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I've noticed various modifiers on the word "Objectivism" such as "Open Objectivism", "Closed Objectivism", "Neo-Objectivism", and "objectivism" (with a little "o").

I've read articles or essays by David Kelley, Nathaniel Branden, and Barbara Branden (or heard lectures given by them) where they define the philosophy of Objectivism and what constitutes an Objectivist individual. I've also read articles and essays by Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff (or listened to lectures by them) where Rand and Peikoff define Objectivism and what constitutes an Objectivist individual. The problem is that the Kelley/Branden definition is completely different from the Rand/Peikoff definition.

I've also heard about "The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand", the "False Friends Of Objectivism", I've heard that Nathaniel and Barbara Branden are hostile towards Objectivism, that David Kelley doesn't understand Objectivism, that Ayn Rand did, and Leonard Peikoff does, demand blind obedience to Objectivism, that "closed Objectivism" is dogmatic, that the Ayn Rand Institute is "tribal" and full of "dogmatic moralizers" where "dissension" is not allowed, that because Objectivism represents "the truth" it cannot be owned by anyone and is thus "open", and a whole host of other side issues. ...and, I am not exactly sure how to sort all of this out.

I'd like to know once and for all: what is Objectivism, who is (and isn't) an Objectivist, and how important is this issue?

asked Sep 20 '10 at 14:55

David%20Lewis's gravatar image

David Lewis ♦

edited Jan 31 '11 at 13:31

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦


If you're looking for general information on what Ayn Rand considered Objectivism to be, I would recommend the Ayn Rand Lexicon's entry on Objectivism.

Briefly, and standing on one foot, Ayn Rand described the essence of her philosophy as:

  1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality
  2. Epistemology: Reason
  3. Ethics: Self-interest
  4. Politics: Capitalism

Objectivism is the philosophy of Ayn Rand. To state this another way, it is what Ayn Rand said it is. This isn't a dogmatic assertion that Ayn Rand was the ultimate, infallible source of knowledge, or that no one else may hold any other ideas, but simply an acknowledgement that her philosophy is her philosophy.

Those that advocate an "open" system want to change Objectivism into what they think it should be. Those that advocate a "closed" system say that if you want to change Objectivism, that is fine (even though we may not agree with you), but call it something else, give proper credit where it is due, and disclose where your views are different.

Here are Ayn Rand's words: (via Diana Hsieh's article on David Kelly)

There is nothing wrong in using ideas, anybody's ideas. Provided that you give appropriate credit, you can make any mixture of ideas that you want; the contradiction will be yours. But why do you need the name of someone with whom you do not agree in order to spread your misunderstandings -- or worse, your nonsense and falsehoods? (From "The Moratorium on Brains," Question and Answer Period.)

An Objectivist is someone that understands and agrees with the principles of Objectivism, as Ayn Rand defined them, and strives to live by them. You do not need to agree with everything Ayn Rand has ever said. Many Objectivists, in fact, do disagree with Ayn Rand regarding non-philosophical ideas.

The Brandens, et al. are considered to be "False Friends of Objectivism" because they have disagreed with, lied, and misrepresented Ayn Rand and Objectivism, but still associate themselves with Objectivism to take advantage of the legacy of Ayn Rand.

answered Sep 20 '10 at 15:13

Justin%20O's gravatar image

Justin O ♦

edited Sep 21 '10 at 17:07


This is a great answer. I'd like to add one thing just to emphasize that it isn't dogmatism. You can be an Objectivist, yet still disagree with Ayn Rand on non-philosophical issues (such as whether a woman should be President). You can also be a student of Objectivism who still questions its ideas. In fact, if you accept Objectivism's ideas without first questioning them, you're not just not an Objectivist -- you're not a thinker. If, after questioning Objectivism's ideas, you reject them or want to modify them, you are not (yet) an Objectivist.

(Sep 21 '10 at 11:32) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

This answer doesn't identify the defining characteristics of Objectivism. WHAT is the philosophy of Ayn Rand? What does an Objectivist believe, in actual terms. How would someone who is not too familiar with Objectivism be able to identify the philosophy based on this answer? What are its boundary conditions. John identifies some non-philosophical issues, but what are THE DEFINING philosophical premises of Objectivism, so that we can know what constitutes a non-philosophical issue, as opposed to just listing examples?

(Sep 21 '10 at 11:56) ryankrause ♦ ryankrause's gravatar image

I think that would be very valuable. Some specificity as to the fundamental principles of Objectivism would add to the answer to this question.

(Sep 21 '10 at 16:37) ryankrause ♦ ryankrause's gravatar image

Not a bad start ;-)

(Sep 21 '10 at 23:33) ryankrause ♦ ryankrause's gravatar image

He defined the Fundamentals according to Rand. If one is honest and doesn't evade, they will come to similar philosophic conclusions as Rand did. For instance, Reason is our means of knowledge, and it is our only means of surviving in the world. This is a logically connected idea from the identification of the nature of man. Existence exists, therefore the law of identity, therefore identification of man as a being of mind and body etc. To be technical read her book ITOE. If you are asking to be less fundamental: read Rand's fiction/non-fiction books.

(Sep 24 '10 at 11:11) Kirk ♦ Kirk's gravatar image

Objectivism is an integrated whole, therefore, to disagree with one part of the philosophy is to disagree with the philosophy as a whole.

This does not mean that you can't disagree with the application of the philosophic principles to specific events. Nor does it mean, as mentioned above, that you can't disagree with non-philosophical issues.

(Sep 24 '10 at 11:29) Radical_for_Capitalism ♦ Radical_for_Capitalism's gravatar image
showing 2 of 6 show all

In "For The New Intellectual", Ayn Rand tells us:

The name I have chosen for my philosophy is Objectivism.

Rand's words are very clear here. A name is a proper noun. It is the name that Rand gave to her philosophy. More than that, it is the name Rand came up with to define the collection of ideas that she developed or agreed with and specifically approved of. This means that Objectivism is what Ayn Rand said it was and only what Ayn Rand said it was. This also means that only the works that were created by Rand, or created by others and approved of by Rand, constitute the philosophy of Objectivism.

Since she is no longer here to approve of any other work, all other works that are consistent with Objectivism, but which were never approved of by Ayn Rand, are derivative works but are not part of the philosophy of Objectivism. This would include Leonard Peikoff's book "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand". Likewise, no other additions or subtractions can be made to the philosophy by Peikoff, or anyone else for that matter--David Kelley included.

To do so would be to ascribe to Objectivism that which is not actually Objectivism. Essentially, it is to engage in a fraud. Imagine, for a moment, an individual taking on the identity of another person. If someone, whose name was not "John Smith", started calling himself "John Smith", they would be telling the world that they are "John Smith" and, implicitly or explicitly, proclaiming that they represent who "John Smith" is.

They could use capital letters, lower case letters, or initials (or anything that is remarkably similar). They could dye their hair, put on makeup, or change some other aspect of themselves. They could represent themselves as "John Smith" for the sole purpose of ruining the real John Smith's character. Or, they could use "John Smith" for the sole purpose of giving the real John Smith money, power, and prestige that the real John Smith did not actually earn and does not deserve. It does not matter. It is still a fraud. They are representing themselves as something which they are not.

Likewise, when David Kelley, Nathaniel Branden, et al. proclaim that Objectivism is "open", what they are proclaiming is that Objectivism is something other than what Ayn Rand said it is. But, this is intellectually dishonest. To claim that what they represent is Objectivism is fraudulent.

No amount of wishing or rationalizing changes the fact that Objectivism has an identity. A is A. The philosophy of Objectivism is what it is. Ayn Rand is dead. That is a fact. This means that Objectivism is--by definition--limited, defined, rigid, "closed". Not because Peikoff (or anyone else) says it is, but because reality demands it.

To be an Objectivist, one needs to understand what Objectivism is (noted above). Second, one must fully accept and agree with the entire philosophy of Objectivism to be an Objectivist. Which means advocates of "open Objectivism" are not Objectivists. They are merely individuals who agree with some ideas of Objectivism while disagreeing with other, important, ideas of Objectivism--including Objectivism's concept of morality and justice.

The False Friends of Objectivism refers to Diana Hsieh's articles and essays on David Kelley, Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden and other individuals advocating ideas which are inconsistent with, and are contradictory to, Ayn Rand's philosophy.

Finally, Roderick Fitts at Inductive Quest explains the flaws inherent in the very idea of an "open" system of Objectivism. He also sheds more light on what he calls the "Vampires" of Objectivism, etc., showing that the Brandens are actually hostile towards the philosophy of Objectivism, and that David Kelley's idea of Objectivism can be boiled down to "fairness through context-induced skepticism.":

answered Sep 27 '10 at 00:56

David%20Lewis's gravatar image

David Lewis ♦

edited Oct 11 '10 at 09:58

"The fact that it is Ayn Rand's philosophy is what differentiates it from all other philosophic systems. It is not the only difference between Objectivism and other philosophies, but it is the most essential, the most fundamental, difference between Objectivism and all other philosophies."

I disagree with this statement, when taken out of context. It does not emphasize the idealogical content of the philosophy as a differentiating characteristic. It is the ideas which comprise any given philosophy or philosophical system which differentiate them from one another, not the name of the person who wrote them. The must fundamental difference between philosophies must use fundamental philosophical ideas (at the most fundamental level of philosophical differentiation available), not people, as the standard of differentiation.

Regards, -Sev

(Sep 28 '10 at 00:31) Sev ♦ Sev's gravatar image

I do not want to get into the political aspect of this question. Instead I will say that the first requirement for someone to be an Objectivist, is to take the Oath of John Galt, and to mean it:

"I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

If you consistently live by this oath, to the best of your knowledge and ability to reason, you are practicing the Objectivist ethics.

Regards, -Sev

answered Sep 28 '10 at 00:26

Sev's gravatar image

Sev ♦

My first step was to observe and appreciate the exceptionality of Ayn Rand. Right this minute, you can be as worthy of renown as Equality 7-2521, John Galt, or Howard Roark. Make your choice, there is no middle ground.

(Jan 31 '11 at 13:21) timmyarthur timmyarthur's gravatar image

The oath doesn't touch upon a number of things that are essential to the philosophy, though. For one thing, it doesn't address the importance of reason or productiveness to one's life. Taken out of context, the oath could be interpreted as a call for a mutual sort of lazy hedonism. I do tend to think politics can be avoided when describing the philosophy in layman's terms, especially when you dig deep into the ethics.

(Dec 16 '11 at 19:33) eksortso eksortso's gravatar image

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Asked: Sep 20 '10 at 14:55

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Last updated: Dec 16 '11 at 19:33