In my educated opinion (and for all, yes, I did read Ayn Rand before, both her novels, and her philosophical writings after Atlas Shrugged. I have never read the play Anthem, but I don't think it is necessary to read much of her work to understand that, for her first sceneplay, it was awful, given she was merely starting to be a writer in English, given her Russian-American roots), her philosophy, Objectivism, just doesn't work in the real world. Her metaphysics are simplistic, her ethics are absurd, her politics are very vague to the point of non-existence, her aesthetics and epistemology are too rigid, and her literary skill was subpar for an ESL speaker.
Let's start with her metaphysics. Or rather, on the most basic principle, as to what makes reality. For objectivist "Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or fears." ( Ayn Rand , "Introducing Objectivism," The Objectivist Newsletter Vol. 1 No. 8, August 1962, p. 35)
In other words, Objectivism holds that there is one reality, the one in which we live. It is self-evident that reality exists and is what it is; our job is to discover it. Objectivism stands against all forms of metaphysical relativism or idealism. It holds it as undeniable that humans have free will, and opposes metaphysical determinism or fatalism. More generally, it holds that there is no fundamental contradiction between the free, abstract character of mental life and the physical body in which it resides. And so it denies the existence of any "supernatural" or ineffable dimension for spirits or souls.
In this sense, one could say they are materialists, but let's look further as to how materialists they are. Even though they have rejected materialism in multiple readings from Peikoff and Rand as well as others, one thing stands out, that while they reject materialism as "mysticism of muscle", or, in other words, that materialists tend to view man as a machine without a mind or soul, this is not at all what materialists think, and as such, Rand tried disingenuously to detach herself from the materialistic metaphysics that her own writings were addled with. To be certain, the materialist point of view doesn't reject the mind, it merely reasons that the mind and matter are one in the same, and that the mind doesn't exist separate from the body, but that rather, the body's synapses create the mind. Hobbes was the first to posit that the mind was essentially the brain in motion when reacting to external stimuli. In other words, if everything can be explained as matter in motion, including the mental, then there is no good reason to suppose mind and matter are two fundamentally different kinds of things. Rather, it is more reasonable to suppose that if everything can be explained in material terms then everything is material. But then objectivists also reason that "What we call the mind is the set of capacities to be aware, to perceive the world, to think about it, to feel, to value, to make choices. How do these capacities arise? In many respects, the answer to that question must come from science, not philosophy. But everything we know indicates that they are the product of biological evolution and that they depend on our physical sense organs and brain, as well as on the many other support structures that the body provides." and that "What we call our spiritual needs, moreover, are not in conflict with our physical or biological needs. They are rooted in the same basic need to maintain our lives through purposeful action. Human beings lack sufficient instinctive drives to survive without thinking, learning, and making choices. Reason is our most important tool for survival. But it is a complex and highly demanding tool. According to Objectivism , our spiritual needs for values, principles, ideals, aesthetic experience, and love are requirements for the healthy functioning of a rational, volitional mode of cognition."
In this sense, she is completely basing herself from materialism. If Objectivists reject materialism, then, they are left with a contradiction and cut their own legs off, for the simple act is, if there is no contradiction between the mind and the body, then the mind must be a product of the body, for we know the body is not a product of the mind. If you reject this axiom of materialism, then we are left with an irreconcilable body and mind.
In so far as her ethics, her ethics promote something she used to call "the virtue of selfishness" -- She used her hero, John Galt, as an example of her ethics. In her philosophy, the first question "why does man need a code of values?" is answered by suggesting that men need ethics for survival of man himself. Now, while that is all good, she pushes into a weird notion of rational selfishness -- which means every action that man takes that ensures his own survival must be good. Now, you can see how this is distinctly Nietzschean in nature, that self-interest is a good thing. However, she outright dismisses Nietzsche in saying that he made it so that selfish desires is what man strives towards (which is not true, Nietzsche merely posited that we are selfish creatures no matter what we do, and that it is this selfishness that promotes our survival, because social mores promote being a good person towards your fellow man, and when you are good towards your fellow man you feel good and therefore you work to feel good about yourself by helping others and that this is what people tend to strive towards, to feel good about oneself because we're selfish creatures; he wasn't saying that this is good or bad, but rather expressing a mode of existence for men).
She also goes on to say that looters and moochers (or people who steal and beg from others) are nothing but parasites. She, instead, advocates that her philosophy grounds itself on the principle of trade, and that trading is what holds true meaning for the rational egoist. In other words, you trade something for something. Sacrificing others for your sake, she argues, is bad, as well as others sacrificing themselves for you. It holds that, somehow, there is no conflict among rational men who do not desire the unearned, the undeserved, or the sacrificed, that they trade value for value. She further goes on to say that a trader is one that holds all men as independent equals, that they deal with men in uncoerced, voluntary, unforced exchanges, and that they are only expected to be paid for their achievements. Further, she argues, a trader is a man who doesn't shift the failure of his actions onto others. She also condemns altruism, or at least her imaginary version of it, by suggesting altruism was bad because it promoted sacrifice for others, something she couldn't stand for.
While this might sound very lofty, it is simply an impossibility. There's plenty of situations where there is a conflict of interest, even in the most free of societies and anarchist discourses they have to deal with the conflict of interests between one person and the group, or one person and another person. Further, there are conflicts of interests in society even today: business partners trying to find a fair value for their services, traders trying to find what's a fair trade, and even what the best interests are for a child as a parent while the child's own interests might conflict with what the father wants to instill in the child. These are all conflicts of interests that are unavoidable. The concept of there not being any conflict of interests between rational parties might be nice, but it is a pipe dream. There is one thing Randians might argue that puts welfare at odds with man's self-interests and that is the fact that welfare shifts the failure of the poor onto the rich, and that as such they are looting the rich men while the rich are sapped from their well-deserved wealth.
While one could argue this, this is simplifying an argument into a very reductionist and therefore false claim, as welfare, while being a form of wealth redistribution, the purpose is not to castigate the rich because they are rich, or shift the failure of the poor into the rich. It is to, rather, help the poor through the state apparatus by being more effective to administrate taxation and services than through charity, which is something even the most selfish person does because it makes them feel better about themselves. Otherwise the Rand foundation would not give scholarships through writing contests, they would ask for said scholarship recipients to take out a mortgage on their house instead. While that debunks the whole "welfare means the poor are moochers so fuck them" argument, it also pokes a big hole into Randian economics of welfare: if charity is acceptable, as scholarships are a form of charity, then the welfare state, if we take it as a massive charity system in which everyone puts in voluntarily (and this can be argued to be voluntary in a republic, as we vote officials which we believe are going to act in our own interests), then the argument that the poor are moochers falls flat, for there is no reason why the state cannot provide welfare to everyone who needs it even though we have just established that welfare can be seen as a self-interested and rational action.
Now, it might be fair for Randians to rebut that while this can be argued that it is self-interested and rational, that it'd still help the poor at the expense of the rich, and that we're placing the collective over the individual, and that if we do so, then that means we are immolating the rich upon a stone while the poor gain the benefits from immolating the rich. While this is a good rebuttal grounded in objectivism, I am afraid that the entire concept of a group is a set of self-interested individuals working towards their own interests. They're not, as Rand describes, an amorphous group that seeks to sacrifice the industrialist upon a immolation stone, but rather, they are every person who shares an interest and wants to promote their cause with others, because since the dawn of civilization people have realized that in unity lies strength. This particular strength by numbers has been the prime mover of many things, whether they were good or bad, it was always groups of people that have made the most influence, and not individuals themselves. As such, the entire concept of collectivism being bad is bunk if there is a reason to believe the agents in said collective are acting on their own interests as a group. Given that Republics work on the concept of voting for interests that benefit us, one could say that, if people voted their interests into a welfare system and politicians who actually enacted welfare reform, that welfare is the most self-interested, rational decision there is by voting, and thus, while it might conflict with the interests of the people who desire no welfare, the interests of those people would be irrelevant given that as I have established above, there being no conflict of interests is nothing but a pipe dream, an causal impossibility of sorts.
Now, the pending problem with this is that by doing this there is also the political view of Objectivists, namely, that government must only have powers that prevents others from using force against us, and nothing more. They also argue that welfare systems are bad because they promote the use of force by the government, therefore stripping people from the right of not being coerced something they don't want to do, and instead promote the use of charities. As I have noted above, a welfare system doesn't necessarily have to be coercive, or built from a coercive framework at all and can in fact be passed into legislation by a Republican body that is voted in to do just this at the best interest of the country as a whole and that a welfare system, if looked as a charity system, might not be bad at all. However, the concept of a minimalist government that only prevents others from using force doesn't really exist, or has existed, because the notion of "only preventing the use of force against the individual" might mean many things. Fraud, for instance, might not be forceful. You can be convinced to lose money into fraud, but we have protections against fraud because it used to be a problem because people kept getting away with it. This is another problem with the "rational egoist" character, that no human being behaves like this. Often, if people can get away with something, they will, regardless of what their motivations are. In that sense, it really doesn't matter what other people think is force or fair trade, only that one can get away with non-forceful, deceitful behavior and gain ill profits out of an unfair trade.
They are also against anti-trust laws, anti-zoning laws, etc. But for the purposes of my OP I will stick to welfare, since it is the easiest to tackle politically. And I will leave the rest of these for discussion in the following pages.
When it comes to the law, they wish there was a simplified, clear code of law without all the programmatic issues in the law and its complexity. The problem with that is that the law, when it is simple, leaves out a lot of exceptions to the rule. The main purpose of the law being programmatic is to account for reasonable exceptions, and nothing else. The reason why it is so programmatic is because very specific cases need very specific laws. And, while many parts of the law are outdated in several countries, that doesn't really require that the law be made simpler, but rather that the law code be cleaned up.
When it comes to Objectivist epistemology, their epistemology basically defines that "Anyone who claims insights that do not derive from sensory evidence and logical reasoning is, in effect, asking you to abuse your mind. Someone who claims, skeptically, that no real knowledge is possible is asking you to abandon your mind entirely. Objectivism holds that it is possible to be certain of a conclusion, and that there is such a thing as truth. But being certain depends on scrupulously following a logical, objective process of reasoning, because it is only that kind of thinking that allows us to formulate true ideas. To be objective, people must know how to define the terms they use (so they know what they mean), base their conclusions on observable facts (so their beliefs are anchored in reality) and employ the principles of logic (so that they can reliably reach sound conclusions)." While this is a good primer, it falls short on several things, namely, the limit of measurements and the limits of knowledge.
What objectivists claim is, basically, that insights not gained from evidence and logical reasoning (in other words, to rely on faith) is asking one to abuse their mind, however, they also hold that being a skeptic and have faith in nothing is to abandon one's mind. Skepticism holds that everything must be questioned and that there is no certainty in knowledge, and this is rather true, there is no certainty in knowledge. It isn't because we're irrational, on the contrary, we're rational, but up to an extent. We also cannot precisely be certain of our current knowledge because future data might make us correct ourselves or say we are wrong. To suggest that there is a certain truth is to hold an obstinate position against further data because we made our mind with prior data, and we do not have all the data at the time of making an opinion or a choice in life. Thus, our opinions, even while using the formal method ascribed by Randians of defining words, observe and draw conclusions from facts, and employ the principles of logic can be wrong with new data that comes along. To hold a position that there is an objective truth and, once found, that is the only truth there is, is infantile. In a sense, objectivists claim to be rational, while also abandoning questioning once a question is settled, which goes against skepticism and is rather counterintuitive for personal growth, rather, it stifles it by refusing to listen to opposite opinions backed with facts and data. They also hold that there cannot be contradictions in reality, that while we may have two differing opinions about the data, only one of them must be true. While this is true in some cases, that doesn't mean it is true in all cases. In some cases, both interpretations can be correct. For instance, if you have two popsicles, one made of orange, and the other one made of lemon, and you put two people to eat it, one might say the orange popsicle is better, while the other might say the lemon one is better. This discredits the "falsifiability" of their epistemology, given that under objectivist epistemology, one of the statements must be true, however it might be that both are true, depending on the subject who is experiencing it and their favorite taste being either orange, or lemon.
While their main thrust of their epistemology is a form of rationalism, that doesn't necessarily mean their rationalism is well grounded.
In so far as their aesthetics, the objectivist aesthetic dictates that the purpose of art is "Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value judgments. Man's profound need of art lies in the fact that his cognitive faculty is conceptual, i.e., that he acquires knowledge by means of abstractions, and needs the power to bring his widest metaphysical abstractions into his immediate, perceptual awareness. Art fulfills this need: by means of a selective re-creation, it concretizes man's fundamental view of himself and of existence. It tells man, in effect, which aspects of his experience are to be regarded as essential, significant, important." in the words of Ayn Rand. While it sounds lofty, and I am not aesthecisist, I can see why this might bring some issues. The school of the objectivist and art seem to be solely grounded in realism and concreteness -- that the more realistic a picture or an art project as to what reality or concrete thought is, the better the artist is at art as the purpose of art is to reimagine reality for the objectivist. Now, as I said, I am not an aestheticist or an art philosopher, but someone might be interesting in tackling the problems with this.
Now, her philosophy might be fine, for some, and I have provided plenty of background to debate on, but what about her literature? Her literature is... amateurish, at best. Her command of language in her novels and philosophy, as well as her speeches, leaves too much to be desired. She is not the best writer. She was an aspiring writer who had too many language barrier problems. Given her philosophy and her novels made her sound crazier than she was, because she used concepts and words that were simply not something that English speakers are used to. Her novels and books lack some luster, and are very ESL-like. Meaning, she never could come across clearly and so her ideas were mostly hurt by her inability to command English successfully. While this might seem like a defense for Rand, is not. She should have asked for help instead of rambling on about her issues with people in a manner that made her sound like a selfish maniac. As an immigrant, I can see why she is widely rejected, because her definitions are nonsensical and try to rewrite what the English language is and what most of the academic literature was at the time. Further, her philosophy plus her own lack of command on the language made her sound more radically black and white than she probably truly was. This is something that haunts her philosophy, and perhaps why many Randians have the radical ideas they do. While, yes, her writings were inspired by her living in the Soviet Union, and she is rather anti-authoritarian like Orwell; however, she is a more radical anti-communist, even going so far as outright reject collectivism in her writings, which as I have mentioned above, she has her issues in that regard by denying a sort of strawman and denies the realities of society and why societies were created to begin with.
Now then, I have given my opinion on her, I have the following question, NSG:
Optional: What do you think of Ayn Rand as a person?
What do you think of her metaphysics?
What do you think of her epistemology?
What do you think of her ethics?
What do you think of her politics?
What do you think of her aesthetics?
What do you think of her literary skill?
https://atlassociety.org/objectivism/at ... aesthetics
https://atlassociety.org/objectivism/at ... istemology
https://atlassociety.org/commentary/com ... sabilities
https://atlassociety.org/objectivism/at ... t-politics
https://campus.aynrand.org/works/1961/0 ... hics/page1
https://atlassociety.org/objectivism/at ... etaphysics
http://enlightenment.supersaturated.com ... ar/01.html