Let me very briefly summarize Ayn Rand’s philosophy, and then offer a comparable description of the philosophical convictions that I have now.
Rand says that in metaphysics, she accepts “objective reality”, in epistemology, “reason”, in ethics, “egoism”, and in politics, “laissez-faire capitalism”. What does that mean?
For Rand, one finds oneself in a world of discrete entities that perceptually appear to be similar to, and different from, one another. We form mental units, known as concepts, to allow us to think about groups of objects within certain degrees of similarity to one another and difference from other objects. This is advantageous because objects that fall under the same concepts also exhibit similar behaviors: the world exhibits comprehensible causal order. Further, some objects — or more complicated clusters of objects, their behaviors, their contexts, and so forth — are pleasant to encounter while others are painful. The distinction between the pleasant and the painful is the basis for a conceptual distinction between the good and the bad.
Every piece of information that we possess is information about objects of the senses. But every such piece of information is also held only insofar as one has concepts, and every concept is drawn, however indirectly, from patterns of perceptible similarity and difference between objects. Thus everything that we believe could, in principle, be expressed in terms of the most elementary concepts drawn directly from perceptual experience.
That is what Rand means when she says that reality is objective and that reason is our only means of knowing about reality.
We are ourselves entities, albeit unusual ones: we are conscious, deliberating entities. We experience a kind of power over our own concentration and attention and we are aware that we have alternative courses of attention. Attention is necessary for the formation and application of concepts.
As living entities, our own existence is conditional on life-preserving action. Since what is pleasant is typically conducive to self-preservation, and what is painful is routinely destructive or hazardous from the point of view of self-preservation, in pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain, we are in fact preserving our lives. However, life-preserving action for human beings requires the formation and application of concepts, which requires attention, which is voluntary. Other animals are adapted to survive in their environments with little creative thought, but human beings are not. The ability to form and apply concepts is chiefly of use for the discovery of causal patterns in objects around us, which is itself chiefly of use for the employment of those objects for self-preservation. This is known as productive labor and it is the central task of a human life.
That is Rand’s egoism.
Since productive labor is the central task of human life, individuals ought to protect their laboring capacity, and the results of their labor, from others who seek to preserve their lives without labor. Moreover, individuals ought to form organizations to carry out this protective function in a calm and systematic fashion. Thus, governments are appropriate, so long as they do nothing but protect individuals’ lives, liberty, and property.
That is laissez-faire capitalism.
All Objectivists are welcome to correct any misapprehensions in the above description. (The fact that it is superficial and incomplete, though, is not a reasonable complaint.)
Please see the next post for the alternative that I accept now, and thank you for reading.