubbard, (representing a move toward insanity), relay upon using narcissist manipulations to draw followers to legitimize their work. The fact is, few, if any, of these sycophants have the or intellectual capacity, training or expertise to give credence in support of Rands work.

Where Rand's strong suit is, is as a fiction writer, who presents worlds runamock by tattered governance, destroying the ideal and freedoms of the individual. She ignores the fact that, even in her novels, she supports her individualistic protagonists by community -just as is represented in her own life.

Though her stories reflect her absolutist pseudo objectivist ideologies, if analyzed against a free world, would end with markedly different conclusions. For example if the wealthy industrialists of the world abandoned the complaining masses to an island, the rest of the world would be chaotic...for a moment. Eventually, more leaders would arise, and, hopefully, some people will have learned lessons and created more equitable societies. Atlas would have shrugged, and picked up another rock.

In conclusion. Rand must be taken with a grain of salt. She makes good points about the oppression of governance, but ignores the oppression of oligarchs and corporatists who endenture their workers, presenting them with a choice: live for my work, or strike out on your own. Neithe are proper choices. The proper choice is not to believe in philosophies that offer a lifestyle that is simply idealistic, regardless if it is pie in the sky social utopias, or orderly corpocracies.


"Why is Ayn Rand's Objectivism philosophy dismissed by academics?"

The simple answer is she challenges fundamentals. She doesn't just bare assert that this world exists, that is this objective reality independent of your conscious awareness of it, she makes an effort to validate it, providing her own rigorous solutions to major longstanding problems in philosophy such as the Problem of Universals and the Is-Ought dichotomy.

Her ethics and politics are diametric opposites of what dominates the culture. The individual in her view doesn't have to justify his existence by serving others, and has a right to exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing others for himself or himself for others, a false alternative.

So win win trade or individual rights and its non-coercion between people, so freedom and its economic system animated by capital because of all property being privately owned, etc, being her politics, alienates her from religious morality of sacrificing for the community and the dominant secular version of sacrifice to the community through "giving back", envy, class warfare, wealth redistribution, etc.

She's the only philosopher relentlessly for reason, logic and profit, and against mysticism and sacrifice.

  • 1
    So, it is the fault of others? Seriously? There are plenty of philosophers who challenge fundamentals, and they seem to be taken in serious by academics. Why would Rand be an exception? Probably because she "challenges the fundamentals" without properly understanding what the fundamentals are? Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 16:14

For the same reason that almost no economics major has ever heard of Ludwig Von Mises or the Austrian school of economics: it isn't very popular. Rand's objectivism is a slap in the face of academics and their pet-ideology, socialism. The same can be said for Von Mises' free-market theory.

Rand makes a few assumptions in her work, but nothing more special than Marx or Kant.

Or to put it slightly differently: while socialism appeals to intellectualism, Objectivism appeals to rational self-interest, which can be interpreted as selfishness by academics.


The real question should be why anyone takes Rand seriously. The flaws in her work are numerous, probably the most glaring is her refusal to deal honestly with conlfict between reasonable people by declaring that there are no such things.

You can find a detailed dissectionof Rand's Atlas Shrugged and ancillary works here:


  • First off welcome to philosophy.se. Second, link answers are strongly discouraged here both be because we're trying to compile answers and because content elsewhere can change. But for reference, "the real question" to answer here is the one the OP asked.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 22:27
  • "there are no such things".... there's no such thing as reasonable people? or conflict between them? Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 15:51

I'm having trouble reading this because all of the points stated about Ayn Rand and her philosophy are simply wrong. Anyone who has read any of her non-fiction will know this. As stated above, she bases everything back to the metaphysical(Following that of Aristotle, reality is absolute and the mind perceives it)...the Law of Identity..a thing is what it is..A is A. 2+2=4. If you agree with science and logic, and that reality is real and absolute, then you will like Ayn Rand and Objectivism. If you can refute her axioms EXISTENCE EXISTS or CONSCIOUSNESS....then you can prove her wrong...except you need to both exist and be conscious to contemplate the axioms(that is why they are called axioms folks...irreducible primaries)...so good luck. If you believe in a Platonic or Kantian metaphysics...ie you believe in God, Quantum Physics, String Theory, The Matrix etc.... Then her philosophy is not for you and you should continue to pray to God or stare at a spoon and try to bend it.

Objectivism and Randism are different. An Objectivist does not have to agree 100% with Ayn Rand...although they WILL agree 99.9% with her because everything is based off of your primary tool of survival..YOUR MIND...RATIONALITY, REASON, LOGIC...Objectivists will almost always agree with each other because everything is based off of reasoning(deductive and inductive logic)..not like religions where morality is subjective according to how you interpret the book...and whether or not the book is full of contradictions which are emotional/whimsically followed or disregarded..... Objectivism is about integrating concepts and eliminating contradictions so that EVERYTHING works as a system...Objectivism is a closed system, meaning that every single piece affects the other... For example, when children are taught that 2+2=4 in grade school, and then they return from recess to learn that Jesus fed thousands with a few buckets of fish...an objectivist thinker...will question the teacher...because philosophy is about finding TRUTH...and the TRUTH is ABSOLUTE.... Morality is not subjective...it is OBJECTIVE... "Objective" simply means that when you look at the world(reality) it does not change according to your perception(subjective)...reality is absolute and you perceive it... Anyway, anyone on here bashing Rand without actually using REASON and LOGIC but instead attacking her with slander...When approaching the philosophy of Objectivism:

"[There is a] dangerous little catch phrase which advises you to keep an “open mind.” This is a very ambiguous term—as demonstrated by a man who once accused a famous politician of having “a wide open mind.” That term is an anti-concept: it is usually taken to mean an objective, unbiased approach to ideas, but it is used as a call for perpetual skepticism, for holding no firm convictions and granting plausibility to anything. A “closed mind” is usually taken to mean the attitude of a man impervious to ideas, arguments, facts and logic, who clings stubbornly to some mixture of unwarranted assumptions, fashionable catch phrases, tribal prejudices—and emotions. But this is not a “closed” mind, it is a passive one. It is a mind that has dispensed with (or never acquired) the practice of thinking or judging, and feels threatened by any request to consider anything.

What objectivity and the study of philosophy require is not an “open mind,” but an active mind—a mind able and eagerly willing to examine ideas, but to examine them critically. An active mind does not grant equal status to truth and falsehood; it does not remain floating forever in a stagnant vacuum of neutrality and uncertainty; by assuming the responsibility of judgment, it reaches firm convictions and holds to them. Since it is able to prove its convictions, an active mind achieves an unassailable certainty in confrontations with assailants—a certainty untainted by spots of blind faith, approximation, evasion and fear." - Ayn Rand

If you are to attack her...attack her axioms first...attack aristotle's Law of Identity...or simple say out loud that you believe "Perception is reality"...in which case..go take some shrooms, or snort some coke, walk up to the roof of a tall building and see if when you feel, think, and believe you can fly, ....JUMP.

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