Stages of Knowledge in Objectivism

By Chip Joyce

Being objective requires being aware of one's own knowledge in any given field or interest, and there are stages of knowledge. They are: beginner, novice, proficient, expert, maestro, and genius. Let us use the learning of Objectivism to concretize the stages.


The origin of “beginner”  is an Old English word for to open. What it means for this purpose is learning the fundamentals. The beginner learns the basics and gets a general sense of what something is. With regard to learning Objectivism, the beginner is reading Ayn Rand’s works for the first time.


The origin of "novice" is a Latin word meaning to newly come into a particular status. A person becomes a novice by learning the fundamentals. One becomes a novice Objectivist after one has surveyed Ayn Rand's works, taken the time to contemplate them, and begun to take an inventory of the ideas, principles and questions one has. A novice is at the stage of understanding the principles of Objectivism by reducing them to perceptual reality, integrating them with the rest of his knowledge, and rooting out contradictions.

The novice is properly a student of Objectivism, as opposed to being a beginner who is merely reading Ayn Rand’s works. Also, as the point of Objectivism is to live by it, the novice is committed to applying this knowledge to his life. The novice is progressing toward adhering consistently to reason in all aspects of life: i.e., to being an Objectivist. 


The origin of "proficient" is a Latin word for making progress. One attains proficiency in Objectivism when one has learned its principles, integrated them into one's knowledge, and lives by them.

It is critical to realize that being proficient is the practical and ideal end-point for most students of Objectivism, for it is the stage of understanding Objectivism sufficiently to lead a rational life.

As most students of Objectivism will attest, this may take years, perhaps decades.


The origin of "expert" is the Latin word for to be tested, in other words, to have experience. Whereas proficiency describes competency to handle the routine, expertise is the competency to handle the extraordinary. Those proficient in Objectivism know it well enough to lead a rational life; but attaining expertise requires knowing Objectivism to a degree of technical detail that is beyond what is needed to be rational. The expert Objectivist thoroughly understands, for example, the technical details of concept formation. He is also able to apply Objectivist principles to extraordinary topics and situations that most people simply need not consider. The expert is, essentially, a professional intellectual, and as such, has earned the status of being competent to teach.

The expert is not an innovator. Rather, the expert has mastered the innovative knowledge of others. Of course, the expert might refine, clarify, and elaborate, but in general, he explicates. The expert usually becomes well known in his field.

It is imperative to recognize that one cannot responsibly position oneself as an expert before attaining proficiency. In other words one must, to be credible, practice what one preaches. Ayn Rand wrote that a teacher may not "demand of his students a standard of conduct he failed to demand of himself... Such an attitude is not morally permissible in any writer or lecturer; it is worse in a lecturer on philosophy and psychology; it is still worse in a lecture on morality, who has to exemplify in his own conduct the moral principles he advocates. It is intolerable in a lecturer on Objectivist morality: Objectivism does not permit any variant of the mind-body dichotomy, any split between theory and practice, between one's convictions and one's actions." (Ayn Rand, "To Whom It May Concern")


"Maestro" is the Italian word for master. It means the attainment of mastery of a field: achieving the pinnacle of understanding, being one of the greatest experts, and, most importantly, being  an innovator. Whereas the expert masters the field, the maestro changes the field: it is never the same afterward. In any field there are often many experts but only a few maestros. 

A distinguishing characteristic of the maestro is that he is inseparable from his field and becomes an indelible part of its history. He often is well known not only within his field, but to anyone with any knowledge of that field. In fact, knowing of him may be among the firsts facts one knows about the field. The paragon in Objectivism would be Dr. Leonard Peikoff.


The origin of "genius" is the Latin word meaning to beget or to produce, which has connotations of being deity-like. Whereas a maestro permanently changes his field, the genius permanently changes many fields, and possibly even creates a new culture or era of human civilization. In time, a genius is usually universally known. Aristotle would be a paragon historical example. Many Objectivists, of course, consider Ayn Rand to be a genius whose influence is in its early stages.

Let each of us reflect on our own stage of knowledge in all our fields and interests, Let us also discern who among us in Obectivism are the beginners, novices, experts, maestros, and--if they exist--geniuses. Let us not be fooled by those who pretend to expertise; and most importantly, let us appreciate and be respectful towards those who know more than we do.


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Copyright © 2012 Chip Joyce, All Rights Reserved.