I just read Atlas Shrugged and was wondering if the kind of moral objectivism suggested in there is even practical in real life.

For example, I have an IT assignment to do for high school, and we have been assigned groups. My partners are all incredibly lazy—they do nothing and always have new excuses for why they couldn't do their work.

If I understood Ayn Rand's Objectivism correctly, she would suggest that I not to do anything at all in response, thus letting us all crash into the disaster of 0 points. I can't really afford that, but on the other hand, if I were now to do all the work on my own, I would support the looters since they would get a good mark too. Also, I am already getting a worse mark compared to what I would get when working alone, since my product is divided by three. Another issue is that if I work very hard now, the others will notice that they can get away with doing nothing, which is not a good idea to be spreading.

So is this kind of philosophy even applicable in daily life?

  • 1
    That is absolutely not what Ayn Rand would have suggested. Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 9:26
  • 1
    I would say not. Perhaps there is someone somewhere who finds it applicable and useful but I've never met anyone. It's not a philosophy that solves philosophical problems,
    – user20253
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 14:55
  • Ayn Rand would have said:why are you working as a group in the first place ?
    – armand
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 0:11

7 Answers 7


Well, that depends. If we use Ayn Rands fictional work as a basis for reasonable behavior, we could look at the behavior of Howard Roark rather than John Galt. When asked by another architect for help on a project, Roark simply did the work because he could, without worrying about whether he would get credit or money. So Roark would probably do the project himself if he thought it was interesting enough to do, and not do it if he didn't.

One question you might ask yourself is whether this project and this class have value to you in the first place. If you think you can use the project as a learning opportunity for yourself, then the rational thing is to do so, whether or not your classmates learn anything, or get good marks. The risk of your classmates receiving an unearned benefit from your academic achievement is secondary to the question of whether you can benefit from the learning opportunity.

Looking at Atlas Shrugged, John Galt did not stop participation in the world because he didn't want the looters to benefit from his work. He stopped because he no longer needed to participate. It no longer benefitted him to be a part of the larger economy, and he recognized that fact. He also believed that he had no duty to participate in an economic system that no longer allowed him to benefit from his labor.

In your case, the competition for marks/grades/academic credit isn't a zero sum game. You will still have earned a good grade, even if your group members receive an unearned, good grade, so the system should continue to benefit you, if what you are learning will provide opportunities, or other benefits to you.

Of course, as pointed out by others, Ayn Rand's fiction is not the same as her non-fiction, so to answer the question more fully would require an analysis of her more detailed explanations of objectivism.

  • 3
    Yes. @philosodad is on point. Howard Roark agrees. Commented Jun 2, 2012 at 4:02
  • But what about 'moral hazard', teaching these others that it's OK to slack off? And the OP only has limited resources. He can do 100% for himself but not 300% work to complete the assignment.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 15:34
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    I'm not sure that Ayn Rand would care about the moral hazard. And if the OP can't complete the assignment without the others, than all he can do is what he can do. From Ayn Rand's point of view, he is morally obligated to himself first, so acting in a way that hurts himself out of spite or for fear of teaching the wrong lesson to slackers is actually unethical.
    – philosodad
    Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 20:34
  • The only problem with the Roark example is that characters in Rand's fiction are not always behaving consistently with her philosophy. The fiction involves a lot of internal conflict in her main characters exactly because they are NOT behaving consistently. Roark's behavior in your example is not a guidepost.
    – Lucretius
    Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 1:42

Failing your class is not a rational option. There is a metaphysical primary: reality. In reality you can't fail the class so you must suffer. If you wanted to strike, which you seem to think is the only application of the philosophy, you must plan for it accordingly including your future. You're confused, and it's because your applying the storyline and not the philosophy.

Your interpretation of philosophy is not applicable because you are blanking out the primacy of existence and calling that Objectivism, which is basically a strawman.

Edit: I want to add that I've also read Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. I highly recommend it. But the ultimate practical way to apply philosophy is with your own use of logic regarding the world around you, take care with it accordingly.


This is straightforward. Is the project and grade of value to you? If it is then complete the project to the best of your abilities. If it is not, then you should not have taken the class in the first place.

Your classmates are either your partners in this providing value to the project or not. If not they are of no importance to the you or the project. You are not to sacrifice yourself or your grade to teach them a lesson. Just complete the project on your own.


The view of Objectivism that you present is somewhat naïve. Objectivism is practical. What you present, as was rightfully pointed out in another answer, is the story of Atlas Shrugged. That's like saying that being a Nietzsche enthusiast means going around shouting "GOD IS DEAD".

Secondly, Ayn Rand believed Objectivism was eminently practical, in fact she stated (in other works) that morality (and philosophy as a whole) must necessarily be practical and true (see her work on the good in theory/bad in practice dichotomy) because one implies the other.

I suggest that you take your interest in Objectivism and purchase a copy of Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, by Leonard Peikoff. His work is a condensation of Rand's rather sporadic and disconnected writing and making it clear and concise. Do not go asking philosophers or laymen their opinion, it will most likely be hate filled and untrue (Oh you believe in dog-eat-dog, and the poor dying and you hate gays, etc...).

Good luck researching her philosophy and remember what she taught: use only the judgment of your own mind.

  • 7
    -1 for using an otherwise good answer as a platform to disparage philosophers (and "laypeople"). Please provide compelling evidence for your statement, or at least be civil.
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 11:44
  • 2
    "Use only the judgment of your own mind...except it's okay to listen to me, Leonard Peikoff, and others who like Ayn Rand's philosophy...just don't consider the judgment of people who disagree with her." Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 14:49
  • I personally agree that Objectivism is practical. However, merely citing the fact that its progenitor asserted it to be practical (and true) is hardly strong evidence of such.
    – Ben
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 2:36
  • +1 @RexKerr As someone who does not agree with Rand about nearly anything, the hate of her in academia is hyperbolic. And yes, it goes beyond criticism – it is hatred. That’s the reality of the sociology in modern academic philosophy. She isn’t just treated as a bad philosopher; too often, she’s treated as if she’s both incredibly stupid and pure evil. The poster is relaying that reality. Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 5:05

Objectivism is practical.

Supporting looters is impractical as a general overall policy. In a difficult situation where all your options suck in some way, then you might do it temporarily. It's a sign something is wrong though. Why does the school have a format that would give lazy bums credit for work you do? The school's system is flawed. Alternatives to school are worth considering. But look at Roark. He didn't leave the moment school had one problem. You can ignore some issues (like who cares what grades other people get?) if you're getting something you want.

Note that people getting undeserved grades isn't very dangerous to you. Whereas supporting the looting politicians in Atlas Shrugged is much more dangerous to you because they keep passing more laws that harm your life.


In "The Fountainhead", Roark helped another architect, Peter Keating, which led to problems for both Roark and Keating. The question you ought to ask is whether carrying your project partners will lead to a problem for you. If the project is interesting that doesn't necessarily mean you should carry other people by doing it yourself. You should do the project if doing it will serve your interests and not otherwise.

If you want to do IT stuff there is no particular reason why you have to do it in school. You may be able to do more with a computer you own than a school computer, e.g. - install a programming language you're interested in. If you do stuff in school, the school will force you to cooperate with other people who don't pull their weight. The philosophy behind all schools is that children must be forced to learn. The child's opportunities must be limited in such a way that the child has to do stuff the teacher approves of. If you're registered for a school they may send the police to look for you if you don't turn up. If you don't want to think about specific subjects at specific times, you will be punished for committing a thought crime. You won't have the same problems if you learn outside school.

I would recommend that you carefully consider asking your parents if you can leave school and learn stuff on your own initiative. I can't tell whether this would work in your specific situation: you have to make that decision yourself. Your decision would depend on whether you think you would learn better outside school, on your parents and possibly other stuff. Working on projects that solve real problems has more relevance to real life than the makework imposed by schools.

If you decide to stay in school, you should consider incidents like Galt being tortured in "Atlas Shrugged" for how to cope with bad situations. Also see chapters 7 and 8 in "The Virtue of Selfishness" by Rand, which are about compromise and living in an irrational society respectively.

You might also be interested in reading


and discussing Rand's work at



You refer to a novel, albeit it describes a philosophy. The problem you fear is called "moral hazard" by economists. If you are all headed for a zero mark, then you will get zero. You have two options. Do nothing and you will be no worse off. Complete the assignment yourself and attach a letter to your teacher making it clear that you did it unaided. You might get a good mark, but you will have the satisfaction of dropping the lazy ...ers in the shit! I gather that Rand did not like being taken for a ride, so this seems fair.

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