I have read Ayn Rand's Fountainhead and also working through Atlas Shrugged.

What are some philosophical arguments against Objectivism?

NOTE: I am NOT a philosopher.

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    possible duplicate of Why is Ayn Rand's Objectivism philosophy dismissed by academics?
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 23:33
  • Welcome! If you are looking for references to critical readings of her material we have already covered that ground a good bit. Is there any chance I might persuade you to give us a little more here -- maybe specify a particular objectivist position or claim you might be thinking about here? At least I might suggest looking through the existing questions and answers here about the critical reception of Rand's work.
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 23:49
  • Just in passing, great questions ask about some very specific problem -- indicating what specific objectivist ideas and arguments are interesting to you would also help us frame answers more carefully
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 23:50
  • I want to know if there is any school of thought which is against objectivism and what do points they have? Commented Dec 3, 2011 at 0:07
  • Sure -- I'm just letting you know that some of this has been covered already; basically, there's just doesn't appear to be a lot of philosophical argument about Rand in academia (or without, for that matter.) Consider developing this a bit to focus on a specific problem or idea, some particular claim -- we might be able to help you out more if you can tell us a little bit more about what Objectivist claims and ideas are significant or important to you.
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Dec 3, 2011 at 0:43

5 Answers 5


I think you are misunderstanding the way the game is played.

You're not going to find some school of thought which is against objectivism; rather, you are going to find that all schools of thought (excepting objectivism) hold other views, many of which will disagree with the tenets of objectivism.

The question, reframed, is: Do Ayn Rand's arguments obtain? Does she succesfully argue for the positions she proffers? The overwhelming consensus among academic philosophers is that she does not-- but as far as I know, the only serious philosopher to bother with an explicit refutation of Ayn Rand is Robert Nozick's essay "On the Randian Argument." At the same time, it should be stressed that her book sales far outnumber all 20th century academic philosophers put together, so it is not clear (to me, at least) that doing serious philosophy was her goal, or the standard she should be graded against.

If your goal is to assess the philosophical merit of Rand, I suggest that you find a specific argument she makes, and ask us here for the common counter-arguments from the philosophical tradition.


to Michael Dorfman:

change "...doing serious philosophy was her goal..."


"... attaining recognition/validation from the current academic orthodoxy was her goal..."

And that would be more congruent with your second paragraph.

Rand was not "of" the current philosophic establishment. She rejected Plato and all his fruit. Her axiomatic position cannot be reconciled with his.

This is why serious students of Objectivism are not disturbed one bit that she is rejected by the current philosophical establishment.

  • 1
    Can you show me where your quotes come from? The original statements aren't present in the question as it is stated. Commented Dec 4, 2011 at 14:16
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    The first quote is verbatim out of Michael Dorfman's response. The second is my own, a suggestion that if swapped in the mind of the reader will change the POV. Commented Dec 4, 2011 at 17:13
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    Can you provide more support for your claim that "Her axiomatic position cannot be reconciled with his."? Other possibilities--that she was sloppy, that she appealed to emotion instead of developing a rigorous basis for her conclusions, etc.--seem to be commonly held among at least a notable subset of people familiar with academic philosophy. Determining which position is more correct is better done with evidence than assertion.
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Dec 4, 2011 at 18:58
  • Rand would ask for Platonists to supply a rigorous basis for their axiomatic position, challenging that they do not have one. Rand's rigorous base, as you probably know, is 'existence.' It tolerates no a priori truths, no supernatural, no trace of tolerance for any position that allows primacy of human consciousness over reality. Can you reconcile Plato, or any current school of academic philosophy that is not Objectivism, with that, axiomatically? Commented Dec 5, 2011 at 8:13
  • @JohnDonohue Your answer and your comments have not so far clarified your argumentation. It is unclear how we should move from "Rand wasn't interested in Platonic philosophy" (your answer) to "X is a philosophical school of thought that explicitly argues against objectivism" (the question). If you are attempting to sate that ALL of philosophy is a counterargument to Objectivism, that answer is far too broad for this question. Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 5:39

the arguments against Objectivism are mostly from people who don't understand Objectivism.

but an actual issue with Objectivism is induction. induction has logical problems as explained by Karl Popper and many others. Rand knew that she couldn't explain how induction worked and defend it in detail, but she still mistakenly assumed that it works somehow.


For starters, the philosophical materialism (the belief that the substance of the material universe is all that exists) of Objectivists contradicts their belief in rights. What is a right made of? A right is a philosophical concept, not made of matter, energy, or spacetime. Since Objectivism violates the Law of Non-Contradiction, and furthermore, holds the Law of Non-Contradiction as a self-evident axiom, Objectivism is nonsensical.

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    Commented Mar 20 at 14:10

You're not going to find some school of thought which is against objectivism; rather, you are going to find that all schools of thought (excepting objectivism) hold other views, many of which will disagree with the tenets of objectivism.

Let's first look at what Objectivism, as a philosophy, does say. Only a tiny fraction of the people who have read her novels read her non-fiction, which causes many people to assume that she only wrote fiction, or that her fiction is a reliable guide to her philosophy. (For example, see this rather confused -- but highly confident -- answer: Why is Ayn Rand's Objectivism philosophy dismissed by academics?).

Most of Ayn Rand's non-fiction was written after Atlas Shrugged. Though she'd worked out the broad outline of her philosophy during the writing of Atlas, it was during the years afterwards that she began to devote more and more of her time to debating ideas and writing non-fiction. Naturally, this caused her to get better over time.

You'll find an outline of her philosophy in John Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged. However, I don't recommend the speech as an introduction to her philosophy: it's explained in very idiosyncratic language. Furthermore, the speech focuses on ethics (i.e., egoism vs altruism), since that was the main theme of the book, and as a result its what she's famous for.

The basis of her thinking, though, is not egoism, but rationality. Which doesn't sound very original, and is another point which puts people off, as she often seems to be accusing everyone else in philosophy of being anti-reason mystics (including ostensibly pro-reason groups like the logical positivists). However, once you got into the technical details of her philosophy, you'll find she does have a lot of worthwhile things to say, and an original account of how the rational mind actually works.

The foundational topics of her philosophy are metaphysics (i.e., "what exists?") and epistemology (i.e., "how do we know it?"), and this is the base on which everything else is built. I'll cover the different areas in turn and explain where she conflicts with other schools of thought:

  1. Metaphysics/epistemology. Her main work on this topic is the book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, which is sold as a solution to a long-running problem in philosophy, the problem of universals. As far as I can tell, Rand contrasts her solution to four classical schools of thought on this issue: the pure realists, the moderate realists, the nominalists and the conceptualists. (Roughly, the first two hold that human concepts reflect some kind of metaphysical forms or essences; the latter two hold that concepts are merely arbitrary names or ideas; Rand says that they are tools of cognition, but formed by objective standards).

However, as far as I can tell, modern philosophy means something different by "universals", and modern philosophers in general do not believe that Rand has offered a solution to the problem.

Objectivism is also fundamentally opposed to Kantianism at its root, in particular the analytic/synthetic dichotomy, and the idea of a priori knowledge. Objectivism rejects the idea of knowledge gained via "pure reason".

  1. Free will. Objectivism does not fit neatly into any of the three dominant schools of thought on this question: determinism (which says that we don't have free will); libertarian indeterminism (which says that we do, and we're not determined); and compatibilism (which says that we are determined, but we do still have "free will" -- e.g. we're free if we can act according to our preferences, even if our preferences ultimately come from our genes, our environment, etc). I was a compatibilist for a long time even after becoming an Objectivist, since I didn't think the O-ist answer made any sense. Furthermore, since those 3 positions seem to cover all the possibilities, I thought Objectivism might simply be disguised compatibilism.

However, the Objectivist stance made sense once I realised that there was no good reason to assume reductionism or materialism were true. Determinism and compatibilism make sense if we assume reductionism/materialism, i.e., that everything that happens is at bottom simply atoms pinging in the void. The thing is, we have many concepts relating to consciousness (thought, belief, intention, memory, etc) which are meaningless if reductionism is true. You need a concept "volition" to make sense of other concepts of consciousness; if you deny volition, concepts like "concept", "meaning", "logic" and so on make no sense, and all philosophical discussion is basically piles of atoms screeching at each other.

In this sense, Objectivists are almost Cartesian dualist (Peikoff even said that Descartes gets a bad rap). Oism says that we have mind, we have matter, and that we don't completely know how the two relate.

  1. Ethics. Rand claimed to offer a solution to the "is-ought" problem with the idea that "the kind of being a living entity is, determines what it ought to do". Personally, I think that is-ought stands, that there are no universal "oughts", and that values are simply what each agent chooses to pursue. Where I think Objectivism differs from ethical subjectivism is in holding that rational beings need to rationally define their values -- this makes "rationality" an objective value, and the rest of Objectivist ethics stems from that. In terms of meta-ethics, afaik much of modern philosophy instead sees ethical statements as a priori truths.

As for actual ethics, Objectivists are of course seen as amoral baby-eating fascist monsters by a majority of critics.

  1. Politics. Unlike the Objectivist ethics, a lot of people share the Oist political vision of free markets and limited government, so a big source of confusion is between Objectivism and other pro-market and libertarian advocates. Lots of people these days support free markets as being the best thing for society -- which is true, but it's something Objectivism explicitly rejects. Free societies naturally prosper (because free minds are able to trade and share knowledge), but that's not the justification for freedom, which is seen as good on general principle. Objectivism also rejects libertarianism in its Rothbardian and Misesian flavours, for being based on moral subjectivism and/or rationalistic justifications (i.e. trying to derive everything from a single axiom, as Mises attempts to). (This latter point looks like narcissism of small differences to many outsiders).

  2. Aesthetics. I have to be honest and say that, while I agree with many of Rand's points on art, I think a lot of her aesthetic theory is simply her own personal preferences put into some systematic framework. She's certainly right that many modern books, movies etc -- even the good ones -- are overly "naturalistic", portraying boring, everyday characters with no plans or goals, merely reacting to events around them. Her own writing career seems to be that of an artist turning into a non-fiction essayist, with We: the Living being the most literary, The Fountainhead being a happy medium, and Atlas Shrugged a hybrid of novel and philosophical tract.

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    This seems to be an extended comment in response to an answer rather than an answer to the question at the top. You might not be familiar with the SE format (welcome to philosophy.SE), but that's not really what a separate answer is supposed to be used for.
    – virmaior
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 3:05

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