Ayn Rand was not a philosopher and Objectivism is not some collection of philosophical arguments. Even by her own admission, she was opposed to philosophy as a field. Her work is predominantly a collection of her opinions and unsubstantiated postulates and proposals of what she considers ideal economic and social systems, which some people adhere to. In this sense, it seems more accurate to describe her as a politician and her work as an ideology, rather than having anything to do with philosophy.

Given that, why is she often quoted and cited on this forum? If she has nothing to do with philosophy and her arguments are not philosophical in nature, what is the point? Most of the times that she is cited, it is almost always in questions of the type "what is wrong with this philosopher's argument", and then some answerer will cite Ayn Rand's opinion of said philosopher's argument. It won't be a counterargument, just an opinion. For example, somebody will ask "what is wrong with Rawl's argument here", and instead of e.g. bringing up a contradiction or a false premise or whatever in Rawls argument, somebody will show up with an Ayn Rand quote that basically says "yeaaah, I don't like that conclusion by Rawls, my system is better". Ok, great, but that's not an argument.

  • Have you done a search for duplicate questions? This one seems to be the same question, but written in the negative. It also references another similar question
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 19:22
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    Also, how often do you see that sort of unsubstantiated opining about Rand on this forum? I don't notice it being a particularly common occurrence.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 19:46
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    Hi, welcome to Philosophy SE. Please visit our Help Center to see what questions we answer and how to ask. People have different ideas of what philosophy is, and there is no agency deciding who is or is not a philosopher. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy calls her a "novelist-philosopher who outlined a comprehensive philosophy", and they are a reputable source. Also, offering "better" alternatives to philosophical positions or theories is a valid form of discourse in both philosophy and science.
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 19:52
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    Well, some people disagree with your initial assertion. Until the Official Philosopher Licensing Board seizes total control over all speech, you're going to have to put up with people who foolishly think that a collection of writings on epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and politics has some bearing on philosophy. Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 16:31
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    I fell her lack of dispassion, profundity and logical clarity disqualify her, as a philosopher, but maybe it just disqualifies her from being a good one.
    – user20253
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 12:20

5 Answers 5


If she [Ayn Rand] has nothing to do with philosophy and her arguments are not philosophical in nature, what is the point?

Ayn Rand was a philosopher. She wrote about epistemology in "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology". She wrote about moral and political philosophy in many books. She wrote a book called "Philosophy: Who Needs It": the title essay of that book argued that everyone needs philosophy. The alternative to having an explicit philosophy is to have load of unexamined ideas you picked up because they happened to appeal to your whims. Rand judged many academic philosophers as bad philosophers. This is not the same as saying philosophy is a bad idea.

Rand's criticism of Rawls was not just that she didn't like his conclusions. Rather, her criticism was that she had argued against his conclusion. She also argued against his premises including the original position. See in particular chapter 11 of "Philosophy: Who Needs It": "An Untitled Letter".

Now, you say Rand has a particular political point of view. This is true, but she had arguments explaining why she took that position, unlike most politicians. In addition, people who claim to be politically neutral are often in the position of having a load of unrecognised and unargued moral and political positions that shape their actions by giving them vague feelings of righteousness or unease about particular issues and situations. And, as Rand argued, you need philosophy to sort out a mess like that.

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    The unexamined philosophy is not worth thinking, ha ha.
    – user32096
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 18:39

You might discribe Nietzsche's work as 'predominantly a collection of his opinions and unsubstantiated postulates and proposals'. So what?

You are going to have to qualify 'so much' in relative terms and specific posts; looks to be 1-2 threads a month. Doesn't sound disproportionate.

Hobbes is mentioned more frequently than the prestige of his thought might suggest, because he takes up a relatively extreme position on human nature - and his significance is perhaps most in the widespread responses to that. Similarly Rand's thought may not be very significant, but the challenge to respond to it is, as a pole on the spectrum of popularly influential discussion.


I think there's kind of two questions actually getting asked here.

The first question is: "why would it ever make sense to bring non-philosophical thought into philosophical inquiry?" Though I am no fan of Ayn Rand, I see no good reason why we ought to exclude from discussion the relevant (or maybe only plausibly relevant) thought of any individual simply on the bases that the individual did/does not consider herself to be a philosopher (or even has repudiated the title and/or the entire philosophical project), did not develop her ideas in a way that is sufficiently comprehensive or 'philosophical', or did not engage in philosophical activity as her profession. Even if it is the case that certain ideas can be considered 'unphilosophical' or were articulated by a person outside the discipline, or by a person who has expressed distaste for intellectual industry, it seems interdisciplinarity ought to improve the robustness of one's inquiry, which seems like a desirable outcome. Surely we don't want to surrender philosophical debate to only those who are really philosophers, whatever that means.

A more sophisticated argument against excluding certain kinds of thought on "that's it/that's not" grounds can be found in and extrapolated from Feyerabend's Against Method. Or Chuang-tzu. Or Nagarjuna.

I think the second question here is, "why does it seem that some people believe simply invoking some other thinker's opinion on a matter is actually constitutive of inquiry, argument, or discourse?" I think this is because people tend to fall in love with their opinions, which they often just co-opt from people they admire, and then trot them out in lieu of actually engaging in inquiry or discourse. At best, these types believe the underlying machinery of reason is self-evident. Often, they haven't bothered to do the reasoning, and they are hoping that by invoking a well-known thinker, their reasoning won't be questioned. At worst, these types don't realize that reasoning is necessary.

I'm sure someone will accuse me of straw man-ing it here, and that's fine. I'm just waxing humans, as I've observed them and as I've lived as one. Hopefully, someone will rescue me by posting some scathing Rand quotation.

  • I wonder what "waxing humans" means. Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 21:29
  • Just what it sounds like!
    – simpatico
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 2:35

I think Rand's rather persistent presence is due to three factors.

1 She is a NAME and is often described in the media as a philosopher. Many questioners are simply rather curious about her on that basis, particularly if they have had no contact with academic philosophy.

2 She does present a body of loosely connected ideas which looks superficially like a philosophical system. Gene H. Bell-Villada covers this point well :

Randianism ... exists as a consistent and rather simple set of beliefs, a theology one readily grasps and absorbs after spending some time with its scriptures. "Objectivism" is how the founder dubbed her system. At its core is the idea that selfishness is good, greed is admirable, and altruism is evil. (The Virtue of Selfishness is the pointed title of one of her essay collections.) Unfettered capitalism is the only true moral system in history. The successful businessman is the ideal hero of our time. The sign of the dollar is an icon to be worshiped and flaunted. On the other hand, generosity and compassion have no place in the world according to Rand. In a letter from the 1940s she singles out competence as "the only thing I love or admire in people. I don't give a damn about kindness, charity, or any of the other so-called virtues." Or, as Dominique Francon, the gorgeous and cold-hearted heroine ... of Rand's Fountain head reflects at one point with lofty sarcasm, "Compassion is a wonderful thing. It's what ing. It's what one feels when one looks at a squashed caterpillar."

Having ambitious claims as a total philosophy, Objectivism also posits a theory of knowledge. For Rand, the external world is to be grasped only through man's highest faculty: reason. (Reason, not accidentally, is the name of a libertarian magazine.) Rand's and Randians' formulaic paeans to rationality often sound like sloganeering, though admittedly the tradition goes back to the French Revolution and its anti-clerical, antireligious struggles. Rand herself was aggressively atheistic. On the othehand, despite Randroid fixation on the term "epistemology" and their own mega-word (take a deep breath) "psychoepistemology," she and her friends have little to say about messy, more complex and elusive ways of understanding such as experience or intuition. (Gene H. Bell-Villada, 'Who Was Ayn Rand?', Salmagundi, No. 141/142 (Winter - Spring 2004), pp. 227-242.)

3 Libertarian, pro-market and state-sceptical people readily take Rand, whatever the depth or sophistication with which their position can be defended (as by FA von Hayek and Robert Nozick), as an ally. Unless they probe her views and assess them with conceptual and argumentative rigour, they easily and perhaps naturally see her as a valiant champion, if a little acidic about compassion, of the right views - their own. She gains credence from what she appears to support rather than from what she actually delivers. She looks a fearless intellectual. She is fearless; her intellectual accreditation is another matter.


A key idea of the Objectivist philosophy is that arguments must be made in terms of essentials for conclusions to be valid and validatable. This is why, for example, the concept of a human as a rational animal leads to fewer flawed conclusions than other not essential descriptions such as “the animal that makes tools” or the “animal that that is social.” Rationality is the key distinguishing factor according to Aristotle, and Rand. Monkeys can make tools; dolphins and ants can be social, but only humans reason, and reason is the key differentiating factor. We cannot definitively determine the truth of idea like whether Rand was a philosopher merely by a survey. In principle, to understand whether or not Rand was a philosopher, you must first define your terms and answer questions like “What is a philosopher?” “What essential characteristics do philosophers have?” “Does Rand, in particular have these essential characteristics?” The definition must be arrived at by a process of abstraction resulting from the examination of multiple, particular examples of philosophers and noting the common elements. Definitions like “lover or wisdom” or “thinker” are not sufficient because they obviously include people outside the field. Something like “someone who thinks about the human condition in essential terms” is closer to the mark as is “a person who advances knowledge in the fields of metaphysics (ontology), epistemology (logic), ethics, politics, and aesthetics.” These fields are the branches philosophy according to Aristotle (a philosopher) and Rand (under consideration here). The question of why Rand continues to be regarded as a philosopher is a question in terms of non-essentials. Instead the question should focus on whether or not Rand was a philosopher. Facts are not determined by results of an opinion survey or by fiat. Also, it may indicate that you have already reached the conclusion (meaning you are no longer thinking) that Rand is not a philosopher and now you merely wonder why so many other people are wrong about this. If you are convinced of your position, offer facts and logical arguments supporting your position. If you cannot do this, check your premises, you may be incorrect. Be careful with the Gene H. Bell-Villada quote above. He mischaracterizes rather than argues here. Specifically, to characterize an “aggressively atheistic” philosophy based on “reason” as a “theology” with “scriptures” suggests that either he does not understand the words he is using or that he is up to something more sinister. The term epistemology in philosophy refers to a manner of knowing. How do we know and validate knowledge? “Psycho-epistemology” is a term Rand created to describe the cognitive processes involving interactions between the conscious mind and the automatic functions of the subconscious mind. (see “The Psycho-Epistemology of Art” The Romantic Manifesto.) Ironically, after Bell-Villada dismisses the term “psycho-epistemology” he complains that “she and her friends have little to say about…experience or intuition.” Experience creates the content of the subconscious. This content allows rapid evaluation of the current situation in the form of emotions or intuition. The detailed examination of these phenomena is psycho-epistemology. I am convinced that Rand is a philosopher but neither my certainty that she is nor Bell-Villada’s certainty that she is not should convince you. Instead, think for yourself. Read her non-fiction and determine on your own if her ideas are “loosely connected” or if they form a logically-consistent, well-connected philosophical system. After that you will be able to fully understand that the reason libertarians like her so much is that she provides a strong, rational foundation for the idea of liberty and freedom: based on a knowable universe, and reason as the means of knowing, humans must be free to act in accordance with their reason. This leads to the ideas that a proper government has the sole function of protecting individual rights so that individuals can act according to their reason and keep the products of their efforts without slavery or sacrifice of any kind.

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    Breaking this into multiple paragraphs would help with reading your answer. Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 0:49

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