Ayn Rand and Objectivism:
An Introduction


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The study of the nature of reality

   In metaphysics, Rand affirmed the primacy of existence--that existence is. We can ask of any particular thing why it exists, but we cannot coherently ask of existence why it exists. Existence (reality) requires no explanation, since it is prior to and independent of consciousness. Since existence requires no explanation, questions as to when it began, and by whom it was created, don't make sense. Since no explanation of existence is necessary, no questions can arise about it. Existence is simple, irreducible, and foundational. It is the bedrock, the utterly basic, that provides the context for all other explanations. This is the meaning of Rand's first axiom, "existence exists."

   It follows from the Objectivist metaphysics that God, as understood by Western monotheistic religions, does not exist. Atheism is the only rationally defensible attitude toward the question of God's existence.  Rand used to say that she was an "intransigent" atheist but "not a militant one." Some people think that if there is no God, then life has no meaning or that there is no reason for a person to be moral. Rand dealt crushing blows to both objections. The best way to see how morality without God could be possible is to enter the world of Ayn Rand's fictional characters, especially Anthem, We the Living, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

   If there is no God, then that means that the universe was not "created." What about the Big Bang? If it occurred at all, it was just a phase transition of no significance beyond theoretical astrophysics. Existence is forever!

   Rand rejected what she called the "mind-body dichotomy." Man, in her view, was a being of integrated body and soul. She rejected as "mysticism" the mind-body dualism of René Descartes, who said that matter and spirit are two separate kinds of substances which can exist apart from one another. Yet, like Descartes, Rand affirmed the self-evident existence of volitional (free) consciousness--her second axiom. She rejected "behaviorism" and "eliminative materialism," both of which say that consciousness is an illusion. Rand reiterated Aristotle's dictum "A is A"--a thing is what it is and not some other thing--as her third axiom (the axiom of identity). Since consciousness is what it is, it's absurd to think that it can be "reduced" to something else that it isn't.

   Objectivism says that consciousness is an attribute of biological entities by which they acquire awareness of an independently existing reality. This view is sometimes called "non-reductive monism" by philosophers.

   One important corollary of the Objectivist axiom of identity is causal realism. Causal realism says that an entity may not act in contradiction to its identity.What things really are determine what they cause or what kinds of effects they can incur. So long as an entity remains the same, it must necessarily act in the same ways. What is possible is therefore determined by what it is in the nature of things to do. The modern orthodoxy, which traces back to David Hume, says that what is possible is what we can imagine or "conceive." This is, at root, the primacy of consciousness applied to the metaphysics of causality. The Objectivist-Aristotelian approach presupposes the primacy of existence.

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