Rand originally expressed her philosophical ideas in her novels, most notably, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. An axiom is a proposition that defeats its opponents by the fact that they have to accept it and use it in the process of any attempt to deny it. It is proof that they are axioms, that they are at the base of knowledge and thus inescapable. She further said that to be is to be something, that "existence is identity". That is, to be is to be "an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes". That which has no nature or attributes does not and cannot exist.
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Rand also delivered a version on radio and, in a separate radio program, answered questions on the subject. You damned man, you damned existence, you damned this earth, but never dared to question your code.
You went on crying that your code was noble, but human nature was not good enough to practice it. And no one rose to ask the question: Good? I am the man who has asked that question. Your moral code has reached its climax, the blind alley at the end of its course. And if you wish to go on living, what you now need is not to return to morality.
Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code. The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values? Let me stress this. The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept?
The first question is: Does man need values at all — and why? Does an arbitrary human convention, a mere custom, decree that man must guide his actions by a set of principles — or is there a fact of reality that demands it?
Is ethics the province of whims: of personal emotions, social edicts and mystic revelations — or is it the province of reason? Is ethics a subjective luxury — or an objective necessity? Some of them did so explicitly, by intention — others implicitly, by default. No philosopher has given a rational, objectively demonstrable, scientific answer to the question of why man needs a code of values. So long as that question remained unanswered, no rational, scientific, objective code of ethics could be discovered or defined.
The greatest of all philosophers, Aristotle, did not regard ethics as an exact science; he based his ethical system on observations of what the noble and wise men of his time chose to do, leaving unanswered the questions of: why they chose to do it and why he evaluated them as noble and wise.
Most philosophers took the existence of ethics for granted, as the given, as a historical fact, and were not concerned with discovering its metaphysical cause or objective validation. Many of them attempted to break the traditional monopoly of mysticism in the field of ethics and, allegedly, to define a rational, scientific, nonreligious morality.
But their attempts consisted of trying to justify them on social grounds, merely substituting society for God. By what? Faith — instinct — intuition — revelation — feeling — taste — urge — wish — whim.
If you wonder why the world is now collapsing to a lower and ever lower rung of hell, this is the reason. If you want to save civilization, it is this premise of modern ethics — and of all ethical history — that you must challenge. To challenge the basic premise of any discipline, one must begin at the beginning. In ethics, one must begin by asking: What are values?
Why does man need them? It presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible.
The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death.
Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.
Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or to lose; it could not regard anything as for or against it, as serving or threatening its welfare, as fulfilling or frustrating its interests. It could have no interests and no goals. Only a living entity can have goals or can originate them.
And it is only a living organism that has the capacity for self-generated, goal-directed action. What standard determines what is proper in this context? No choice is open to an organism in this issue: that which is required for its survival is determined by its nature, by the kind of entity it is. In a fundamental sense, stillness is the antithesis of life. Life can be kept in existence only by a constant process of self-sustaining action.
An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means — and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated.
Without an ultimate goal or end, there can be no lesser goals or means: a series of means going off into an infinite progression toward a nonexistent end is a metaphysical and epistemological impossibility.
It is only an ultimate goal, an end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. By means of the physical sensations of pleasure or pain. Just as sensations are the first step of the development of a human consciousness in the realm of cognition, so they are its first step in the realm of evaluation.
He has no choice about it, and he has no choice about the standard that determines what will make him experience the physical sensation of pleasure or of pain. What is that standard? His life. The physical sensation of pleasure is a signal indicating that the organism is pursuing the right course of action. The physical sensation of pain is a warning signal of danger, indicating that the organism is pursuing the wrong course of action, that something is impairing the proper function of its body, which requires action to correct it.
The best illustration of this can be seen in the rare, freak cases of children who are born without the capacity to experience physical pain; such children do not survive for long; they have no means of discovering what can injure them, no warning signals, and thus a minor cut can develop into a deadly infection, or a major illness can remain undetected until it is too late to fight it. Consciousness — for those living organisms which possess it — is the basic means of survival.
The simpler organisms, such as plants, can survive by means of their automatic physical functions. The higher organisms, such as animals and man, cannot: their needs are more complex and the range of their actions is wider. The physical functions of their bodies can perform automatically only the task of using fuel, but cannot obtain that fuel. To obtain it, the higher organisms need the faculty of consciousness.
A plant can obtain its food from the soil in which it grows. An animal has to hunt for it. Man has to produce it. A plant has no choice of action; the goals it pursues are automatic and innate, determined by its nature. Nourishment, water, sunlight are the values its nature has set it to seek. Its life is the standard of value directing its actions. There are alternatives in the conditions it encounters in its physical background — such as heat or frost, drought or flood — and there are certain actions which it is able to perform to combat adverse conditions, such as the ability of some plants to grow and crawl from under a rock to reach the sunlight.
The range of actions required for the survival of the higher organisms is wider: it is proportionate to the range of their consciousness. The lower of the conscious species possess only the faculty of sensation, which is sufficient to direct their actions and provide for their needs. A sensation is produced by the automatic reaction of a sense organ to a stimulus from the outside world; it lasts for the duration of the immediate moment, as long as the stimulus lasts and no longer.
Sensations are an automatic response, an automatic form of knowledge, which a consciousness can neither seek nor evade. An organism that possesses only the faculty of sensation is guided by the pleasure-pain mechanism of its body, that is: by an automatic knowledge and an automatic code of values. Within the range of action possible to it, it acts automatically to further its life and cannot act for its own destruction. The higher organisms possess a much more potent form of consciousness: they possess the faculty of retaining sensations, which is the faculty of perception.
An animal is guided, not merely by immediate sensations, but by percepts. Its actions are not single, discrete responses to single, separate stimuli, but are directed by an integrated awareness of the perceptual reality confronting it.
It is able to grasp the perceptual concretes immediately present and it is able to form automatic perceptual associations, but it can go no further. It is able to learn certain skills to deal with specific situations, such as hunting or hiding, which the parents of the higher animals teach their young. But an animal has no choice in the knowledge and the skills that it acquires; it can only repeat them generation after generation.
And an animal has no choice in the standard of value directing its actions: its senses provide it with an automatic code of values, an automatic knowledge of what is good for it or evil, what benefits or endangers its life.
An animal has no power to extend its knowledge or to evade it. In situations for which its knowledge is inadequate, it perishes — as, for instance, an animal that stands paralyzed on the track of a railroad in the path of a speeding train. But so long as it lives, an animal acts on its knowledge, with automatic safety and no power of choice: it cannot suspend its own consciousness — it cannot choose not to perceive — it cannot evade its own perceptions — it cannot ignore its own good, it cannot decide to choose the evil and act as its own destroyer.
Man has no automatic code of survival. He has no automatic course of action, no automatic set of values. His senses do not tell him automatically what is good for him or evil, what will benefit his life or endanger it, what goals he should pursue and what means will achieve them, what values his life depends on, what course of action it requires.
His own consciousness has to discover the answers to all these questions — but his consciousness will not function automatically. Man, the highest living species on this earth — the being whose consciousness has a limitless capacity for gaining knowledge — man is the only living entity born without any guarantee of remaining conscious at all. But conceptual knowledge cannot be acquired automatically. It is by organizing his perceptual material into concepts, and his concepts into wider and still wider concepts that man is able to grasp and retain, to identify and integrate an unlimited amount of knowledge, a knowledge extending beyond the immediate perceptions of any given, immediate moment.
The faculty that directs this process, the faculty that works by means of concepts, is: reason. The process is thinking. It is a faculty that man has to exercise by choice. Thinking is not an automatic function.
In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort.
See Article History Objectivism, philosophical system identified with the thought of the 20th-century Russian-born American writer Ayn Rand and popularized mainly through her commercially successful novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged Its principal doctrines consist of versions of metaphysical realism the existence and nature of things in the world are independent of their being perceived or thought about , epistemological or direct realism things in the world are perceived immediately or directly rather than inferred on the basis of perceptual evidence , ethical egoism an action is morally right if it promotes the self-interest of the agent , individualism a political system is just if it properly respects the rights and interests of the individual , and laissez-faire capitalism. Objectivism also addresses issues in aesthetics and the philosophy of love and sex. Perhaps the best-known and most-controversial aspect of objectivism is its account of the moral virtues, in particular its unconventional claim that selfishness is a virtue and altruism a vice. Rand held that all people, whether they realize it or not, are guided in their thoughts and actions by philosophical principles and assumptions.
“The Objectivist Ethics” – Ayn Rand’s powerful summary of her philosophy
Answer: My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists—and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these. To live, man must hold three things as the ruling values of his life: Reason—Purpose—Self-esteem. Reason, as his only tool of knowledge—Purpose, as his choice of the happiness which that tool must proceed to achieve—Self-esteem, as his inviolate certainty that his mind is competent to think and his person is worthy of happiness, which means: worthy of living.
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I also found that she had misunderstood Hayek, and possibly Mill. The key difference I have with Ayn Rand in this particular essay is this: that while she agrees that life is of ultimate value, she then imposes her own views — "Reason, Purpose, and Self-Esteem" — as being key values. All I care is that you remain free to do whatever you wish to, so long as you are held to account for your contracts, your words, your deeds. That is the key: freedom subject to accountability.
The Objectivist Ethics