I've encountered this attack a number of times now. Most recently a few days ago. Enemies of Objectivism and Ayn Rand accuse her of not having a single original idea, and even more, of ripping off her ideas from elsewhere. They claim her ideas came from people like Von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Aristotle and Friedrich Nietzsche.
Is this true? If not, what philosophical ideas are original to Ayn Rand?
asked Aug 21 '14 at 19:55
Enemies of Objectivism and Ayn Rand accuse her of not having a single original idea....
What is "Enemies of Objectivism and Ayn Rand"? I haven't heard of any organization by that name and couldn't find a website for any such organization in a Google search. As far as I can determine, that expression appears to be a self-characterization by some who were formerly associated with Ayn Rand and/or Objectivism but who were publicly criticized and ostracized by other leading Objectivists. I.e., those who believe they are victims are using the expression as a parody by them of how they believe they have been mistreated. But if they use that expression as an accurate, straightforward description of their own goals, with conscious, malicious intent to spread enmity, and with Ayn Rand and Objectivism singled out as the principal target of their enmity, then they seem to be rejecting Objectivist principles, including reason, objectivity, Ayn Rand's theory of concepts, intellectual honesty, fairness (justice), independence, integrity, pride, rational egoism, individualism, individual rights, laissez-faire capitalism, etc. -- and nothing they may say about Objectivism or Ayn Rand thereafter can be given any objective credibility. One normally does not seek to spread enmity toward ideas that one accepts and endorses. It would be helpful if the question could clarify the intent of that expression.
The question also should clarify more precisely what ideas Ayn Rand is alleged to have claimed to be her own original identifications, but which were not actually her own original work. Ayn Rand readily and frequently acknowledged intellectual debts owed to other thinkers who came before her and whose discoveries she built upon. The leading example is Aristotle. If one reads her descriptions of Aristotle and other major thinkers, one will see that she is not intending any claim of originality by her when she endorses and upholds their ideas, even if she doesn't always reiterate where those ideas originated. It is also very often the case that she integrated others' ideas more consistently and fully than anyone had ever done before, to form a complete, comprehensive philosophical system that never before existed in that form.
A fairly detailed list of Ayn Rand's most significantly new and original accomplishments can be found in OPAR, typically near the end of most of the chapters. Here are the specific examples that I found in a brief check of OPAR:
To the end of her life, Ayn Rand upheld her distinctive "benevolent-universe" premise. The good, she maintained, can be achieved; "it is real, it is possible, it's yours." So long as there is no censorship, she taught, there is a chance for persuasion to succeed.... this is Ayn Rand's unique perspective -- the task ahead is not difficult.
For further insight on Ayn Rand's view of the history of philosophy and the role of philosophy in history, refer also to her article, "For the New Intellectual," in her book by the same title; refer, as well, to the Epilogue in OPAR and the topic of "History" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon, along with the cross-references which the Lexicon topic provides. These references together survey the whole context of Western civilization and Ayn Rand's view of where her own philosophy fits in, along with the major philosophical alternatives put forth by others.
Update: Originality in Psycho-Epistemology
In the comments, several remarks by the questioner raise the issue of the relation between man's conscious mind and his subconscious -- as well as what, if anything, Ayn Rand said about that relation and whether or not Ayn Rand's observations were original.
It has been recognized for centuries that man has both the faculty of reason and an emotional capacity. There has also been a long philosophical tradition of mysticism toward both, dating back to Plato in ancient Greece. Reason has been viewed as an attribute of man's conscious mind, and emotions have been viewed as emanating mostly from his subconscious. The relation between reason and emotions has traditionally been seen as an inexorable, inexplicable conflict, encapsulated in "dichotomies" such as the moral versus the practical, theory versus practice, and, most broadly, the soul-body dichotomy. For an overview of Objectivism's appraisal of these dichotomies and related issues, refer to The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the following topics:
Ayn Rand recognized that man has a subconscious, and she offered a fuller and deeper explanation of it than any previous philosophers and psychologists had done. She especially focused on the interactions between the subconscious and man's conscious mind. The Lexicon topic of "Subconscious" explains, in part:
Your subconscious is like a computer—more complex a computer than men can build—and its main function is the integration of your ideas. Who programs it? Your conscious mind. If you default, if you don’t reach any firm convictions, your subconscious is programmed by chance—and you deliver yourself into the power of ideas you do not know you have accepted. But one way or the other, your computer gives you print-outs, daily and hourly, in the form of emotions—which are lightning-like estimates of the things around you, calculated according to your values. If you programmed your computer by conscious thinking, you know the nature of your values and emotions. If you didn’t, you don’t.
Ayn Rand observed that the subconscious can greatly affect a person's habitual cognitive methodology. This led her to the whole field of "psycho-epistemology." The Lexicon topic of "Psycho-Epistemology" explains, in part:
Psycho-epistemology is the study of man’s cognitive processes from the aspect of the interaction between the conscious mind and the automatic functions of the subconscious.
“Psycho-epistemology,” a term coined by Ayn Rand, pertains not to the content of a man’s ideas, but to his method of awareness, i.e., the method by which his mind habitually deals with its content.
The subconscious is an integrating mechanism. Man’s conscious mind observes and establishes connections among his experiences; the subconscious integrates the connections and makes them become automatic [through consistent repetition over time].
This is a crucial discovery of Miss Rand’s—the discovery of psycho-epistemology, and of its roots, forms, and errors. Without such knowledge, men would be left at the mercy of unidentified mental habits that they hardly even suspected—habits that perhaps derived unknowingly from childhood errors that they long since had consciously renounced. Psycho-epistemology represents a whole science, a new branch of psychology.
Men’s epistemology—or, more precisely, their psycho-epistemology, their method of awareness—is the most fundamental standard by which they can be classified. Few men are consistent in that respect; most men keep switching from one level of awareness to another, according to the circumstances or the issues involved, ranging from moments of full rationality to an almost somnambulistic stupor. But the battle of human history is fought and determined by those who are predominantly consistent, those who, for good or evil, are committed to and motivated by their chosen psycho-epistemology and its corollary view of existence.
For a more in-depth discussion of psycho-epistemology and the closely related topic of sense of life, refer to the first three chapters of The Romantic Manifesto, along with the following sections of OPAR:
In light of the foregoing, consider some key comments by the questioner:
People's(and the word people being those that do, not meant to imply everyone hates Objectivism or Objectivists) hatred for Objectivism and Objectivists doesn't really have to do with the Philosophy, though they think that's no good too(and I'm putting that very kindly and tactfully).
In other words, the people whom the questioner describes are acting on their unidentified sense of life, which is a product of conventional philosophical traditions which those people have habitualized during the course of their lives by cultural-social "assimilation." Their judgments are not products of rational deliberation or logic.
At one point, the questioner is quick to mention:
I respect her [Ayn Rand's] philosophical achievement of Objectivsm[sic], and that is what should be focused on.
The logical implication here regarding "people who hate Objectivism and Objectivists" was nicely summed up in a comment by Anthony:
People with that kind of attitude can safely be ignored.
Why, then, doesn't the questioner ignore them? Only the questioner himself can answer that, but the implication is that he, too, is acting on his own sense of life without examining it more closely -- specifically, on the premise that the emotions of others are important to consider and always to show deep "concern" for, without regard for what the emotions may or may not indicate about the sense of life of the haters.
Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism offers nothing less than a fundamental, wide-ranging alternative to the whole tradition of mysticism, altruism, collectivism and statism that too many others endorse, either explicitly (on principle), or by unthinking cultural-social "assimilation." It is not surprising at all that Ayn Rand's ideas would strike many people as radical and vehemently controversial. But there is no reason for the questioner or anyone else to pay any further attention to such people if they are not open to reason. One will be better off to focus, instead, on those who are open to reason.
A large part of Ayn Rand's spectacular originality is precisely in showing the world how to shrug off the chains of the mind-body split and related life-diminishing traditions. If it seems a daunting challenge to go against a world that hasn't "shrugged" yet, perhaps the process can at least begin with the glimpse that Ayn Rand has given us of what is possible to man.