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Leonard Peikoff - Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand - Summary πŸ”—

This is my summary of the book ‘Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand’ by Leonard Peikoff, quoting and paraphrasing the content.


Philosophy consists of five branches.

The two basic ones are metaphysics and epistemology:

These two branches make possible a view of the nature of man.

Flowing from the above are the three evaluative branches of philosophy:

Existence, Consciousness, and Identity as the Basic Axioms πŸ”—

We start with the irreducible fact and concept of existence – that which is. You the reader have now grasped the first axiom of philosophy.

This act implies a second axiom: that you exist possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists.

A third and final basic axiom is implicit in the first two. It is the law of identity: to be is to be something, to have a nature, to possess identity.

A thing is itself; or, in the traditional formula, A is A. The “identity” of an existent means that which it is, the sum of its attributes or characteristics.

Inherent in a man’s grasp of any object is the recognition, in some form, that: there is something I am aware of.

These three are the basic axiomatic concepts recognized by our philosophy.

An axiomatic concept, is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest.

Being implicit from the beginning, existence, consciousness, and identity are outside the province of proof. Proof is the derivation of a conclusion from antecedent knowledge, and nothing is antecedent to axioms. Axioms are the starting points of cognition, on which all proofs depend.

The above is the validation of our axioms. “Validation” I take to be a broader term than “proof”, one that subsumes any process of establishing an idea’s relationship to reality, whether deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, or perceptual self-evidence. In this sense, one can and must validate every item of knowledge, including axioms. The validation of axioms, however, is the simplest of all: sense perception.

Proof presupposes existence, consciousness and a complex chain of knowledge:

The foregoing is not a proof that the axioms of existence, consciousness, and identity are true. It is a proof that they are axioms, that they are at the base of knowledge and thus inescapable. This proof itself, however, relies on the axioms. Even in showing that no opponent can escape them, we too have to make use of them. All arguments presuppose these axioms, including the argument that all arguments presuppose them.

Causality as a Corollary of Identity πŸ”—

Entities constitute the content of the world men perceive; there is nothing else to observe. In the act of observing entities, of course, the person observes (some of) their attributes, actions, and relationships. In time, the person’s consciousness can focus separately on such features, isolating them in thought for purposes of conceptual identification and specialized study.

One byproduct of this process is philosophers’ inventory of the so-called “categories” of being, such as

The point here, however, is that none of these “categories” has metaphysical primacy; none has any independent existence; all represent merely aspects of entities.

“Action” is the name for what entities do.

Every entity has a nature; it is specific, noncontradictory, limited; it has certain attributes and no others. Such an entity must act in accordance with its nature.

In any given set of circumstances, therefore, there is only one action possible to an entity, the action expressive of its identity. This is the action it will take, the action that is caused and necessitated by its nature.

Cause and effect, therefore, is a universal law of reality.

Causality is best classified as a corollary of identity. A “corollary” is a self-evident implication of already established knowledge.

Action is the crux of the law of cause and effect: it is action that is caused – by entities.

The law of causality states that entities are the cause of actions

Causality is a fact independent of consciousness, whether God’s or man’s.

On the contrary, causality – for Objectivism as for Aristotelianism – is a law inherent in being qua being. To be is to be something – and to be something is to act accordingly.

Existence as Possessing Primacy over Consciousness πŸ”—

Primacy of ExistencePrimacy of Consciousness
Existence comes first. Things are what they are independent of consciousness.Consciousness is the primary metaphysical factor. It creates that which is.

Existence, this principle declares, comes first. Things are what they are independent of consciousness – of anyone’s perceptions, images, ideas, feelings. Consciousness, by contrast, is a dependent. Its function is not to create or control existence, but to be a spectator, to look out, to perceive, to grasp that which is.

The opposite of this approach we call the primacy of consciousness. This is the principle that consciousness is the primary metaphysical factor. In this view, the function of consciousness is not perception, but creation of that which is. Existence, accordingly, is a dependent; the world is regarded as in some way a derivative of consciousness.

The primacy of existence is not an independent principle. It is an elaboration, a further corollary, of the basic axioms. Existence precedes consciousness, because consciousness is consciousness of an object.

If existence is independent of consciousness, then knowledge of existence can be gained only by extrospection. In other words, nothing is relevant to cognition of the world except data drawn from the world, i.e., sense data or conceptual integrations of such data. Introspection, of course, is necessary and proper as a means of grasping the contents or processes of consciousness; but it is not a means of external cognition. There can be no appeal to the knower’s feelings as an avenue to truth; there can be no reliance on any mental contents alleged to have a source or validity independent of sense perception. Every step and method of cognition must proceed in accordance with facts – and every fact must be established, directly or indirectly, by observation. To follow this policy is to follow reason.

In regard to fundamentals, it makes no difference whether one construes existence as subservient to the consciousness of God, of men, or of oneself. All these represent the same essential metaphysics containing the same essential error. We reject them all on the same ground: that existence exists.

The Metaphysically Given as Absolute πŸ”—

Creativity is the power to rearrange the combinations of natural elements.

Francis Bacon’s “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed”.

Man’s creativity, therefore, is not defiance of the absolutism of reality, but the opposite. In order to succeed, his actions must conform to the metaphysically given.

The thinker who accepts the absolutism of the metaphysically given recognizes that it is his responsibility to conform to the universe, not the other way around.

Whenever men expect reality to conform to their wish simply because it is their wish, they are doomed to metaphysical disappointment. This leads them to the dichotomy:

The broadest name of the dichotomy is the “spiritual” realm vs. the “material” realm.

Idealism and Materialism as the Rejection of Basic Axioms πŸ”—

reality is a spiritual dimension transcending naturechampion nature but deny the efficacy of consciousnessconsciousness is a useful part of nature
consciousness, not sciencescience, not consciousnessscience and consciousness
quality in the mindquality in the objectquality in the object as perceived by the mind
Plato, Plotinus, Augustine, HegelDemocritus, Hobbes, Marx, SkinnerAristotle, Ayn Rand

The idealists – figures such as Plato, Plotinus, Augustine, Hegel – regard reality as a spiritual dimension transcending and controlling the world of nature, with the latter regarded as deficient, ephemeral, imperfect – in any event, as only partly real.

“Supernatural”, etymologically, means that which is above or beyond nature. “Nature”, in turn, denotes existence viewed from a certain perspective. Nature is existence regarded as a system of interconnected entities governed by law; it is the universe of entities acting and interacting in accordance with their identities. What then is a “super-nature”? It would have to be a form of existence beyond existence; a thing beyond entities; a something beyond identity.

If one is to postulate a supernatural realm, one must turn aside from reason, eschew proofs, dispense with definitions, and rely instead on faith.

We advocate reason as man’s only means of knowledge, and, therefore, we do not accept God or any variant of the supernatural.

We accept reality, and that’s all.

This does not mean that we are materialists.

Materialists – men such as Democritus, Hobbes, Marx, Skinner – champion nature but deny the reality or efficacy of consciousness. Consciousness, in this view, is either a myth or a useless byproduct of brain or other motions. In our terms, this amounts to the advocacy of existence without consciousness. It is the denial of man’s faculty of cognition and therefore of all knowledge.

The idealists invented the false alternative of consciousness versus science. The materialists simply take over this false alternative, then promote the other side of it. This amounts to rejecting arbitrarily the possibility of a naturalistic view of consciousness.

Consciousness is an attribute of perceived entities here on earth. It is a faculty possessed under definite conditions by a certain group of living organisms. It is directly observable (by introspection). It has a specific nature, including specific physical organs, and acts accordingly, i.e., lawfully. It has a life-sustaining function: to perceive the facts of nature and thereby enable the organisms that possess it to act successfully. In all this, there is nothing unnatural or supernatural.


Epistemology is the science that studies the nature and means of human knowledge.

Since concepts are integrations of perceptual data, there can be no concepts apart from sense experience.

The topics of sense perception and volition constitute what we may call the anteroom of epistemology.

The Senses as Necessarily Valid πŸ”—

evidence of existenceidentifying
something iswhat it is
no errorpossible error
first evidence of similarities and differences among concretesorganize, abstract, classify, conceptualize

Proof consists in reducing an idea back to the data provided by the senses.

The validity of the senses is not an independent axiom; it is a corollary of the fact of consciousness.

The task of man’s senses is to give him the evidence of existence, but the task of identifying it belongs to his reason, his senses tell him only that something is, but what it is must be learned by his mind. It is only in regard to the “what” – only on the conceptual level of consciousness – that the possibility of error arises.

The function of the senses is to sum up a vast range of facts, to condense a complex body of information – which reaches our consciousness in the form of a relatively few sensations.

Science, indeed, is nothing more than the conceptual unraveling of sensory data; it has no other primary evidence from which to proceed.

Once a mind acquires a certain content of sensory material, it can, as in the case of dreams, contemplate its own content rather than external reality. This is not sense perception at all, but a process of turning inward, made possible by the fact that the individual, through perception, first acquired some sensory contents.

The role of the senses is to give us the start of the cognitive process: the first evidence of existence, including the first evidence of similarities and differences among concretes. On this basis, we organize our perceptual material – we abstract, classify, conceptualize. Thereafter, we operate on the conceptual level, making inductions, formulating theories, analyzing complexities, integrating ever greater ranges of data; we thereby discover step by step the underlying structures and laws of reality.

Sensory Qualities as Real πŸ”—

We can distinguish form from object, but this does not imply the subjectivity of form or the invalidity of the senses.

A thing may not be condemned as unreal on the grounds that it is “only an effect” which can be given a deeper explanation. One does not subvert the reality of something by explaining it.

The dominant tradition among philosophers has defined only two possibilities in regard to sensory qualities: they are “in the object” or “in the mind”.

A quality that derives from an interaction between external objects and man’s perceptual apparatus belongs to neither category.

They are not object alone or perceiver alone, but object-as-perceived.

Consciousness as Possessing Identity πŸ”—

The fact that consciousness has identity is self-evident; it is an instance of the law of identity.

Every process of knowledge involves two crucial elements; the object of cognition and the means of cognition:

Contrary to the skeptics of history, the fact of a means cannot be used to deny that the object of cognition is reality. Contrary to the mystics, the fact that the object is reality cannot be used to deny that we know it by a specific, human means.

The Perceptual Level as the Given πŸ”—

The first stage of consciousness is that of sensation. A “sensation” is an irreducible state of awareness produced by the action of a stimulus on a sense organ.

The reason you see an entity is that you have experienced many kinds of sensations from similar objects in the past, and your brain has retained and integrated them – it has put them together to form an indivisible whole.

Such an ability exemplifies the second stage of consciousness: the perceptual level. A “perception” is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism, which gives it the ability to be aware, not of single stimuli, but of entities, of things.

In regard to a more complex kind of integration, which we do not perform automatically, philosophy does have advice to offer – volumes of it. I mean the integration of percepts into concepts. This brings us to the threshold of the conceptual level of consciousness and to the second issue in the anteroom of epistemology: volition.

The Primary Choice as the Choice to Focus or Not πŸ”—

A course of thought or action is “free” if it is selected from two or more courses possible under the circumstances.

In such a case, the difference is made by the individual’s decision, which did not have to be what it is, i.e., which could have been otherwise.

Man’s basic freedom of choice is: to exercise his distinctively human cognitive machinery or not; i.e., to set his conceptual faculty in motion or not.

The choice is: to think or not to think.

“Focus” (in the conceptual realm) names a quality of purposeful alertness in a man’s mental state. “Focus” is the state of a goal-directed mind committed to attaining full awareness of reality.

“Full awareness” does not mean omniscience. It means the awareness attainable by a man who seeks to understand some object by using to the full the evidence, the past knowledge, and the cognitive skills available to him at the time.

To “focus” one’s mind means to raise one’s degree of awareness. In essence, it consists of shaking off mental lethargy and deciding to use one’s intelligence. The state of being “in focus” – in full focus – means the decision to use one’s intelligence fully.

It qualifies as focus if you know what your mind is doing and why, and if you are ready to begin a process of thought should some occurrence make it advisable.

Focus is the readiness to think and as such the precondition of thinking.

“Effort” means the expenditure of energy to achieve a purpose.

The exertion of such effort never becomes automatic. The choice involved must be made anew in every situation and in regard to every subject a person deals with.

The essence of a volitional consciousness is the fact that its operation always demands the same fundamental effort of initiation and then of maintenance across time.

The choice to focus is man’s primary choice. “Primary” here means: presupposed by all other choices and itself irreducible.

There can be no intellectual factor which makes a man decide to become aware or which even partly explains such a decision: to grasp such a factor, he must already be aware.

If an individual accepts a philosophy of reason, and if he characteristically chooses to be in focus, he will gradually gain knowledge, confidence and a sense of intellectual control. This will make it easier for him to be in focus. After he practices the policy for a time, focussing will come to seem natural, his thought processes will gain in speed and efficiency, he will enjoy using his mind, and he will experience little temptation to drop the mental reins.

The most conscientious man, though he may have every inclination to use his mind, retains the power to decide not to think further. The most anti-effort mentality, despite all his fears and disinclinations, retains the power to renounce drift in favor of purpose.

“Evasion” is the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think – not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know.

Unlike the basic choice to be in or out of focus, the choice to evade a specific content is motivated, the motive being the particular feeling that the evader elevates above reality.

No matter what his emotions, a sane man retains the power to face facts. If an emotion is overwhelming, he retains the power to recognize this and to defer cognition until he can establish a calmer mood.

Evasion is the vice that underlies all other vices.

Human Actions, Mental and Physical, as Both Caused and Free πŸ”—

Aside from involuntary responses, such as bodily reflexes, all human actions, mental and physical, are chosen by the actor.

Thought is a volitional activity. The steps of its course are not forced on man by his nature or by external reality, they are chosen. Some choices are obviously better – more productive of cognitive success – than others. The point is that, whether right or wrong, the direction taken is a matter of choice, not of necessity.

The principle of causality does not apply to consciousness, however, in the same way that it applies to matter. In regard to matter, there is no issue of choice; to be cause is to be necessitated. In regard to the (higher-level) actions of a volitional consciousness, however, “to be caused " does not mean “to be necessitated”.

We regard this dilemma as a false alternative. Man’s actions do have causes – he does choose a course of behavior for a reason – but this does not make the course determined or the choice unreal. It does not, because man himself decides what are to be the governing reasons. Man chooses the causes that shape his actions.

To say that a higher-level choice was caused is to say there was a reason behind it, but other reasons were possible under the circumstances, and the individual himself made the selection among them.

If a man chooses the reality orientation, then the higher level choices he makes will be shaped by causal factors relevant to a process of cognition. If he does not choose the reality orientation, then the flow of his mental contents will be shaped by a different kind of cause. In either case, there will be a reason that explains the steps of his mental course. But this does not imply determinism, because the essence of his freedom remains inviolable.

That essence lies in the issue:

Such is the choice, in each moment and issue, which controls all of one’s subsequent choices and actions.

In regard to action, a man’s choice – one he must make in every issue – is: to act in accordance with his values or not.

To act in accordance with one’s values (in the sense relevant here) is a complex responsibility. It requires that one know what he is doing and why. He has to assume the discipline of purpose and of a long-range course, selecting a goal and then pursuing it across time in the face of obstacles and / or distractions. It requires that one heed the hierarchy, the relative importance, of his values.

This means: he keeps in mind the fact that some of his values are primary or immediately urgent, while others are subordinate or less imperative and he determines the time and effort to be spent on a given pursuit accordingly. Thus he integrates the activity of the moment into the full context of his other goals, weighing alternative courses and selecting appropriately. And it requires that one choose the means to his ends conscientiously, making full use of the knowledge available to him.

All this is involved in “acting in accordance with one’s values”. Yet all this is precisely what is not automatic.

The law of causality by itself, therefore, does not affirm or deny the reality of an irreducible choice. It says only this much: if such a choice does exist, then it, too, as a form of action, is performed and necessitated by an entity of a specific nature.

The content of one’s choice could always have gone in the opposite direction; the choice to focus could have been the choice not to focus, and vice versa. But the action itself, the fact of choosing as such, in one direction or the other, is unavoidable. Since man is an entity of a certain kind, since his brain and consciousness possess a certain identity, he must act in a certain way. He must continuously choose between focus and nonfocus. Given a certain kind of cause, in other words, a certain kind of effect must follow. This is not a violation of the law of causality, but an instance of it.

On the primary level, to sum up, man chooses to activate his consciousness or not – this is the first cause in a lengthy chain – and the inescapability of such choice expresses his essential nature. Then, on this basis, he forms the mental content and selects the reasons that will govern all his other choices. Nothing in the law of causality casts doubt on such a description. If man does have free will, his actions are free and caused – even, properly understood, on the primary level itself.

Volition as Axiomatic πŸ”—

The concept of “volition” is one of the roots of the concept of “validation” (and of its subdivisions, such as proof). A validation of ideas is necessary and possible only because man’s consciousness is volitional. This applies to any idea including the advocacy of free will: to ask for its proof is presuppose the reality of free will.

At this moment, for example, you can decide to read attentively and struggle to understand, judge, apply the material – or you can let your attention wander and the words wash over you, half-getting some points, then coming to for a few sentences, then lapsing again into partial focus.

The principle of volition is a philosophic axiom, with all the features this involves.

Man (beyond the perceptual level) must think in order to know – he must think in a reality-oriented manner – and the commitment to do so is observably not inbuilt.

Volition, accordingly, is not an independent philosophic principle, but a corollary of the axiom of consciousness. Not every consciousness has the faculty of volition. Every fallible, conceptual consciousness, however, does have it.

Just as one must accept existence or consciousness in order to deny it, so one must accept volition in order to deny it. A philosophic axiom cannot be proved, because it is one of the bases of proof. But for the same reason it cannot be escaped, either.

Will is not something opposed or even added to reason. The faculty of reason is the faculty of volition. This theory makes it possible for the first time to validate the principle of volition objectively. It removes the principle once and for all from the clutches of religion.


For man, sensory material is only the first step of knowledge, the basic source of information. Until he has conceptualized this information, man cannot do anything with it cognitively, nor can he act on it. Human knowledge and human action are conceptual phenomena.

Differentiation and Integration as the Means to a Unit-Perspective πŸ”—

Having grasped the identities of particular entities, human beings can go on to a new step. They can grasp relationships among these entities by grasping the similarities and differences of their identities.

Now he also regards objects as related by their resemblances.

You grasp this entity as a member of a group of similar members.

A “unit” is an existent regarded as a separate member of a group of two or more similar members.

Thus the concept “unit” is a bridge between metaphysics and epistemology. Units do not exist qua units, what exists are things, but units are things viewed by a consciousness in certain existing relationships.

“Differentiation” is the process of grasping differences, i.e., of distinguishing one or more objects of awareness from the others.

“Integration” is the process of uniting elements into an inseparable whole.

We begin the formation of a concept by isolating a group of concretes. We do this on the basis of observed similarities that distinguish these concretes from the rest of our perceptual field. The similarities that make possible our first differentiations are observed; they are available to our senses without the need of conceptual knowledge. At a higher stage of development, concepts are often necessary to identify similarities – e.g., between two philosophies or two political systems. But the early similarities are perceptually given, both to (certain) animals and to men.

“Integrating” percepts is the process of blending all the relevant ones (e.g., our percepts of tables) into an inseparable whole. Such a whole is a new entity, a mental entity (the concept “table”) which functions in our consciousness thereafter as a single, enduring unit. This entity stands for an unlimited number of concretes, including countless unobserved cases. It subsumes all instances belonging to the group, past, present, and future.

The tool that makes this kind of integration possible is language. A word is the only form in which man’s mind is able to retain such a sum of concretes.

A word (aside from proper names) is a symbol that denotes a concept; it is a concrete, perceptually graspable symbol. Such a symbol transforms the sum of similars and the resolve to treat them together into a single (mental) concrete.

“Language” is a code of visualauditory symbols that serves the function of converting concepts into the mental equivalent of concretes.

referents of concepts exist not in this world, but in a Platonic heaven; revelation is superior to scienceconcepts have no objective basis in any world, but are arbitrary constructsconcepts are objective integrations of perceptual data, there can be no concepts apart from sense experience

The mystics hold that the referents of concepts exist not in this world, but in a Platonic heaven; hence, they claim, revelation is superior to science. The skeptics hold that concepts have no objective basis in any world, but are arbitrary constructs – which makes all of human cognition arbitrary and subjective.

Concept-Formation as a Mathematical Process πŸ”—

“Measurement” is the identification of a relationship – a quantitative relationship established by means of a standard that serves as a unit.

Both concept-formation and measurement involve the mind’s discovery of a mathematical relationship among concretes.

The similar concretes integrated by a concept differ from one another only quantitatively, only in the measurements of their characteristics. When we form a concept, therefore, our mental process consists in retaining the characteristics, but omitting their measurements.

The relevant measurements must exist in some quantity, but may exist in any quantity.

The concept “table” integrates all tables, past, present, and future, regardless of these variations among them.

The concept may be said to retain all the characteristics of its referents and to omit all the measurements (these last within an appropriate range). This principle applies even in regard to characteristics unknown at a given stage of development.

Objects are described as similar if they are partly the same, partly not. “Similarity” denotes “partial identity, partial difference”.

“Similarity”, in this context, is the relationship between two or more existents which possess the same characteristic, but in different measure or degree.

Men abstract attributes or characteristics from their measurements.

The Conceptual Common Denominator is the characteristic(s) reducible to a unit of measurement, by means of which man differentiates two or more existents from other existents possessing it.

A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted.

A concept is not a product of arbitrary choice, whether personal or social; it has a basis in reality.

Concepts of Consciousness as Involving Measurement-Omission πŸ”—

A “first-level” concept, such as “table” or “man”, is one formed directly from perceptual data. Starting from this base, concept-formation proceeds by a process of abstracting from abstractions. The result is (increasingly) higher-level concepts which cannot be formed directly from perceptual data, but only from earlier concepts.

Every process of consciousness involves two fundamental attributes: content and action.

“Content” here means the object of consciousness, that of which it is aware, whether by extrospection or introspection. Directly or indirectly, the object must be some aspect of existence; even states of consciousness can be grasped ultimately only in relation to the external world.

“Action” here means the action of consciousness in regard to its content, such as thinking, remembering, imagining. Awareness, as we know, is not a passive condition, but a process of continuous activity.

A concept pertaining to consciousness is a mental integration of two or more instances of a psychological process possessing the same distinguishing characteristics, with the particular contents and the measurements of the action’s intensity omitted – on the principle that these omitted measurements must exist in some quantity, but may exist in any quantity (i.e., a given psychological process must possess some content and some degree of intensity, but may possess any content or degree of the appropriate category).

Definition as the Final Step in Concept-Formation πŸ”—

This is the basic function of a definition: to distinguish a concept from all other concepts and thus to keep its units differentiated from all other existents.

A definition identifies a concept’s units by specifying their essential characteristics. The “essential” characteristic(s) is the fundamental characteristic(s) which makes the units the kind of existents they are and differentiates them from all other known existents.

The context is the entire field of a mind’s awareness or knowledge at any level of its cognitive development.

Definitions are contextual. Their purpose is to differentiate certain units from all other existents in a given context of knowledge.

When a definition is contextually revised, the new definition does not contradict the old one. The facts identified in the old definition remain facts; the knowledge earlier gained remains knowledge. What changes is that, as one’s field of knowledge expands, these facts no longer serve to differentiate the units. The new definition does not invalidate the content of the old; it merely refines a distinction in accordance with the demands of a growing cognitive context.

A universally valid definition – e.g., man is a “rational animal” – is one that has been determined according to the widest context of human knowledge available to date.

An objective definition, valid for all men, is one that designates the essential distinguishing characteristic(s) and genus of the existents subsumed under a given concept – according to all the relevant knowledge available at that stage of mankind’s development.

Definitions are determined by the facts of reality – within the context of one’s knowledge. Both aspects of this statement are crucial: reality and the context of knowledge; existence and consciousness.

The definition must then state the feature that most significantly distinguishes the units; it must state the fundamental. “Fundamental” here means the characteristic responsible for all the rest of the units’ distinctive characteristics, or at least for a greater number of these than any other characteristic is.

A concept is not interchangeable with its definition not even if the definition (thanks to the work of other men) happens to be correct.

A concept designates existents, including all their characteristics, whether definitional or not.

Varying definitions of a concept in varying contexts are possible only because the concept means not its definition, but its units.

It is crucially important to grasp the fact that a concept is an “open-end” classification which includes the yet-to-be-discovered characteristics of a given group of existents.

Since concepts represent a system of cognitive classification a given concept serves (speaking metaphorically) as a file folder in which man’s mind files his knowledge of the existents it subsumes.

Concepts as Devices to Achieve Unit-Economy πŸ”—

A word is worth a thousand pictures.

Conceptualization is a method of expanding man’s consciousness by reducing the number of its content’s units – a systematic means to an unlimited integration of costive data.

The concept condenses its referents, reduces them to a single mental unit; the definition then condenses their known characteristics; it reduces these to a single statement.

Concepts do satisfy a need of man’s mind, but they do so because they are not subjective inventions – because they do correspond to reality. Here again two elements are critical: the mind and reality; consciousness and existence.


Epistemology is necessary for practical purposes, as a guide to man in the proper use of his conceptual faculty.

Thinking, to be valid, must adhere to reality.

Concepts as Objective πŸ”—

Take away the mechanism of human consciousness and the realm of concepts, universals, abstractions is thereby erased. The concretes that exist, the objects of perception, would still remain – as concretes – but the perspective that regards them as units would be gone.

They represent reality as processed by a volitional human consciousness. This is the status that we describe as objective.

Objectivity as Volitional Adherence to Reality by the Method of Logic πŸ”—

To be “objective” in one’s conceptual activities is volitionally to adhere to reality by following certain rules of method, a method based on facts and appropriate to man’s form of cognition.

Logic is a volitional consciousness’s method of conforming to reality. It is the method of reason.

Logic is the art of noncontradictory identification.

Existence is Identity; Consciousness is Identification.

A contradiction is a negation of identity and therefore of reality; to be A and non-A at the same time and in the same respect is to be nothing.

Whenever one moves by a volitional process from known data to a new cognition ostensibly based on these data, the ruling question must be: can the new cognition be integrated without contradiction into the sum of one’s knowledge?

If logic is to be the means of objectivity, a logical conclusion must be derived from reality; it must be warranted by antecedent knowledge, which itself may rest on earlier knowledge, and so on back, until one reaches the self-evident, the data of senses. This kind of chain and nothing less is what we require as “proof” of an idea.

“Proof” is the process of establishing truth by reducing a proposition to axioms, i.e., ultimately, to sensory evidence. Such reduction is the only means man has of discovering the relationship between nonaxiomatic propositions and the facts of reality.

Knowledge as Contextual πŸ”—

Human knowledge on every level is relational. It is an organization of elements, each relevant to and bearing on the others. Knowledge is not a juxtaposition of independent items; it is a unity. It is not a heap of self-sufficient atoms of consciousness, each of which can exist or be dealt with apart from the rest. On the contrary, knowledge at each stage is a total, a sum, a single whole.

Metaphysically, there is only one universe. This means that everything in reality is interconnected. Every entity is related in some way to the others; each somehow affects and is affected by the others. Nothing is a completely isolated fact, without causes or effects; no aspect of the total can exist ultimately apart from the total. Knowledge, therefore, which seeks to grasp reality, must also be a total; its elements must be interconnected to form a unified whole reflecting the whole which is the universe.

What is the full context of an idea? Everything known at that stage of development, the sum of available knowledge.

A man must work to integrate a new idea. Since a conceptual consciousness is an integrating mechanism, it demands the integration of all its contents.

One step at a time, a man must relate a new item to his previous ideas. To the extent of his knowledge, he must search for aspects, presuppositions, implications, applications of the new idea that bear on his previous views (in any field); and he must identify explicitly the logical relationships he discovers. If he finds a contradiction anywhere, he must eliminate it. Judging on the basis of the available evidence, he must either amend his former views or reject the new claim.

Every new idea you read in these pages should represent the beginning, not the end, of a thought process; if the idea sounds reasonable, you should give it not merely a nod of approval, but hours of assiduous mental work.

For example: suppose that, having accepted the altruist ethics, you then hear our theory of egoism and find it appealing. You must then ask:

If you decide for egoism, you must then explicitly reject altruism, along with all the premises that led you to it and all the conclusions to which it leads, as far as you can pursue the trails. If you accepted altruism as the word of God, for instance, ask yourself:

Thought is identification and integration, the asking of “What?” and then “So what?”

Compartmentalization is an improper form of specialization. It consists not merely in specializing, but in regarding one’s specialty as a dissociated fiefdom, unrelated to the rest of human knowledge. In fact, however, all knowledge is interconnected.

Since philosophy is the science that deals with the widest abstractions, it alone can act as the ultimate integrator of human knowledge.

If you avail yourself of the power of a rational epistemology, you do not have to fear new data or new ideas.

The more you learn, if you learn it properly, the more clear you become and the more you know.

Knowledge as Hierarchical πŸ”—

A first-level concept is one formed directly from perceptual data, without the need of prior conceptualization. Higher-level concepts, by contrast, represent a relatively advanced cognition. They cannot be formed directly from perceptual data, but presuppose earlier concepts.

Cognitive items differ in a crucial respect: in their distance from the perceptual level.

Knowledge, therefore, has a hierarchical structure. “Hierarchy”, in general, as the Oxford English Dictionary reports, means “a body of persons or things ranked in grades, orders, or classes, one above another”. A hierarchy of knowledge means a body of concepts and conclusions ranked in order of logical dependence, one upon another, according to each item’s distance from the base of the structure. The base is the perceptual data with which cognition begins.

A higher-level item is dependent on the grasp of a series of earlier items; but that series is not necessarily unique in content. Within the requisite overall structure, there may be many alternatives in detail.

The epistemological responsibility imposed on man by the fact that knowledge is contextual is the need of integration. The responsibility imposed by the fact that knowledge is hierarchical is: the need of reduction.

Reduction is the means of connecting an advanced knowledge to reality by traveling backward through the hierarchical structure involved, i.e., in the reverse order of that required to reach the knowledge. “Reduction” is the process of identifying in logical sequence the intermediate steps that relate a cognitive item to perceptual data.

Men have to choose among purposes by means of their values, which fact generates certain kinds of mutual estimates and emotions, including esteem and affection, which make possible a certain kind of human relation, friendship.

The fallacy of the “stolen concept” consists in using a higher-level concept while denying or ignoring its hierarchical roots, i.e., one or more of the earlier concepts on which it logically depends.

The reason stolen concepts are so prevalent is that most people (and most philosophers) have no idea of the “roots” of a concept. In practice, they treat every concept as a primary, i.e., as a first-level abstraction; thus they tear the concept from any place in a hierarchy and thereby detach it from reality.

The antidote is the process of reduction.

The test of an invalid concept is the fact that it cannot be reduced to the perceptual level.

Propositions too (if nonaxiomatic) must be brought back step by step to the perceptual level.

Proof is a form of reduction. The conclusion to be proved is a higher-level cognition, whose link to reality lies in the premises – these in turn eventually lead back to the perceptual level.

A logical conclusion is one

A “razor” is a principle that slashes off a whole category of false and / or useless ideas. Rand’s Razor is addressed to anyone who enters the field of philosophy. It states: name your primaries. Identify your starting points, including the concepts you take to be irreducible, and then establish that these are objective axioms.

It is as futile to uphold true ideas while ignoring hierarchy as to uphold false ones. Contrary to today’s conservatives, for example, it is not an axiom that man has the right to property.

When thinkers base their theories not on the facts of reality, but on the unscrutinized conclusions of their predecessors, the result is a uniquely repellent kind of intellectual structure – not a hierarchy of knowledge, but of increasingly contorted and insolvable errors.

Intrinsicism and Subjectivism as the Two Forms of Rejecting Objectivity πŸ”—

Platonic realismskeptic nominalism
concepts refer to other-worldly universesevery existent is unique, concepts are arbitrary
universals are real (“out there”)universals are nominal (“in here”)
concepts in existence apart from consciousnessconcepts in consciousness apart from existence
knowledge is the grasp of an object through the passive absorption of revelationsknowledge is the creation of an object through the active inner processes of the subject
begins by appearing to champion reality, but ends by upholding the primacy of a supernatural consciousnessbegins by advocating the primacy of human consciousness, but ends concluding that either each individual creates his own private universe or that facts are the creation of a group
influenced the medieval erainfluenced the past two centuries
detach logic from perceptsdetach logic from the world
remain loyal to concepts that clash with realityremain loyal to percepts by dispensing with concepts
existence alone is the active factor in cognition; consciousness contributes nothingconsciousness alone is the operative factor in cognition; existence is irrelevant
knowledge is the grasp of an object through an active, reality-based process chosen by the subject
there is no consciousness without existence and no knowledge of existence without consciousness

Historically, the three main theories of concepts are

Plato held that concepts refer to other-worldly universes – to nonmaterial Forms such as manness, tablehood, goodness, which, he believed, are independent of consciousness and of any concrete embodiments.

Aristotle’s theory is more naturalistic than Plato’s, but bears Plato’s imprint. Every entity, says Aristotle, is a metaphysical compound made of two elements: form and matter, or structure and stuff.

Nominalism, which was developed largely by skeptic philosophers, from Protagoras to Hume to Dewey and Wittgenstein. Every existent, in this view, is unique; there is nothing the same uniting the members of a group; there is no metaphysical basis for classifications.

The first side holds that universal are real (“out there”); the second, that they are nominal (“in here”, in the sense of being arbitrary linguistic creations).

In the one view, concepts represent phenomena of existence apart from consciousness. In the other view, they represent phenomena of consciousness apart from existence.

The first of these approaches, in any variant, we identify as “intrinsicism”; the second, as “subjectivism”.

The objective approach to concepts leads to the view that knowledge is the grasp of an object through an active, reality-based process chosen by the subject.

Intrinsicism leads to the view that knowledge is the grasp of an object through the passive absorption of revelations.

Subjectivism leads to the view that knowledge is the creation of an object through the active inner processes of the subject.

Intrinsicists describe man’s faculty of “just knowing” by many names, including “intuition”, a “sixth sense”, “extrasensory perception”, “reminiscence”, and “divine revelation”.

To those who understand, no explanation is necessary; to those who do not, none is possible.

This indeed was the historical development from Plato to Christianity.

If abstractions are other-worldly phenomena, therefore, they must be construed as ideas in an other-worldly intellect, i.e., as thoughts in the mind of God, who periodically in his goodness reveals some of them to man.

Intrinsicism begins by appearing to champion reality. It ends, however, by upholding the primacy of consciousness – of a supernatural consciousness.

Subjectivism, by contrast, is exemplified by Kant and John Dewey. It begins by advocating the primacy of consciousness – of human consciousness.

The subjectivist rejects the mystic approach to epistemology; revelation, he recognizes, is not a valid means of knowledge. But, he continues, there is no other means of knowing an external object; it is revelation of some sort or nothing.

In the personal version of this doctrine, each individual creates his own private universe; in the social version, facts are the creation of a group.

The culmination of this approach is pragmatism. Pragmatism holds that the concept of “reality” is invalid; that the quest for absolutes is a perversion; and that truth is not correspondence to fact, but rather “that which works”. “Works” here means “satisfies for the nonce the arbitrary desires of men”.

It is on Aristotle’s epistemological discoveries, including his implicit recognition of context and hierarchy, that men have built ever since, to the extent that they have built cognitively, as against stagnating or regressing. Tragically, however, Aristotle’s epistemology (in part, because of its contradictions, its own intrinsicist aspects) has seldom been a dominant historical factor. It has never had the monolithic, enduring influence enjoyed by intrinsicism (in the medieval era) and subjectivism (in the past two centuries). Neither of these two schools is equipped to grasp the need of logic.

After Aristotle’s discoveries, no school can afford to ignore logic. What the non-Aristotelians do, however, is not to use logic as a means of objectivity, but to take the field over, reinterpreting its nature in accordance with their own premises. The intrinsicists, who write off this world as unreal and unintelligible, detach logic from percepts.

The subjectivists, who reject supernaturalism and stress sensations or percepts, also detach logic from the world (they call it “logic without ontology”).

When men are deprived of their method of cognition, they have no means of validating their conclusions, no way to distinguish truth from error, fact from wish, reality from fantasy. The consequence is frustration and failure, the failure of their conclusions (including their moral conclusions) to serve as reliable guides to action. This is the cause that explains the popularity of the notion that an idea may be “good in theory, but not work in practice”.

This notion is impossible to us. A theory is an identification of the facts of reality and / or of guidelines for human action. A good theory is a true theory, one that recognizes all the relevant facts, including the facts of human nature, and integrates them into a noncontradictory whole. Such a theory has to work in practice.

The theory-practice dichotomy is itself a theory; its source is a breach between concepts and percepts. Given such a breach, thought comes to be viewed as pertaining to one world (the world of Platonic Forms, or of Kantian “phenomena”, or of linguistic constructs), while action is viewed as pertaining to an opposite world (the world of concretes, or of things-in-themselves, or of empirical data). In this set-up, one expects an idea to be schizophrenic. One expects it to be good in one world, but not in the other, good in theory, but not in practice.

The consequence is to offer mankind a monstrous choice. Practice theories that are impracticable, these theorists declare, or dismiss theory as a superfluity and even a threat. This means: remain loyal to concepts that clash with reality – or remain loyal to percepts by dispensing with concepts. The first is the intrinsicist choice; the second is the choice of the subjectivist.

No one departs from reality on the perceptual level; one can do so only on the volitional, conceptual level.

The primary source of the mind-body dichotomy and of all the suffering it has caused from Pythagoras to the present is a false view of the mind, i.e., of concepts. The solution is to return to the axioms of philosophy, existence and consciousness, and identify their actual relationship within a conceptual process.

Existence alone, says the intrinsicist, is the active factor in cognition; consciousness, in essence, contributes nothing; it is merely a receptacle, an emptiness waiting to be filled. Consciousness alone, says the subjectivist, is the operative factor in cognition; existence, being unreal or unknowable, is irrelevant.

There is no consciousness without existence and no knowledge of existence without consciousness.


The whole of Objectivism amounts to the injunction: “Follow reason”.

“Reason” is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.

Reason is the faculty that enables man to discover the nature of existents – by virtue of its power to condense sensory information in accordance with the requirements of an objective mode of cognition.

Reason is the faculty that organizes perceptual units in conceptual terms by following the principles of logic.

Reason is the faculty

One cannot seek a proof that reason is reliable, because reason is the faculty of proof; one must accept and use reason in any attempt to prove anything.

Emotions as a Product of Ideas πŸ”—

A feeling or emotion is a response to an object one perceives (or imagines), such as a man, an animal, an event. The object by itself, however, has no power to invoke a feeling in the observer. It can do so only if he supplies two intellectual elements, which are necessary conditions of any emotion.

First, the person must know in some terms what the object is. He must have some understanding or identification of it (whether true or false, specific or generalized, explicit or implicit).

Second, the person must evaluate the object. He must conclude that it is good or bad, desirable or undesirable, for his values or against them. Here too the mental content may take many forms; the value-judgments being applied may be explicit or implicit, rational or contradictory, sharply defined or vague, consciously known to the person or unidentified, even repressed.

Emotions are states of consciousness with bodily accompaniments and with spiritual – intellectual – causes. This last factor is the basis for distinguishing “emotion” from “sensation”. A sensation is an experience transmitted by purely physical means; it is independent of a person’s ideas.

There are four steps in the generation of an emotion:

Normally, only the first and last of these are conscious.

Subconscious – meaning by this term a store of the mental contents one has acquired by conscious means, but which are not in conscious awareness at a given time.

What makes emotions incomprehensible to many people is the fact that their ideas are not only largely subconscious, but also inconsistent. Men have the ability to accept contradictions without knowing it. This leads to the appearance of a conflict between thought and feelings.

Conflicts in men, Plato maintained – the conflicts so often observed between their professed beliefs and their feelings – are a result not of avoidable errors, but of metaphysical law. The universe is a realm of conflict (true reality vs. the world of particulars), and man, the microcosm, has to reflect this conflict. He, too, must be split into warring parts, with one element (the intellect) urging him upward to the eternal, and the other (passion) pulling him down into the muck of action and the physical.

We hold that man can live exclusively by reason. He can do it because emotions are consequences generated by his conclusions. And man’s conclusions have this kind of generative power because they are not revelations or inventions detached from the arena of physical action. Concepts (including evaluations) are man’s form of integrating percepts.

Reason as Man’s Only Means of Knowledge πŸ”—

Reason is a faculty of awareness; its function is to perceive that which exists by organizing observational data.

Emotion, by contrast, is a faculty not of perception, but of reaction to one’s perceptions.

Emotions are automatic consequences of a mind’s past conclusions, however that mind has been used or misused in the process of reaching them.

Feelings or emotions are not part of the method of logic; they are not evidence for a conclusion.

Although reason and emotion by their nature are in harmony, the appearance of conflict between them, as we have seen, is possible; the source of such appearance is a contradiction between a man’s conscious and subconscious conclusions in regard to an evaluative issue.

The elements of reason are objectively identifiable; abstractions such as “percept”, “concept”, and “logic” are reducible to the data of observation. But abstractions such as “intuition”, “revelation”, and the rest, precisely because they purport to name a faculty that transcends reason, cannot be given objective definition; there is no logical chain linking such abstractions to sensory data. As a result, there is no objective means by which to use or apply such terms. Technically, they are invalid concepts. Practically, a person who uses them has no recourse but to rely on his feelings.

If a man seeks to think rationally, he must grasp the distinction between reason and emotion. He must learn, then methodically observe the difference between thought and feeling, between logic and desire – between percepts and concepts on the one hand, and hopes, wishes, hates, loves, fears on other.

We are not against emotions, but emotionalism. Our concern is not to uphold stoicism or abet repression, but to identify a division of mental labor. There is nothing wrong with feeling that follows from an act of thought; this is the natural and proper human pattern. There is everything wrong with feeling that seeks to replace thought, by usurping its function.

If an individual experiences a clash between feeling and thought, he should not ignore his feelings. He should identify the ideas at their base (which may be a time-consuming process); then compare these ideas to his conscious conclusions, weighing the conflicts objectively; then amend his viewpoint accordingly, disavowing the ideas he judges to be false. What he should seek is not escape through repression, but full identification and then rational analysis of his ideas, culminating in a new, noncontradictory integration. The result will be the reestablishment in his consciousness of emotional harmony.

The above indicates the pattern of the proper relationship between reason and emotion in a man’s life: reason first, emotion as a consequence.

An honest man does not desire until he has identified the object of his desire. He says: “It is, therefore I want it”. They say: “I want it, therefore it is”.

The Arbitrary as Neither True Nor False πŸ”—

Claims based on emotion are widespread today and are possible in any age. In the terminology of logic, such claims are “arbitrary”, i.e., devoid of evidence.

The answer to all such statements is: an arbitrary claim is automatically invalidated. The rational response to such a claim is to dismiss it, without discussion, consideration, or argument.

An arbitrary statement is neither “true” nor “false”.

The concept of “truth” identifies a type of relationship between a proposition and the facts of reality. “Truth” is the recognition of reality. In essence, this is the traditional correspondence theory of truth: there is a reality independent of man, and there are certain conceptual products, propositions, formulated by human consciousness. When one of these products corresponds to reality, when it constitutes a recognition of fact, then it is true. Conversely, when the mental content does not thus correspond, when it constitutes not a recognition of reality but a contradiction of it, then it is false.

No identification of error will affect the determined exponent of the arbitrary. :)

The onus of proof is on him who asserts the positive, one must not attempt to prove a negative.

If a person asserts that a certain entity exists (such as God, gremlins, a disembodied soul), he is required to adduce evidence supporting his claim. If he does so, one must either accept his conclusion, or disqualify his evidence by showing that he has misinterpreted certain data. But if he offers no supporting evidence, one must dismiss his claim without argumentation, because in this situation argument would be futile. It is impossible to “prove a negative”, meaning by the term: prove the nonexistence of an entity for which there is no evidence.

All thought, argument, proof, refutation must start with that which exists. No inference can be drawn from a zero. If a person offers evidence for a positive, one can, if the claim is mistaken, identify his misinterpretations and in that sense refute him. But one cannot prove the corresponding negative by starting from a void.

The reason that we reject agnosticism should now be clear. This term applies not only to the question of God, but also to many other issues, such as ESP, reincarnation, demonic possession, astrology, and the Marxist claim that the state will wither away. In regard to all such issues and claims, of which there are an unlimited number today, the agnostic is the man who says: “We can’t prove that the claim is true. But we can’t prove that it is false, either. So the only proper conclusion is: we don’t know; no one knows; perhaps no one ever can know”.

In considering any issue, never permit yourself one minute in the quicksands of a baseless “I don’t know”. Instead, establish first that the issue is related to the realm of evidence and thus deserves consideration. Then study the evidence, weighing the possibilities in accordance with the principles of logic. Then make up your mind and take a stand.

Certainty as Contextual πŸ”—

Evidential ContinuumDescription
Possiblethere is some, but not much, evidence in favor of a conclusion, and nothing known that contradicts it
Probablethe burden of a substantial body of evidence, although still inconclusive, supports a conclusion
Certainthe evidence in favor of a conclusion is conclusive; it has been logically validated

Man is a being of limited knowledge – and he must, therefore, identify the cognitive context of his conclusions. In any situation where there is reason to suspect that a variety of factors is relevant to the truth, only some of which are presently known, he is obliged to acknowledge this fact. The implicit or explicit preamble to his conclusion must be: “On the basis of the available evidence, i.e., within the context of the factors so far discovered, the following is the proper conclusion to draw”. Thereafter, the individual must continue to observe and identify; should new information warrant it, he must qualify his conclusion accordingly.

The appearance of a contradiction between new knowledge and old derives from a single source: context-dropping.

The first range of the evidential continuum is covered by the concept “possible”. A conclusion is “possible” if there is some, but not much, evidence in favor of it, and nothing known that contradicts it.

“Evidence”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “testimony or facts tending to prove or disprove any conclusion”.

There is no way to validate such a notion as: “that which brings men closer to knowing the unknowable or proving the unprovable”.

“Probable” indicates a higher range of the evidential continuum. A conclusion is “probable” if the burden of a substantial body of evidence, although still inconclusive, supports it.

The concept of “certainty” designates knowledge from a particular perspective: it designates some complex items of knowledge considered in contrast to the transitional evidential states that precede them.

A conclusion is “certain” when the evidence in its favor is conclusive; i.e., when it has been logically validated.

Certainty, like possibility and probability, is contextual.

Doubt, rationally exercised, is a temporary, transitional state, which is applicable only to (some) higher-level questions – and which itself expresses a cognitive judgment: that the evidence one has is still inconclusive.

Is man capable of certainty? Since man has a faculty of knowledge and nonomniscience is no obstacle to its use, there is only one rational answer: certainly.

Mysticism and Skepticism as Denials of Reason πŸ”—

grasp reality by intuitioncan’t grasp reality
allied with intrinsicismallied with subjectivism
promiscuous acceptance of ideaspromiscuous doubt of ideas
“just knows” whatever he wants to believe“just doesn’t know” whatever he wants not to believe
claim to make life exciting by enabling men to escape from the ordinary world of natureclaim to make life safe by undermining all strong convictions

We define “knowledge” as a mental grasp of a fact(s) of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation.

Contrary to skepticism, the definition affirms that man can “grasp reality”. Contrary to mysticism, it affirms that such grasp is achieved only by observation and / or reason.

Just as mysticism is allied with intrinsicism, so skepticism is allied with subjectivism.

If mysticism advocates the promiscuous acceptance of ideas, skepticism advocates their promiscuous doubt. The mystic “just knows” whatever he wants to believe; the skeptic “just doesn’t know” whatever he wants not to believe.

Both the mystic and the skeptic are exponents of faith in the technical sense of the term. “Faith” means acceptance on the basis of feeling rather than of evidence.

No one seeks to reject reason completely. What many men do seek, however, is not to be (in their words) “straitjacketed” by reason all the time, in every issue, twenty-four hours a day. It is to these men that mystics and skeptics alike offer a sanction and a loophole. “We all have the right”, they say in effect, “to our own approach, our own subjective beliefs or doubts, as an occasional supplement to reason or breather from it. The rest of the time we will be perfectly rational”. This means: “We want a deal, a middle of the road. We want to take some feelings as tools of cognition. We want a compromise between reason and emotionalism”. In reason, there can be no such compromise.

Mystics often say that, by enabling men to escape from the “prosaic” world of nature, they make life exciting. Skeptics often say that, by undermining all strong convictions, they make life safe. The facts belie these promises. In actuality, since both groups work to undercut man’s mind, both lead to a single kind of result and always have done so. They lead to helplessness, terror, dictatorship, and starvation.

MAN πŸ”—

There is no question more crucial to man than the question: what is man? What kind of being is he? What are his essential attributes?

I will be relying here, above all, on earlier conclusions

Living Organisms as Goal-Directed and Conditional πŸ”—

The most fundamental difference among the entities we perceive is that between the animate and the inanimate.

The actions of a living organism are self-generated and goal-directed. They are actions initiated by the organism for the sake of achieving an end.

Most living entities have no power of choice. This kind of organism functions only as its nature requires, without any volition or even any awareness of its behavior (e.g., the actions of a plant or the internal bodily processes of an animal).

“Goal” is not synonymous with “purpose” (the latter term applies only to the goals of conscious beings, who are aware of and desire the objects they pursue). We do not endorse “teleology”, if that means the theory that insentient entities can act purposefully, or that all organisms are moved by a conscious or subconscious striving. “Goal-directed”, in this context, designates the fact that the automatic functions of living organisms are actions whose nature is such that they result in the preservation of an organism’s life.

Materialists today, dedicated to monism (and to rewriting reality), insist that every science be “reducible” to physics in a sense that denies both consciousness and life. In this view, living organisms are mere “appearance”; they are really nothing but a type of inanimate mechanism, like a highly complex robot or super-computer. This notion denies an entire field of observed data.

Reason as Man’s Basic Means of Survival πŸ”—

Every living organism has a means of survival.

Plants survive by means of purely physical functions.

The lower conscious species (e.g., jellyfish or flatworms) appear to have only the faculty of sensation and act by responding to isolated, momentary stimuli; their guide to sustaining their life is the pleasure-pain mechanism built into their bodies.

The higher animals are also guided by the pleasure-pain mechanism, but in their case it functions within the context of the faculty of perception. The higher animals grasp and deal with the world of entities (and are able to form automatic perceptual associations). The range of actions required for their survival is therefore wider.

Man, too, experiences the sensations of pleasure and pain, but he is a conceptual being. The range of actions required for his survival is therefore the widest of all.

The goods we need are not here. They must be created by human action. They must be produced.

In order to produce, man must discover the types of materials available in nature, the potentialities they possess, the laws of their behavior, the techniques by which they can be reshaped into the sustenance of human survival. All this involves a special kind of knowledge – the kind that integrates past data with present observations in a form enabling its possessor to plan long-range and shape the course of his future.

Epistemology tells us that reason is man’s faculty of knowing reality. When conjoined with the observed fact that man is an organism who survives by means of his knowledge (and consequent action), the inference must be that reason is man’s basic tool of survival.

He is an indivisible entity, an integrated unit of two attributes: of matter and consciousness. Consciousness in his case takes the form of mind, i.e., a conceptual faculty; matter, of a certain kind of organic structure. Each of these attributes is indispensable to the other and to the total entity. The mind acquires knowledge and defines goals; the body translates these conclusions into action.

Pure thought is nonthought; it is devoid of reference to reality. Pure action is nonaction; it is purposeless movement. Both patterns, enacted consistently, mean suicide.

A body without a soul is a corpse, a soul without a body is a ghost. Both corpse and ghost are “symbols of death”.

The principle of mind-body integration – like its corollary, the fact that reason is a practical faculty – rests on observation; but the observation depends for its identification upon a proper philosophic context. In metaphysics, that context must include the primacy of existence; in epistemology, it must include the objective view of concepts.

If one accepts the primacy of consciousness, he will expect desire to clash with external reality; if one accepts a nonobjective view of concepts, he will expect theory to clash with practice.

Reason as an Attribute of the Individual πŸ”—

There is no such thing as a collective mind or brain. Thought is a process that must be initiated and directed at each step by the choice of one man. The thinker. Only an individual qua individual can perceive, abstract, define, connect.

Men may share their knowledge, not their thinking. Knowledge is not thinking – it is the result of thinking, the product of the process of thought. The process of thought cannot be performed collectively.

The notion of a “collective consciousness” is as arbitrary as that of a “supernatural consciousness”. Both notions represent the primacy of consciousness. The older version of this metaphysics leads to the view that human consciousness is a fragment fed by a transcendent Mind, from which it is merely temporarily separated. The social version secularizes this conclusion: it views human consciousness as a fragment fed by a social Mind, from which it is not really, but only apparently separated (see Hegel, Marx, and Dewey). Neither of these views rests on any observed fact.

If reason is an attribute of the individual; and if the choice to think or not controls all of a man’s other choices and their products, including the emotions he feels and the actions he takes; then the individual is sovereign. His own cognitive faculty determines not only his conclusions, but also his character and life. In this sense, man is self-created, self-directed, and self-responsible. Since he is responsible for what he thinks (or evades), he is responsible for all the psychological and existential consequences that follow therefrom.

Many people, unable to explain their emotions, do experience themselves as puppets moved by loves and hates that come they know not whence. The only cure for this condition would be their discovery of the actual cause of their emotions.

The two most popular variants of determinism, the heredity school and the environment school, may serve as illustrations here.

The first school treats emotions as a product of innate (genetic) structures. Everything essential to a man, it holds, including the character and feelings he will eventually develop, is a product of factors built into his body at birth.

Environmental determinism misunderstands emotions in a somewhat different way. According to most spokesmen of this school, society molds the individual through his experiences. A child, it is said, sees people, observes their actions and faces, hears their words, feels their caresses or blows; after years of such bombardment by perceptual data, he builds up certain habitual reactions, character traits, emotional patterns.

The mere advocacy of “free will” does not answer these deterministic views. If volition is held to be a superhuman faculty injected by God into man’s earthly identity, as in the Christian tradition, then its possession does not make man efficacious or responsible.

Choice is not a mystic factor superimposed on a deterministic creature. There is no dichotomy between will and nature or between will and reason. Reason is will, and therefore the power of choice is the power that rules man, in regard both to body (action) and soul. Man is not only free, he is the product of his freedom – which means: of his intellect.


factual, descriptiveevaluative, prescriptive
reason is valid, it is man’s means of knowledgeif one chooses to live, one must hold reason as a value
emotions are not tools of cognitionemotions are not guides to action
not mysticismnot whim-worship

Metaphysics and epistemology, like the natural sciences, are factual subjects. Their concern is to describe the universe and man’s means of knowledge. Ethics or morality – I use the terms as synonyms here – is an evaluative subject. Its concern is not only to describe, but also to prescribe for man. Ethics is the branch of philosophy that provides a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions – the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life. Such a code must deal with three basic, interrelated questions.

The answers to these questions define the ultimate value, the primary virtue, and the particular beneficiary upheld by an ethical code and reveal thereby its essence.

Our position can be indicated in three words.

We hold that facts – certain definite facts – do lead logically to values. What “ought to be” can be validated objectively. Ethics is a human necessity and a science, not a playground for mystics or skeptics.

The principles of morality are a product not of feeling, but of cognition.

“Life” as the Essential Root of “Value” πŸ”—

We define “value” as that which one acts to gain and / or keep. “Value” denotes the object of an action: it is that which some entity’s action is directed to acquiring or preserving.

Goal-directed behavior is possible only because an entity’s action, its pursuit of a certain end, can make a difference to the outcome.

Living organisms are the entities that make “value” possible. They are the entities capable of self-generated, goal-directed action – because they are the conditional entities, which face the alternative of life or death.

There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence – and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms.

Goal-directed entities do not exist in order to pursue values. They pursue values in order to exist.

Only the alternative of life vs. death creates the context for value-oriented action, and it does so only if the entity’s end is to preserve its life. By the very nature of “value”, therefore, any code of values must hold life as the ultimate value. All of our ethics and politics rests on this principle.

It is only the concept of “Life” that makes the concept of “Value” possible.

Man’s Life as the Standard of Moral Value πŸ”—


“Morality” is a code of values accepted by choice – and man needs it for one reason only: he needs it in order to survive. Moral laws, in this view, are principles that define how to nourish and sustain human life; they are no more than this and no less.

“Long-range” means allowing for or extending into the more distant future. A man is long-range to the extent that he chooses his actions with reference to such a future.

Life is motion. If the motion is not self-preserving, then it is self-destroying.

The temporal scale of man’s concern must be not any isolated day or cycle, but his entire lifespan. Just as man’s knowledge must be integrated into an all-encompassing sum, so must his actions. If he is to succeed at the task of survival, man has to choose his course, his goals, his values in the context and terms of a lifetime.

A “principle” is a general truth on which other truths depend.

Our morality defines a code of values. By “code” here we mean an integrated, hierarchically structured, noncontradictory system of principles, which enables a man to choose, plan, and act long-range.

All that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; all that which destroys it is the evil.

Rationality as the Primary Virtue πŸ”—

The faculty of reason is man’s basic tool of survival. The primary choice is to exercise this faculty or not. If life is the standard, therefore, the basic moral principle is obvious. It tells us the proper evaluation of reason.

To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason, Purpose and Self-esteem.

Epistemology tells us that reason is valid; it is man’s means of knowledge. Ethics draws the practical conclusion: if one chooses to live, one must hold reason as a value.

“Virtue” is the action by which one gains and keeps a value.

“Rationality” is the recognition and acceptance of reason as one’s only source of knowledge, one’s only judge of values and one’s only guide to action. This means the application of reason to every aspect of one’s life and concerns. It means choosing and validating one’s opinions, one’s decisions, one’s work, one’s love, in accordance with the normal requirements of a cognitive process, the requirements of logic, objectivity, integration.

By the same token, there is only one primary vice, which is the root of all other human evils: irrationality. This is the deliberate suspension of consciousness, the refusal to see, to think, to know – either as a general policy, because one regards awareness as too demanding, or in regard to some specific point, because the facts conflict with one’s feelings.

Every virtue has two aspects, one intellectual, the other existential. Since man is a unity made of mind and body, every virtue has an application in both realms; each involves a certain process of consciousness and, as its expression in reality, a certain course of physical action.

In epistemology, we concluded that emotions are not tools of cognition. The corollary in ethics is that they are not guides to action.

We define “whim” as a desire experienced by a person who does not know and does not care to discover its cause. Such a person does not wish to introspect or to analyze. He does not seek to identify the premises that underlie his desire or to determine whether these premises conform to reality. He simply wants a certain item. He wants it because he wants it. This is what we call “whim-worship”.

Whim-worship is to ethics what mysticism is to epistemology.

The proper approach in this issue is not reason versus emotion, but reason first and then emotion. This approach, as we have seen, leads to the harmony of reason and emotion, which is the normal state of a rational man. His feelings, accordingly, are the opposite of whims; they are consequences of rational, explicitly identified value-judgments. A man with this kind of psychology and self-knowledge does not repress his desires. He is eager to feel and to give his feelings full reality in the hours and choices of his life. To him, such a policy is a form of expressing in action the judgment of his mind.

In ethics as in epistemology, there is no dichotomy between reason and emotion. Once again, the truth is: think, and you shall feel.

The decline of the West, someone once observed, can be symbolized by the fact that the term “virtue” – which comes from “vir”, Latin for “man” – has been turned upside down across the centuries. It has evolved from meaning “manliness” in a man to meaning “chastity” in a woman. We restore the term’s original sense. We mean by “virtue” the kind of action appropriate to a human being.

The action is rationality.

The Individual as the Proper Beneficiary of His Own Moral Action πŸ”—

Rational Self-Interest
each man’s primary moral obligation is to achieve his own welfare, well-being, or self-interest
self-sustaining by an act of choice and as a matter of principle
man’s life as the standard of value defining “self-interest”
rationality as the primary virtue defining the method of achieving “self-interest”
noncontradictory goals, long-range thought, principled action, and the full acceptance of causality
identify the role of others in his own life and then evaluate them appropriately
remain true to one’s own life and one’s own mind
Rational Self-Interest Is NOT
evasion of principles
irresponsibility, context-dropping, or whim-worship
doing whatever you feel like doing
desire or pursue self-destructive courses of behavior
violating the rights, moral or political, of others in order to satisfy one’s own needs or desires
being a brute, a con man, or a beggar
turning other men, whether by clubs or tears, into one’s servants
sacrifice others to yourself (the subjectivist version of egoism)
isolate oneself from others or remain indifferent to them

An ethical standard means an abstract principle that serves as a measurement or gauge to guide a man’s choices in the achievement of a concrete, specific purpose. “That which is required for the survival of man qua man” is an abstract principle that applies to every individual man.

Each individual must choose his values and actions by the standard of man’s life – in order to achieve the purpose of maintaining and enjoying his own life. Thus we advocate egoism – the pursuit of self-interest – the policy of selfishness. The concept of “egoism” identifies merely one aspect of an ethical code. It tells us not what acts a man should take, but who should profit from them. Egoism states that each man’s primary moral obligation is to achieve his own welfare, well-being, or self-interest (these terms are synonyms here). It states that each man should be “concerned with his own interests”; he should be “selfish” in the sense of being the beneficiary of his own moral actions.

Whatever man’s proper self-interest consists of, that is what each individual should seek to achieve.

The alternative is the view that man’s primary moral obligation is to serve some entity other than himself, such as God or society, at the price of subordinating or denying his own welfare. In this view, the essence of morality is unselfishness, which involves some form of self-sacrifice.

“Egoistic” means self-sustaining by an act of choice and as a matter of principle.

Life requires that man gain values, not lose them. It requires assertive action, achievement, success, not abnegation, renunciation, surrender. It requires self-tending – in other words, the exact opposite of sacrifice.

A “sacrifice” is the surrender of a value, such as money, career, loved ones, freedom, for the sake of a lesser value or of a nonvalue (if one acquires an equal or a greater value from a transaction, then it is an even trade or a gain, not a sacrifice).

Rationality requires that a man be able righteously to say: my mind is my means of achieving my goals in accordance with my judgment of fact and of value. The most selfish of all things is the independent mind that recognizes no authority higher than its own and no value higher than its judgment of truth.

Selflessness is not the precondition of objectivity, but its obstacle. In actuality, the selfless is the mindless.

We uphold rational self-interest. This means the ethics of selfishness, with man’s life as the standard of value defining “self-interest”, and rationality as the primary virtue defining the method of achieving it. Within our framework, indeed, the term “rational self-interest” is a redundancy, albeit a necessary one today. We do not recognize any “self-interest” for man outside the context and absolute of reason.

Egoism requires noncontradictory goals, long-range thought, principled action, and the full acceptance of causality.

The fact that you feel like taking some action does not necessarily make it an action compatible with your “interests” in the legitimate sense of that term. There are countless examples of people who desire and pursue self-destructive courses of behavior.

Since man survives by thought and production, every man should live and work as an independent, creative being, acquiring goods and services from others only by means of trade, when both parties agree that the trade is profitable.


Any such policy, as we will see in due course, is destructive not only to the victim, but also to the perpetrator. It is condemned as immoral, therefore, by the very principle of selfishness.

“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”. The principle embodied in this oath is that human sacrifice is evil no matter who its beneficiary is, whether you sacrifice yourself to others or others to yourself. Man – every man – is an end in himself.

If a person rejects this principle, it makes little difference which of its negations he adopts – whether he says “Sacrifice yourself to others” (the ethics of altruism) or “Sacrifice others to yourself” (the subjectivist version of egoism). In either case, he holds that human existence requires martyrs; that some men are mere means to the ends of others; that somebody’s throat must be cut. The only question then is; your life for their sake or theirs for yours? This question does not represent a dispute about a moral principle. It is nothing but a haggling over victims by two camps who share the same principle.

People often ask if there are not conflicts of interest among men – e.g., in regard to work or romantic love – which require someone’s sacrifice. We answer that there are no conflicts of interest among rational men, who live by production and trade, who accept the responsibility of earning any value they desire, and who refuse to make or accept sacrifices. There is a “conflict of interest”, if one wants to call it that, between a banker and a bank robber; but not among men who do not allow robbery or any equivalent into their view of their interests. The same applies to all values, including romantic love.

The essential fact to grasp here is that social existence is an asset to man in the struggle for survival.

The two great values to be gained from social existence are: knowledge and trade.

Men can transmit from one generation to the next a vast store of knowledge, far more than any individual could gain by himself in a single lifetime. And if men practice the division of labor, an individual can achieve a degree of skill and a material return on his effort far greater than he could attain if he lived in solitude.

Egoism, accordingly, does not mean that a man should isolate himself from others or remain indifferent to them. On the contrary, a proper view of egoism requires that a man identify the role of others in his own life and then evaluate them appropriately.

Friendship and love are a crucial aspect of an egoist’s life, not merely because most people happen to want personal relationships, but because it is rational to want such, if the value standards involved are legitimate.

We are often told that love (like the pursuit of truth) is selfless. A “selfless love” would be one unrelated to the lover’s own life judgment, or happiness; such a thing defies the very nature of love. A “selfless”, “disinterested” love is a contradiction in terms: it means that one is indifferent to that which one values. Here again the truth is the opposite of the conventional idea. The egoist is not a man incapable of love; he is the only man capable of it. To say I love you, one must know first how to say the I.

Any action one takes to help another person must be chosen within the full context of one’s own goals and values. One must determine the time, the effort, the money that it is appropriate to spend, given the position of the recipient in one’s evaluative hierarchy, and then act accordingly. To give a person less than he deserves, judging by one’s own hierarchy, is to betray one’s values. To give him more is to divert resources to a recipient who is unworthy of them by one’s own definition, and thus again to sacrifice one’s values.

It follows that a man must certainly act to help a person in trouble whom he loves, even to the point of risking his own life in case of danger.

By the same reasoning, a man must certainly not help others promiscuously. He must not help men who defy his values, or who declare war on him, or of whom he has no knowledge whatever. If a man is to qualify as self-sustaining and self-respecting, he must not help, let alone love, his enemy, or even his neighbor – not until he discovers who the neighbor is and whether the person deserves to be helped.

As to helping a stranger in an emergency, this is moral under certain conditions. A man may help such a person

Extending help to others in such a context is an act of generosity, not an obligation.

Selfishness is not an innate weakness, but a rare strength. It is the achievement of remaining true to one’s own life and one’s own mind. This is not something to be taken for granted or cursed. It is something that must be learned, taught, nurtured, praised, enshrined.

We advocate plain egoism, the kind that actually achieves the selfish goal of sustaining one’s own existence.

Those who reject the principle of selfishness will find in the history of ethics two main alternatives.

The good is man the individual sustaining life by reason, his life, with everything such a goal requires and implies.

Values as Objective πŸ”—

values are intrinsicvalues are subjectivevalues are objective
values are independent of consciousnessvalues are independent of realityconsciousness and reality
self-sacrifice for Godself-sacrifice for the group or whim-worshiping egoismrational egoism

A morality of rational self-interest obviously presupposes a philosophic commitment to reason.

For us, values, like concepts, are not intrinsic or subjective, but objective.

Value requires a valuer – and moral value, therefore, presupposes a certain kind of estimate made by man; it presupposes an act of evaluation. Such an act, as we know, is possible only because man faces a fundamental alternative. It is possible only if man chooses to pursue a certain goal, which then serves as his standard of value. The good, accordingly, is not good in itself. Objects and actions are good to man and for the sake of reaching a specific goal.

Moral value does not pertain to reality alone or to consciousness alone. It arises because a certain kind of living organism – a volitional, conceptual organism – sustains a certain relationship to an external world.

The good is an aspect of reality in relation to man. That is: the good designates facts – the requirements of survival – as identified conceptually, and then evaluated by human consciousness in accordance with a rational standard of value (life).

Reality confronts man with a great many “musts”, but all of them are conditional; the formula of realistic necessity is: You must, if – and the “if” stands for man’s choice – if you want to achieve a certain goal.

The intrinsicist school holds that values, like universals or essences, are features of reality independent of consciousness (and of life). The good, accordingly, is divorced from goals, consequences, and beneficiaries. The good is not good to anybody or for anything; it is good in itself. One can come to know such an object only by the standard intrinsicist means, mystic insight. Thereafter, one “just knows” good and evil; one knows them automatically and infallibly, without benefit of any cognitive method.

“Duty” is not a synonym for “virtue”. “Duty” means the moral necessity to perform certain actions for no reason other than obedience to some higher authority, without regard to any personal goal, motive, desire or interest.

The subjectivist school, to which we may now turn, holds that values, like concepts and definitions, are creations of consciousness independent of reality.

Subjectivists of the social variety, despite their rejection of intrinsicism, also tend to advocate a duty approach to morality. Since a human group of some kind is the creator of reality, they believe, its members’ arbitrary wishes are the standard of right and wrong, to which the individual must conform. The group thus assumes the prerogatives of the divine moral legislator of the intrinsicists, and self-sacrifice for society becomes the essence of virtue, replacing self-sacrifice for God. This approach, though offered to us as modern, is merely a secularized version of the ethics of religion. To secularize an error is still to commit it.

Subjectivism of the personal variety leads to a more distinctive (though equally false) ethics – the irrationalist or whim-worshiping version of egoism, typified by the stand of the Sophists in the ancient world and of most Nietzscheans in the modern. In this view, the consciousness of each individual is the creator of its own reality. Each man, therefore, must be guided by his own arbitrary feelings; he must act to gratify his desires, whatever they happen to be and whatever the effects on other men (who are assumed to be acting in the same fashion). It follows that every man is a threat to every other; the essence of human life is a clash of senseless passions, and one’s only hope is to cheat, crush, or enslave the rest of mankind before they do it to him. This is the theory that makes “selfishness” in the public mind a synonym for “evil”. It is a theory that divorces “selfishness” from every intellectual requirement of man’s life. In this approach, “selfishness” becomes the frantic shriek: “The good is whatever I feel is good for me, murder not excluded”.

In reason and reality, such an attitude is the opposite of what self-interest requires. But this does not deter a subjectivist. He jettisons reason and reality from the outset.

Despite all their differences, intrinsicists and subjectivists agree on fundamentals. This is true in ethics as in epistemology. Ethical principles, both schools agree, are rationally indefensible; there is no logical relationship between the facts of this world and value-judgments; morality requires a message from the beyond. One school then claims to have received such a message, while the other, rejecting this claim, throws out the whole field as noncognitive.

Neither approach grasps man’s need of morality, neither can be practiced without pitting man against reality – and both are eager to insist that no third alternative is possible.

A primary choice does not mean an “arbitrary”, “whimsical”, or “groundless” choice. There are grounds for a (certain) primary choice, and those grounds are reality – all of it. The choice to live, as we have seen, is the choice to accept the realm of reality. This choice is not only not arbitrary. It is the precondition of criticizing the arbitrary; it is the base of reason.

Ethics is conditional, i.e., values are not intrinsic. But values are not subjective, either. Values are objective.


Independenceone’s acceptance of the responsibility of forming one’s own judgments and of living by the work of one’s own mind
Integrityloyalty in action to one’s convictions and values
Honestyrefusal to fake reality, i.e., to pretend that facts are other than they are
Justicejudging men’s character and conduct objectively and acting accordingly, granting to each man that which he deserves
Productivenesscreating material values, whether goods or services
Pridecommitment to achieve one’s own moral perfection

Our ethics upholds not disconnected rules, but an integrated way of life, every aspect of which entails all the others.

In a primacy-of-consciousness philosophy, virtue consists of allegiance to the ruling consciousness, such as God or society. In our philosophy, virtue consists of allegiance to existence; it consists of a man’s recognizing facts and then acting accordingly.

We define six major derivatives of the virtue of rationality. The six derivative virtues are:

After we have discussed them, we will consider a widespread vice, which represents the destruction of all of them. The vice is the initiation of physical force against other men.

Independence as a Primary Orientation to Reality, Not to Other Men πŸ”—

The virtue of independence is one’s acceptance of the responsibility of forming one’s own judgments and of living by the work of one’s own mind.

The independent man who lives in society learns from others and may choose to work jointly with them, but the essence of his learning and his work is the process of thought, which he has to perform alone. He needs others with whom to trade, but the trade is merely an exchange of creations, and his primary concern is the act of creating; his concern is his own work. He may love another person and even decide that he does not care to live without his beloved; but he chooses his love as a complement to his work, and he chooses by his own rational standards, for the sake of his own happiness.

Virtue does not require that one’s mental contents be original. What it requires is a certain method of dealing with one’s mental contents, whoever initially conceived them. The moral issue is not: who was first? But: is one a man of reason or of faith?

In a division-of-labor society, no one produces by himself all the goods and services that his life requires. What he does produce is an economic value he can offer to others in exchange for the things he wants; he produces the value-equivalent of the goods and services he seeks.

Integrity as Loyalty to Rational Principles πŸ”—

“Integrity” is loyalty in action to one’s convictions and values.

To avoid any breach between action and thought, a man must learn the proper principles, then follow them methodically, despite any unwarranted pleas or demands from any source, inner or outer. Integrity isolates this aspect of the moral life; it is the virtue of acting as an absolute on (rational) principle.

It is the principle of being principled.

The challenge of a man’s life is not to struggle against immoral passions, but to see the facts of reality clearly, in full focus. Once a man has done this in a given situation, there is no further difficulty in regard to him acting on what he sees.

A “compromise” is an adjustment of conflicting claims by mutual concessions. In reason, the validity of such a procedure depends on the kind of concession a man is making.

If a man makes concessions in regard to concretes within the framework of rational moral principles that both parties accept, then his action may be entirely proper; but not if he compromises moral principles themselves.

To be evil “only sometimes” is to be evil. To be good is to be good all of the time, i.e., as a matter of consistent, unbreached principle.

The above is the full reason why we condemn as vicious today’s cult of compromise.

Evil is delighted to compromise – for it, such a deal is total victory, the only kind of victory it can ever achieve: the victory of plundering, subverting, and ultimately destroying the good.

Honesty as the Rejection of Unreality πŸ”—

“Honesty” is the refusal to fake reality, i.e., to pretend that facts are other than they are.

The virtue of honesty requires that one face the truth on every issue one deals with; the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

The man who traffics in unreality, seeking to make it his ally, thereby makes reality his enemy.

The man who fakes reality believes that he or others can profit thereby. The honest man does not believe it. He does not seek to obtain any value by means of deception, whether of himself or of others. He recognizes that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud.

Since man lives in reality, he must conform to reality – such is the argument for honesty. Any other course is incompatible with the requirements of survival.

In regard to consciousness, honesty consists in taking the process of cognition seriously. This requires that one reject any form of intellectual pretense, whether in relation to method, motive, or content.

In method, intellectual honesty means developing an active mind – knowing what one does know, constantly expanding one’s knowledge, and never evading or failing to correct a contradiction.

In regard to motive, intellectual honesty means seeking knowledge because one needs it to act properly. Such a person intends to practice any idea he accepts as true.

In regard to content, as a result, the intellectually honest man refuses to fake in his own mind any specific item and fact, field, or value. If one is guided by reason and motivated by the need of action, he does not lie to himself.

Virtue, as Socrates held, is one – to cheat on any of its aspects is to cheat on all.

Jesus’ question “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” is admirably exact. The man who “loses his soul” is, in virtue of such a condition, outside the concept of “profit”. Of course, Jesus question is not valid if read to imply a dichotomy between the world and the soul. It is instructive only if taken in one meaning; that the integrity of man’s consciousness, its principled harmony with existence, is the precondition of man’s benefiting from any of the splendor the world holds out to him.

We are often told that someone’s “noble ideal” can be attained only by evil actions, which we are then urged to perform (“the end justifies the means”). We reject this license to immorality. The end does not justify the means. The truth is the exact opposite: an immoral means invalidates the end.

Conventional moralists usually regard honesty as a form of altruism. They regard it as the selfless renunciation of all the values one could have obtained by preying on the naivety of one’s fellows. We discard any such notion. In both its forms – honesty with oneself and to one’s fellows – the present virtue, like every other, is an expression of egoism. Every virtue defines an aspect of the same complex achievement, the one on which man’s survival depends: the achievement of remaining true to that which exists.

We can now deal summarily with the issue of “white lies”. The ethical status of a lie is not affected by the identity of its intended beneficiary. A lie that undertakes to protect other men from the facts represents the same antireality principle as the con-man variety, it is just as immoral and just as impractical.

Lying is absolutely wrong – under certain conditions. It is wrong when a man does it in the attempt to obtain a value. But, to take a different kind of case, lying to protect one’s values from criminals is not wrong.

To be good is to obey moral principles faithfully, without a moment’s exception, within the relevant context – which one must, therefore, know and keep in mind.

Justice as Rationality in the Evaluation of Men πŸ”—

“Justice” is the virtue of judging men’s character and conduct objectively and of acting accordingly, granting to each man that which he deserves.

The wrong man can kill you.

Moral judgment distinguishes the men who choose to recognize reality from the men who choose to evade it. Such knowledge is necessary on practical grounds, in order to plan one’s actions and protect one’s interests. If a man is good by our standard, if he is rational, honest, productive, then, other things being equal, one can expect to gain values in dealing with him. If a man is evil, however, if he is irrational, dishonest, parasitical, one can expect from such dealing not value, but loss.

Justice is the policy of preserving those who preserve life.

Our position is the opposite of the injunction “Judge not that ye be not judged”. Our policy is: “Judge, and be prepared to be judged”.

Intellectually, justice consists in the use of reason to reach one’s moral estimates. This is a demanding responsibility; it involves not unthinking condemnation or approval, but a process of cognition, the same process in essence that one employs in regard to inanimate objects. In judging an individual’s character and conduct, the just man follows the same epistemological principles as a scientist; he is ruled by the same single-minded concern: to discover the truth. This requires of him two steps:

In general, in life as in law, a person is to be regarded as innocent of wrongdoing until proven guilty.

What one needs to know in order to appraise a man morally is not; what did his mother say or do when he was three? The proper question is; what does he say and do now?

When the facts of a case have been determined, the next step of justice is to evaluate them by reference to objective moral principles.

There is no greater obstacle to such a process than the theory of altruism. First, altruism inverts moral judgment, teaching people to admire self-sacrifice and to belittle selfpreservation as amoral or worse. Then, since the theory cannot be practiced consistently, it leads people to hate the very fact of moral judgment.

A rational morality sweeps all this corruption aside. Justice, it holds, like all virtues, is an absolute, an aspect of the proper relationship between one’s consciousness and existence. Justice is fidelity to reality in the field of human assessment, both in regard to facts and to values.

This brings us to justice in the realm of action, which consists in “granting to each man that which he deserves”.

To “deserve”, states the Oxford English Dictionary, is to “become worthy of recompense (i.e., reward or punishment), according to the good or ill of character or conduct”.

Justice in action consists in requiting the positive (the good) in men with a positive and the negative with a negative.

Turning now to the question: what rewards and punishments do men deserve to receive from one another? The answer is: precisely what each man’s rational self-interest requires that he give.

It is important to tell Kant that he has rejected reality and is wrong, it is more important that Aristotle find someone who understands that he has recognized reality and is right.

Justice cannot require that a man sacrifice himself to someone else’s evil.

What does justice consist of when one man seeks a value from another? Justice in this context is adherence to the trader principle. Every act of justice is in a sense an act of trade. This is inherent in the fact that justice is a form of rationality, a response to something in reality and not a caprice. Rewards and punishments are not undeserved gifts or penalties; they are payments. They are what one gives to a man in exchange for what one gets. In any value-seeking relationship, accordingly, whether the value sought be material or spiritual, the exponent of justice is the man who gives in return for what he receives and who expects to receive in return for what he gives. He is the man who neither seeks something for nothing nor grants something for nothing.

The trader principle states that, if a man seeks something from another, he must gain title to it, i.e., come to deserve it, by offering the appropriate payment. The two men, accordingly, must be traders, exchanging value for value by mutual consent to mutual benefit. A trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved.

Leaving aside the claims of children on their parents, no person by the mere fact of his existence or needs has a claim on the assets of others. To “deserve” a positive, material or spiritual, is not a primary condition; it is an effect, to be achieved by enacting its cause. The cause is a certain course of thought and action, a course in which one creates and / or offers values. (One “deserves” a negative by virtue of defaulting on some responsibility of thought or action.) If we use the term “earn” to name the process of enacting the cause – of coming to merit a certain recompense by engaging in the requisite behavior – we can say that, in a rational philosophy, there is no “unearned desert”. A man deserves from others that and only that which he earns. Such is the approach to human relationships derived from our base and expressed in the trader principle.

That the innocent should pay is the demand of those who reject the trader principle. Such people claim that values are the product of God or society, to which power, they add, the individual owes unconditional service. In this view, certain men, such as the needy, become “deserving” in a new, invalid definition of the term. They “deserve” to receive values simply because they lack and wish for them – as a recompense for no action, as a payment for no achievement, in exchange for nothing. In this approach, the “deserved” is turned into a caprice; the concept is thus vitiated and the virtue of justice swept aside. It is replaced by what is called social justice, which policy consists in expropriating the creators in order to reward the noncreators.

The same principle applies in the spiritual realm, to responses such as admiration, friendship, love. Here too a man must deserve what he seeks from others. And here too he can deserve it only by earning it, only by creating the values of character that make his relationship with others a trade. Love is the expression of one’s values, the greatest reward you can earn for the moral qualities you have achieved in your character and person, the emotional price paid by one man for the joy he receives from the virtues of another.

Contrast this approach with the one upheld in the Sermon on the Mount. We should, Jesus tells us, love our neighbors regardless of desert, apart from their character and even because of their vices. This is love not as payment for joy, but as self-sacrifice; not as recompense to the good, but as a blank check to the evil; not as an act of loyalty to existence, but as the deliberate rejection of man’s life.

Forgiveness in moral issues is earned, if the guilty party makes restitution to his victim, assuming this is applicable, and then demonstrates objectively, through word and deed, that he understands the roots of his moral breach, has reformed his character, and will not commit such wrong again.

Forgiveness, which is legitimate when earned, must be distinguished from mercy. If justice is the policy of identifying a man’s deserts and acting accordingly, mercy is the policy of identifying them, then not acting accordingly: lessening the appropriate punishment in a negative case or failing to impose any punishment, Mercy substitutes for justice a dose of the undeserved and does so in the name of pity; the pity is not for the innocent among men or the good, but for the perpetrators of evil. The innocent man (or the truly reformed wrongdoer) asks for justice, not mercy. He wants what is coming to him.

We often hear that “requiting evil with good” works to melt the heart of the wicked. There is no evidence to support this claim.

Like all religions, Christianity is incompatible ultimately with every virtue. It seems to take special pride, however, in its principled exhortation to injustice, particularly in the spiritual realm. If men are to have any chance for a future, it is this aspect of the Christian ethics above all others – this demand, at once brazen and mawkish, for unearned love, unearned approval, unearned forgiveness – that the West must reject, in favor of a solemn commitment to its moral antithesis: the trader principle.

I have saved for the end of the present discussion a theory that urges the complete repudiation of justice: egalitarianism, which is a Kantian version of Christianity. “Egalitarianism” in this context does not mean that men should be equal before the law. Nor does it mean that men should be granted “equal treatment” in the sense of principled treatment, as against the injustices that flow from a double standard. It means that “equality” supersedes justice.

In this view, the most heroic creator on earth, the most abysmal villain, and every person in between should share equally in every value, from love to prestige to money to important jobs to college degrees to newspaper coverage to political power, regardless of what any individual deserves or earns or has or has not done – regardless of his character, his achievements, his ability, his talent, his flaws, his vices, his virtues. For centuries, altruists had implied as much, but even the Communists were too civilized to admit it. Their final heirs, headquartered at Harvard, have no such reservations.

Since it is obviously impossible to live by such a philosophy, since men could not survive for the space of a year if the rewards of virtue were methodically siphoned in this way into the lap of the undeserving, the egalitarian proposal can have only one purpose and result: destruction.

Productiveness as the Adjustment of Nature to Man πŸ”—

“Productiveness” is the process of creating material values, whether goods or services.

Such creation is a necessity of human survival in any age, whether the values take the form of bearskins, clubs, a pot full of meat, and paintings on the walls of caves; or of skyscrapers, ballet, brain surgery, and a gourmet meal aboard a computerized spaceship; or of the unimaginable luxuries and splendors yet to come.

The other species survive in essence by adjusting themselves to their background, assuming they have the good fortune to find in nature the things they need. Man survives by adjusting his background to himself. Since he reshapes the given, he does not have to count on good fortune or even on the absence of disaster. If a drought strikes them animals perish – man builds irrigation canals; if a flood strikes them, animals perish – man builds dams.

Just as there cannot be too much rationality, so there cannot be too much of any of its derivatives, including productiveness. Just as there is no limit to man’s need of knowledge and therefore of thought, so there is no limit to man’s need of wealth and therefore of creative work.

There can be no such thing as a man who transcends the need of progress, whether intellectual or material. There is no human life that is “safe enough”, “long enough”, “knowledgeable enough”, “affluent enough”, or “enjoyable enough” – not if man’s life is the standard of value.

Productive work is the process by which man’s consciousness controls his existence, a constant process of acquiring knowledge and shaping matter to fit one’s purpose, of translating an idea into physical form, of remaking the earth in the image of one’s values. As this statement makes clear, productiveness, like every virtue, involves two integrated components:

The mind-body integration required by productiveness is not complete until the knowledge is turned into some form of material wealth. In this step, too, specialization is typically involved. The most important performers of this crucial feat are the inventors, the engineers, the industrialists.

There is no dichotomy between “pure” science and “gadgets”.

Science is related to technology

In all these cases, the first apart from the second is purposeless, the second apart from the first is impossible.

The direct source of today’s wealth was the Industrial Revolution. That was the great turning point when men moved within the space of a few generations from subsistence to plenty.

Its cause – which has had no counterpart in the “underdeveloped” world – was two earlier developments:

The cause was reason and freedom, which made possible knowledge and action, i.e., modern science and the modern entrepreneur. The effect was the sudden outpouring of abundance – which most people nowadays take for granted and, thanks to bad philosophy, ascribe to “biological drives”, natural resources, or physical labor. All of these, however, had existed from time immemorial. Only one “drive” was new and only that power, therefore, qualifies as the fundamental creator of wealth: liberated human thought.

In our view, productive ability as such deserves the highest accolades. Commercial or technological ability, like any other form of life-sustaining efficacy, is not an amoral “know how” or “can do”. Nor is it merely a practical asset. It is a profound moral value. Productive ability is a value by the standard of man’s life and because, like all values, a course of virtue is required in order to gain and keep it. An individual is not born with the knowledge, the skills, or the imaginative ideas that give rise to greatness or even competence in any creative field. He must acquire, then use, all these assets by a volitional process. At each step this process requires effort, purpose, and the commitment to reality. It requires all the attributes inherent in the development and use of the rational faculty, including conscientious focus, independent judgment, the concern with long-range goals, and the courage to remain true in action to one’s knowledge.

The ability to create material values is not a primary. It must itself be created. Its source is man’s noblest qualities.

Some jobs offer a greater intellectual challenge than others and allow for greater achievement. But every job above plain physical labor requires for its effective performance a significant element of personal worth within the worker.

No rational field may be pitted against any other as “spiritual” vs. “material”. All proper fields require thought and action. All exemplify the integration of mind and body.

A productive man is a moral man. In the more intellectually demanding and innovative fields, he is the epitome of morality. He deserves to be admired accordingly.

Productiveness is not only a necessary element of the good life, it is the good life’s central purpose.

Life is a process of goal-directed action. Reason requires a state of focus, i.e., of purposeful alertness. Volition, once one is in focus, can be exercised only within the context of values; one can choose among higher-level alternatives only by reference to some end one seeks to attain.

To regard purpose as a moral value is to acknowledge this essential need of man’s life, to embrace its fulfillment as good, and then to fulfill it deliberately. One does this by adopting purpose as a principle of one’s actions.

The principle of purpose means conscious goaldirectedness in every aspect of one’s existence where choice applies. The man of purpose defines explicitly his abstract values and then, in every area, the specific objects he seeks to gain and the means by which to gain them. Whether in regard to work or friends, love or art, entertainment or vacations, he knows what he likes and why, then goes after it. Using Aristotelian terminology, we say that this kind of man acts not by efficient causation (mere reaction to stimuli), but by final causation (“fines” is Latin for “end”). He is the person with a passionate ambition for values who wants every moment and step of his life to count in their service. Such a person does not resent the effort which purpose imposes. He enjoys the fact that the objects he desires are not given to him, but must be achieved. In his eyes, purpose is not drudgery or duty, but something good. The process of pursuing values is itself a value.

The principle of purpose sanctions deliberate rest or relaxation, but condemns a course of drifting or of inaction.

There is only one purpose that can serve as the integrating standard of a man’s life: productive work.

Leisure activities are a form of rest and presuppose that which one is resting from; they have value only as relaxation and reward after the performance of work.

Pride as Moral Ambitiousness πŸ”—

“Pride” is the commitment to achieve one’s own moral perfection.

A producer must struggle to create the best material products possible to him. Similarly, a proud man struggles to achieve within himself the best possible spiritual state.

“Self-esteem” is a fundamental, positive moral appraisal of oneself – of the process by which one lives and of the person one thereby creates. It is the union of two (inseparable) conclusions, neither of which is innate:

Man, who survives by a volitional process, needs a moral code – and the awareness that he is conforming to it. He needs the knowledge of how to live, and the knowledge that he is living up to this knowledge.

A negative verdict – whether it takes the form of self-doubt or self-hatred – is a punishment for having lived one’s days out of focus, and it turns one into a spiritual cripple, who spends his time primarily not on pursuing goals but on trying to cope with fear and guilt.

A volitional being cannot accept self-preservation as his purpose unless, taking a moral inventory, he concludes that he is qualified for the task; qualified in terms of ability and value.

A man suffering from invalid standards of self-esteem, whether irrational or honest but mistaken, needs to change his moral ideas. He must learn to judge himself not by his relation to others, nor by his knowledge or existential success, but by his maintenance of a certain mental state, one that depends on nothing but his own will: the state of being in full focus.

In our culture, every moral requirement of intelligence is relentlessly attacked.

The sum of this approach – the crown of the creed of death worship – is the tenet that pride is evil.

On a historical scale, the doctrine of Original Sin is the cause of sin. Any ideology that preaches this doctrine in any variant is thereby removed from the status of reputable; any ideology that damns man is damned itself. Nor is it redeemed when its exponents offer their broken victims solace and love.

An ethics that extols humility is a self-contradiction. It is the advocacy of a code of behavior, along with the demand not to practice it fully.

The Initiation of Physical Force as Evil πŸ”—

Having covered the major virtues, I want to complete the present discussion by turning to a widespread vice: the initiation of physical force against other men. This vice represents the antithesis and destruction of the virtue of rationality – and therefore of every other virtue and every (nonautomatic) value as well.

Physical force is coercion exercised by physical agency, such as, among many other examples, by punching a man in the face, incarcerating him, shooting him, or seizing his property. “Initiation” means starting the use of force against an innocent individual(s), one who has not himself started its use against others.

There are only two basic methods by which one can deal with a dispute. The methods are reason or force; seeking to persuade others to share one’s ideas voluntarily – or coercing others into doing what one wishes regardless of their ideas. We countenance only the method of persuasion.

Volition pertains to the act of initiating and sustaining the process of thought. If a man does choose to think, however, he has no choice in regard to the conclusions he reaches. No matter what the bribes dangled before him or the threats, a thinker has to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Even if he tries, he cannot will himself to accept as true that which he sees to be baseless or mistaken.

The virtue of rationality requires one to think, and then to be guided by his conclusions in action. Force clashes with both these requirements.

In the one manifestation, the brute works to detach his victim’s consciousness from reality and therefore from life; in the other, from life and therefore from reality.

Because force and mind are opposites, force and value are opposites, too.

Values, in the objective interpretation, are facts – as evaluated by a mind guided by a rational standard. Value thus implies a valuer who concludes, by a process of cognition, that a given object will sustain his life.

Altruism demands the initiation of physical force. When the representatives of the needy use coercion, they regularly explain that it is obligatory: it is their only means of ensuring that some recalcitrant individual, whose duty is self-sacrifice, carries out his moral obligations – of ensuring that he gives to the poor the unearned funds he is born owing them, but is trying wrongfully to withhold. At the same time and with complete consistency, altruism (in its commonest forms) rejects the retaliatory use of force. The Bible, for instance, advises one to resist not evil, but to go with an aggressor an extra mile – which policy, it notes, is a form of sacrifice.

But altruism is not the basic cause of brutality worship. That cause lies in the fundamental philosophy of unreason. Specifically, it lies in the epistemology of intrinsicism and subjectivism and in the concept of “value” to which these viewpoints lead men. The epistemology of each school makes coercion a human necessity.

Intrinsicism reduces cognition to revelation, in regard to which rational argument is futile. The only means of resolving men’s disputes, accordingly, is force. In this view, force is the prerogative of the philosopher-kings, of the viceroy of God, or of whoever else possesses the ineffable insight denied to the masses.

Subjectivism draws a similar conclusion from the premise that knowledge is impossible. In this view, there are no external facts or reality-based rules of logic to which disputants can appeal; there is only the dead end of “might makes right”.

By denying the objectivity of cognition, both these philosophies rule out in principle the path of persuasion as against coercion. The concept of “value” inherent in these two viewpoints gives a moral sanction to the rejection of persuasion. By the nature of “the good”, both schools believe, coercion of the innocent can be beneficent; it can be a form of moral idealism, an act of nobility, a virtue leading to the achievement of a value. If value, as intrinsicism holds, is independent of human purpose or evaluation, then it is independent of human knowledge. If so, one can force “the good” on a man and benefit him thereby.

To put the point another way: if virtue is obedience to commandments, then it is proper to compel such obedience; the thought processes of the victims are irrelevant. “Theirs not to reason why; theirs but to do and die”.

Subjectivism leads to the same conclusion by a different route. If value is a product of arbitrary human evaluation, then again value is independent of knowledge. In this version, there is no knowledge, whether of fact or value; so anyone is justified in ramming down the throat of others any object he feels is “good”; the object then is good, courtesy not of God’s desire, but of the forcer’s.

Wealth, to give another example, is a moral value. But this does not imply any categorical imperatives, such as: “Amass as much money as possible”, or “The richer you become, the more virtuous you are”. A given individual may choose, for good reason, to pursue a line of work that brings in little money. This is an optional matter, as long as the individual does have a good reason. The reason might be the fact that, given his interests, it offers him the fullest scope for the creative use of his mind. He may not, however, properly forgo a lucrative career because he is lazy, or fears to provoke the jealousy of his friends, or wants to show off his nonaffluence to Francis of Assisi or John Kenneth of Cambridge.

The above applies in some form to all moral virtues and values, whether they pertain to career, love, or recreation. A proper morality is not a blank check or a straitjacket. There is every room for you to do what you choose with your life. There is every room for you to be an individual – if what you want to be is a rational individual.


Having identified particular virtues, let us take an overview, looking at the fruits of the whole moral code we have been describing.

Happiness is man’s – the good man’s – experience of life. The achievement of this experience is the only moral purpose of one’s life.

Virtue as Practical πŸ”—

The concept of “practical” is not restricted to the field of ethics. It pertains to the adapting of means to ends in any field.

The “practical” is that which reaches or fosters a desired result. Since the concept denotes a type of positive evaluation, it presupposes a standard of value. The standard is set by the result being pursued. By extension, one may describe a man as practical, if the actions he takes work to achieve his goals. A man is impractical, by contrast, if his actions cause him to fail in his endeavors.

Moral codes, too, qualify as practical or impractical. Most of those that have been offered to the human race are impractical. These codes prescribe ends and / or means which clash with the requirements of man’s life. To the extent that men obey such codes, they are led to contradiction, frustration, failure; the essence of their failure is their inability to eat their life and have it, too. The most blatant example is the theory of altruism. If the principle guiding one’s actions is sacrifice – first to esteem an object, then to give it up – one’s approach to the realm of choice enshrines the antithesis of practicality; it praises and guarantees the loss of values. Such a life seeks out defeat.

Despite the notions they espouse, men in the West are influenced by the unidentified remnants of a better (Aristotelian) heritage. People in the civilized world still want to live, to prosper, to be happy. By this standard, ethics, the ethics they officially profess, is hopeless. Hence the universal acceptance of a disastrous idea, one taken nowadays as self-evident: the idea that there is an inherent clash between the moral and the practical.

According to this idea, every man faces a basic alternative:

(In philosophy, Platonism recommends the first of these choices, pragmatism recommends the second.)

The alternative is:

In other words:

We reject this dichotomy completely.

The moral man’s concept of the good, we hold, is his fundamental standard of practicality. Such a man experiences no conflict between what he thinks he ought to pursue (self-preservation) and what he wants to pursue. He defines all of his goals, fundamental and derivative alike, by reference to reality. As a result,

This, in our view, is the description of human nobility. What other policies could practicality require?

In our approach, virtue is (by definition) the means to value. The notion of a dichotomy between virtue and efficacy is, therefore, senseless. To pursue rational goals by rational means is the only way there is to deal successfully with reality and attain one’s goals. To be moral in our definition is to be practical, and it is the only way to be practical.

This does not mean that success is guaranteed to a conscientious person. No philosophy can alter the metaphysically given fact that man is not omniscient or omnipotent. Regardless of a person’s virtue, he may fail in an undertaking (or even die) through simple error. The pilot “wrong-way Corrigan”, let us say, was conscientious and honest, but these qualities did not automatically point his plane in the right direction. Rationality is a virtue because action demands knowledge. If one does not acquire the necessary knowledge, then he cannot avoid suffering the consequences, even if he is in no way morally deficient.

Besides errors of knowledge, one must also reckon with the factor of other men. If one’s goal in an undertaking involves the cooperation of others, his own virtue (or knowledge) cannot ensure success. The ideas, the motivation, the skills, the character traits that he needs in others depend on their choices, not his. An individual in a free society is free to search for the kind of men he wants or to try to persuade others to share his ideas. But no act of persuasion, however skillful, can nullify human volition. You cannot change a man’s mind without his consent.

Then there is the factor of accident. It is possible, through no fault of anyone, for men to encounter illnesses, earthquakes, plane crashes, and the like, which can cut an individual down prematurely or cause him to fail in some endeavor. Proper human action can reduce the power of accident enormously (witness the ability of modern medicine and technology to prevent or deal with illness and disaster). But this does not mean that accident can be eliminated.

There is no cosmic overseer, who takes note of virtue and crowns it with success. Nor is this an injustice on reality’s part; it is an expression of causality and identity

The concepts of “justice” and “injustice” do not apply to the universe or to the lower forms of life. They apply only to certain choices and actions of human beings.

Virtue is not automatically rewarded, but this does not change the fact that it is rewarded. Virtue minimizes the risks inherent in life and maximizes the chance of success. Morality teaches one how to gain and use the full power of one’s mind, how to choose one’s associates, how to organize society so that the best among men rise to the top. It teaches one how to safeguard life and limb in principle and therefore against every danger that can be foreseen. This does not give men omnipotence; what it gives them is the means of preventing, mitigating, or counteracting innumerable evils that would otherwise be intractable.

In the context of an ethical discussion, the assessment of a course of action as “practical” or “impractical” can take into account only matters open to a man’s choice. The question is: in such matters, does he act according to the principles necessary to achieve values, or does he introduce a breach between his mind and reality? In the first case, he and the ethics he follows deserve the accolade “practical”; in the second case, he and it do not. In this sense we may say that, despite man’s limitations, morality does ensure practicality.

Just as the moral and the practical go together, so do the immoral and the impractical. Just as the virtuous is the efficacious, so the evil is the impotent. Evil means the willful ignorance or defiance of reality. This has to mean: that which cannot deal with reality, that which is whim-ridden, context-dropping, self-contradictory. Evil is consistent in only one regard: its essence is consistently at war with all the values and virtues human life requires.

Evil does have one power. It has not the power to create, to set positive goals and achieve them, but the power to destroy: to destroy itself and its victims.

Whatever the human value involved, its achievement requires the use of the mind; its destruction requires the opposite.

No thought, knowledge, or consistency is required in order to destroy, unremitting thought, enormous knowledge, and a ruthless consistency are required in order to achieve or create.

Every error, evasion, or contradiction helps the goal of destruction; only reason and logic can advance the goal of construction. The negative requires an absence (ignorance, impotence, irrationality); the positive requires a presence, an existent (knowledge, efficacy, thought).

In the ethics that so far has ruled the world, the transfusion of value from the deserving to the undeserving is regarded as the essence of virtue; the virtuous man, by definition, must work to bring about the success of parasites.

The answer points us to the roots of ethics in metaphysics and epistemology.

The most obvious of the deeper issues at work here is the soul-body dichotomy. An advocate of this viewpoint shrugs resignedly when he sees that the morality he preaches leads to disasters in practice. Everyone knows, he says, that morality is a spiritual concern and that the spiritual is opposed to the physical. The choice facing a person, he says, is to cling to the soul, retire idealistically from the world into the Church or the desert, and be canonized as a man that “hateth his life”; or to cling to the world by retiring from morality.

Whatever their differences, both sides in this choice agree about the role of morality. They agree that morality, by its nature, is harmful. It is harmful in regard to “this” life, says the one; it is harmful in “real” life, says the other. Life, accordingly, requires not virtue (in any definition), but expediency. In other words, principles to guide one’s choices are not a necessity of successful action here on earth; rather, they are an otherworldly impediment, a spiritual thorn in one’s flesh, to be masochistically endured or amorally plucked out.

In the standard philosophy of our era, the vital power of principle is set in reverse. The power is detached from the work of self-preservation and is moved to the side of the antilife. What makes such a perversion possible?

Principles are a form of conceptualization. Pitting principles against life is equivalent to pitting theory against practice. In both formulations, one is pitting concepts against life and practice, which means: one is accepting a breach between concepts and reality. This in turn presupposes a certain view of concepts.

Nothing but a false theory of concepts can explain the worldwide scorn today for the conceptual guidance offered by principles. Such scorn would be impossible to a man who regarded conceptualization as the means of knowing existence; but it is necessary to the disciples of intrinsicism and subjectivism, who make abstractions useless by detaching them from percepts.

The one mentality tells us: abstractions including those of the evaluative variety, do not pay off in this world – which they don’t, not in his kind of interpretation.

The other shrugs: so much for abstractions, let’s be “practical”. Thus the awesome spectacle created by both sides: the spectacle of man, the rational being, asserting as a truism the incredible notion that his cognitive faculty is an obstacle to his survival.

Happiness as the Normal Condition of Man πŸ”—

Pleasure – using the term for a moment to designate any form of enjoyment – is an effect. Its cause is the gaining of a value, whether it be a meal when one is hungry, an invitation to a party, a diamond necklace, or a long-sought promotion at work. The root of values, in turn, is the requirements of survival. Self-preservation, in other words, entails goal-directed action, success at which leads (in conscious organisms) to pleasure. Metaphysically, therefore, pleasure is a concomitant of life. Pain is a concomitant of the opposite, its cause is an organism’s failure or injury in some respect.

On the physical level the pleasurepain mechanism is a “barometer” of one’s basic alternative.

On this level, the mechanism is automatic: the standard of value that determines bodily “right” and “wrong” is set innately. That standard is the organism’s life.

A sensation does not necessarily indicate long-range consequences. Too many sweets, to take the standard example, may give pleasure in the moment, but then lead to the pains of stomachache and tooth decay. This kind of case is no exception to the pleasure-life correlation. The pleasure here derives from the fact that sugar does satisfy a biological need; and because the excessive intake is harmful, its eventual consequence is pain. Similarly, the pain from the dentist’s drilling indicates that some (nerve) tissue is being destroyed – which in this instance serves the organism’s life. The long-range result, other things being equal, is the sensory glow that accompanies unimpaired vitality.

Just as the body has pleasure-pain sensations to protect it, so consciousness has two emotions, joy and suffering, as a barometer of the same alternative, life or death.

This brings us to happiness, which is a fundamental and enduring form of joy. Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values.

On the conceptual level, the standard of value determining human responses is not automatic. Men’s chosen values are not necessarily in harmony with the requirements of survival. On the contrary, a man can avidly pursue irrational values and thereby gain pleasure (of a sort) from the process of harming himself. Such a man inverts his emotional barometer, turning it into an agent of death; the mechanism becomes not his protector, but a siren urging him to self-destruction. For example: the people whose pleasure in life comes from crime or drugs or idleness or power lust or being accepted by the group or from any other form of being out of focus.

Happiness is a state of noncontradictory joy

Since joy of this kind involves the achievement of values, it demands

The rational man fulfills this requirement. The irrational man does not. Qua irrationalist, what moves him is not the quest for positives, but the avoidance of negatives. In psychological terms, he exhibits not healthy self-assertion, but neurotic defensiveness. He exemplifies not “motivation by love”, but “motivation by fear”.

The distinction pertains to a man’s primary motive in a given undertaking.

As examples:

In one sense, both the above types of men are “purposive”; both are “after something”. They are not both “purposive” in the moral sense, however, because morality is a means to survival, and the goal of life cannot be attained by the zero-seeking method: achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.

Evil, not value, is an absence and a negation.

Happiness is not an absence, either; nor is it some guilty pleasures that serve merely to lessen anxiety. It is not what you feel when you stop beating your head against a wall. It is what you feel when you refuse ever to engage in such beating, when you esteem and protect your head as a matter of principle. Happiness, the reward of life, is an aspect of life. It too requires values, not merely avoidance; and, therefore, a functioning mind.

Just as man cannot achieve self-preservation arbitrarily, but only by the method of reason, so he cannot achieve happiness arbitrarily, but only by the same method. The method is the same because self-preservation and happiness are not separate issues. They are one indivisible fact looked at from two aspects:

Even though rationality does not lead to success automatically, it is more than a necessary condition of happiness. It is also a sufficient condition. Virtue does ensure happiness in a certain sense, just as it ensures practicality.

Consider here a moral man who has not yet reached professional or romantic fulfillment – a hero, say, like Roark or Gait, at the point when he is alone against the world, barred from his work, destitute. In existential terms, such a man has not “achieved his values”; he is beset by problems and difficulties. Nevertheless, if he is a true hero, he is confident, at peace with himself, serene; he is a happy person even when living through an unhappy period. He does experience deprivation, frustration, pain; but it is pain that “goes only down to a certain point”, beneath which are the crucial attributes such a man has built into his soul: reason, purpose, self-esteem.

A man of this kind has “achieved his values” – not his existential values, but the philosophical values that are their precondition. He has achieved not success, but the ability to succeed, the right relationship to reality. The emotional leitmotif of such a person is a unique and enduring form of pleasure: the pleasure that derives from the sheer fact of a man’s being alive – if he is a man who feels able to live. We may describe this emotion as “metaphysical pleasure”, in contrast to the more specific pleasures of work, friendship, and the rest. Metaphysical pleasure does not erase the pains incident to daily life, but, by providing a positively toned context for them, it does blunt them; in the same manner, it intensifies one’s daily pleasures. The immoral man, by contrast, suffers metaphysical pain, i.e., the enduring anxiety, conflict, and self-doubt inherent in being an adversary of reality. This kind of pain intensifies the man’s every daily defeat, while turning pleasure for him into a superficiality that “goes only down to a certain point”.

Metaphysical pleasure depends only on one’s own choices and actions. Virtue, therefore, does ensure happiness – not the full happiness of having achieved one’s values in reality, but the premonitory radiance of knowing that such achievement is possible.

The ability to achieve values is useless if one is stopped from exercising that ability – e.g., if an individual is caught in a dictatorship; or is suffering from a terminal illness; or loses an irreplaceable person essential to his very existence as a valuer, as may occur in the death of a beloved wife or husband. In such situations, suffering (or stoicism) is all that is possible. Morality is a means to action in the world; the soul by itself is not an entity, an end, or a fulfillment.

Character alone, therefore, deprived of the necessary existential context, will not produce happiness, not even metaphysical pleasure. There is no joy in being alive if one cannot live.

Our view of happiness differs in every essential from the two views dominant in today’s culture.

Intrinsicism, whatever its promises in regard to another life, leads in this one to suffering. Enjoyment as such thus becomes suspect; it becomes a sign of ethical dereliction – of selfishness, ambition, “materialism”. There can be no question, therefore, of pursuing happiness; one’s moral destiny is the opposite: duty, loss, sacrifice. This kind of philosophy urges on men the adoration of pain, a condition eloquently symbolized in the West by the acceptance of crucifixion as an ideal. Such adoration reached unprecedented virulence in the modern, Kantian era.

To us, the adoration of pain is literally unspeakable. Morally, there is nothing to say about it beyond noting that its cause is the worship of death.

Hedonism, at first glance, may seem to be an opposite viewpoint. Hedonism is the theory that pleasure (or happiness) is the standard of value. In order to determine values and virtues, the theory holds, one must ask whether a given object or action maximizes pleasure (one’s own and / or that of others). The emotion of pleasure, however, is a consequence of a man’s value-judgments, so the theory is circular. It amounts to the advice: value that which you or others, for whatever reason, already value. This means, in practice: do whatever you feel like doing.

Happiness is properly the purpose of ethics, but not the standard. One must choose values by reference not to a psychical state, but to an external fact: the requirements of man’s life – in order to achieve the state of enjoying one’s life. It is self-defeating to counsel the pursuit of pleasure as a primary ethical guide, because only the pleasure attendant on the achievement of rational values leads to happiness. The pleasure-seeker, therefore, must first distinguish the rational from the irrational in this field – by means of an objective approach to ethics.

Whatever their disagreements, the two schools lead to the same result, the same deflection. Just as, in epistemology, the two theories knock mankind off the road of knowledge, so, in ethics, they knock mankind off the road of joy, into the gutter of suffering. This leads most men to conclude that happiness is impossible, that life by its nature is hell.

We, by contrast, advocating an objective approach to ethics, hold that pleasure is moral. Happiness, therefore, is not only possible, but more: it is the normal condition of man. We call this conclusion, which is essential to our world view, the “benevolent universe” premise.

“Benevolence” in this context is not a synonym for kindness; it does not mean that the universe cares about man or wishes to help him. The universe has no desires; it simply is.

Man must care about and adapt to it, not the other way around. If he does adapt to it, however, then the universe is “benevolent” in another sense: “auspicious to human life”.

If a man does recognize and adhere to reality, then he can achieve his values in reality; he can and, other things being equal, he will. For the moral man, failures, though possible, are an exception to the rule. The rule is success. The state of consciousness to be fought for and expected is happiness.

The rejection of this viewpoint is what we call the “malevolent universe” premise (others have called it the “tragic sense of life”). This premise states that man cannot achieve his values; that successes, though possible, are an exception; that the rule of human life is failure and misery.

Like any conscious creature, a man on the benevolent-universe premise is well acquainted with pain. His insignia, however, is his refusal to take pain seriously, his refusal to grant it metaphysical significance. To him, pleasure is a revelation of reality – the reality where life is possible. But pain is merely a stimulus to corrective action, and to the question such action presupposes. The question is not “What’s the use?” but “What can I do?”

Sex as Metaphysical πŸ”—

Sex is a celebration of oneself and of existence; it is a celebration of one’s power to gain values and of the world in which one gains them. Sex, therefore, is a form of feeling happiness, but from a special perspective. Sex is the rapture of experiencing emotionally two interconnected achievements: self-esteem and the benevolent-universe conviction.

No man desires everyone on earth. Each has some requirements in this regard, however contradictory or unidentified – and the rational man’s requirements, here as elsewhere, are the opposite of contradictory. He desires only a woman he can admire, a woman who (to his knowledge) shares his moral standards, his self-esteem, and his view of life. Only with such a partner can he experience the reality of the values he is seeking to celebrate, including his own value. The same kind of sexual selectivity is exercised by a rational woman.

Romantic love is the strongest positive emotion possible between two individuals. Its experience, therefore, so far from being an animal reaction, is a self-revelation: the values giving rise to this kind of response must be one’s most intensely held and personal.

When a man and woman do fall in love – assuming that each is romantically free and the context otherwise appropriate – sex is a necessary and proper expression of their feeling for each other. “Platonic love” under such circumstances would be a vice, a breach of integrity. Sex is to love what action is to thought, possession to evaluation, body to soul.

We live in our minds and existence is the attempt to bring that life into physical reality, to state it in gesture and form. Sex is the preeminent form of bringing love into physical reality.

To respect sex means to approach it objectively. The guiding principle should be: select a partner whom you love on the basis of values you can identify and defend; then do whatever you wish together in bed, provided that it is mutually desired and that your pleasures are reality-oriented. This excludes indiscriminate sexual indulgence and any form of destructiveness or faking.

Intrinsicism damns sex outright. It holds that love is a relationship between two souls that is not to be sullied by connection to the body. In this view, sex – like wealth, pleasure, and life itself – has nothing to do with reason or the conceptual faculty; it is selfish, “animalistic”, “materialistic”.

Such a function can be justified only as a necessary evil, a means to procreation. The true idealists among men, accordingly, such as priests and nuns, will stay morally pure by practicing celibacy. As to the rest of humanity, the guidance it needs is a scroll of prohibitions: no premarital sex, no divorce, no oral intercourse, no masturbation, no contraception, no abortion.

The subjectivist, too, severs concepts from percepts and holds that sex is a mere sensory reaction, devoid of intellectual cause. But he tells men to go ahead and revel in it, to grab whatever animalistic sensations they want without reference to principles or standards. In this theory, love is a myth, and sex is merely a wriggling of meat. So anything goes that satisfies anybody’s whim – whenever he feels like it, wherever, however, and with whomever or whatever he decides to pick up.

Practicality, happiness, the sexual celebration of life – all these are effects, which presuppose the necessary cause. To attain any of them in unbreached form, one must be guided by a certain philosophy.

The natural and proper human end, to which all rational endeavors contribute, Aristotle holds, is a state of rich, ripe, fulfilling earthly happiness.


Politics, like ethics, is a normative branch of philosophy. Politics defines the principles of a proper social system, including the proper functions of government.

Living in society is a value to man if it is the right kind of society. The wrong kind, like any wrong course of action, is a threat to man, and can be fatal.

There is only one standard to guide a thinker in defining the “right” social system: man’s code of moral values, i.e., the principles of ethics. Politics rests on ethics (and thus on metaphysics and epistemology); it is an application of ethics to social questions. Politics, therefore, is a conclusion drawn from all the fundamentals of a philosophic system; it is not the system’s start or any kind of primary. This is true of every theory of politics, no matter where it stands in the ideological spectrum.

What type of society conforms to or reflects the principles of morality? – this is the question asked by philosophical politics. Given our morality, the question becomes:

Individual Rights as Absolutes πŸ”—

Lifesustain and protect one’s lifedoes not mean that others must give a person food when he is hungry, medicine when he is sick, or a job when he is unemployed
Libertythink and choose, then act in accordance with one’s judgmentdoes not mean that others must satisfy a person’s desires or even agree to deal with him at all
Propertygain, keep, use and dispose of material values one has produceddoes not mean the right to be given property by the government
Pursuit of Happinesslive for one’s own sake and fulfillmentpursuit is not necessarily attainment

The basic principle of politics is the principle endorsed by America’s Founding Fathers: individual rights.

Rights are a moral concept

Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law.

A right is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. A right is a sanction to independent action; the opposite of acting by right is acting by permission. If someone borrows your pen, you set the terms of its use. When he returns it, no one can set the terms for you; you use it by right.

A right is a prerogative that cannot be morally infringed or alienated. Factually, criminals are possible; innocent men can be robbed or enslaved. In such cases, however, the victim’s rights are still inalienable: the right remains on the side of the victim; the criminal is wrong.

In content, as the Founding Fathers recognized, there is one fundamental right, which has several major derivatives.

The fundamental right is the right to life. Its major derivatives are the right to

The right to life means the right to sustain and protect one’s life. It means the right to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the preservation of his life.

To sustain his life, man needs a method of survival – he must use his rational faculty to gain knowledge and choose values, then act to achieve his values.

The right to liberty is the right to this method; it is the right to think and choose, then to act in accordance with one’s judgment.

To sustain his life, man needs to create the material means of his survival.

The right to property is the right to this process; it is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values.

To sustain his life, man needs to be governed by a certain motive – his purpose must be his own welfare.

The right to the pursuit of happiness is the right to this motive; it is the right to live for one’s own sake and fulfillment.

Just as man can’t exist without his body, so no rights can exist without the right to translate one’s rights into reality – to think, to work and to keep the results – which means: the right of property. The modern mystics of muscle who offer you the fraudulent alternative of “human rights” versus “property rights”, as if one could exist without the other, are making a last, grotesque attempt to revive the doctrine of soul versus body. Only a ghost can exist without material property; only a slave can work with no right to the product of his effort. The doctrine that “human rights” are superior to “property rights” simply means that some human beings have the right to make property out of others; since the competent have nothing to gain from the incompetent, it means the right of the incompetent to own their betters and to use them as productive cattle. Whoever regards this as human and right, has no right to the title of “human”.

Each of man’s rights has a specific source in our ethics and, beneath that, in our view of man’s metaphysical nature (which in turn rests on our metaphysics and epistemology).

If man existed to serve an entity beyond himself, whether God or society, then he would not have rights, but only the duties of a servant.

By its nature, the concept of a “right” pertains only to action – specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men. Since each man is obliged to be self-sustaining, no one has a right to the actions or products of other men (unless he earns that right through a process of voluntary trade). A right is not a claim to assistance or a guarantee of success; if what one seeks involves the activity of other men, it is their right to choose whether to cooperate or not. A man’s rights impose no duties on others, but only a negative obligation: others may not properly violate his rights.

The rights of man can be violated by one means only: by the initiation of physical force (including its indirect forms, such as fraud). One cannot expropriate a man’s values, or prevent him from pursuing values, or enslave him in any manner at all, except by the use of physical force.

Whoever refrains from such initiation – whatever his virtues or vices, knowledge or errors – necessarily leaves the rights of others unbreached.

Government as an Agency to Protect Rights πŸ”—

Policeprotect men from criminals
Armed Servicesprotect men from foreign invaders
Law Courtssettle disputes among men according to objective laws
Example Immoral Function
initiate force against innocent citizens
intervene in the intellectual or moral life of its citizens
forbid incorrect choices
education, literature, art, science, sex (if adult and voluntary), philosophy
build, manage, or regulate schools, hospitals, utilities, roads, parks, post offices, railroads, steel mills, banks
hand out subsidies, franchises, tariff protection, social insurance
minimum-living standards, minimum-wage laws for workers, parity laws for farmers, insider-trading laws for investors, fair-price laws for consumers

If society as an organized body is to protect man’s rights, the citizens must create an agency with the power to do the job.

Since force can be stopped only by force, such an agency must banish coercion by itself using force against the force-wielders.

This agency is the government.

A government is an institution that holds the exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area. In reason, such a power cannot be a primary. Government is a social creation, and society consists of individuals. Any powers of government, therefore, must derive from those of the individuals who create it.

In a proper society, the government is the servant of the citizens, not their ruler. Specifically, it is the agent of man’s self-defense. An agent of self-defense may not initiate force against innocent men. It has a single power, one inherent in the individual’s right to life: the power to use force in retaliation and only against those persons (or nations) who start its use.

By its nature, government has a monopoly on the use of force. In a rational society, individuals agree to delegate their right of self-defense; they renounce the private use of physical force even in self-protection (except during those emergencies that require action at once, before the police can be summoned). If a society is to uphold man’s rights, such delegation is essential.

If men did not delegate the task of self-defense to a central agency, every individual would have to live and work armed, ready to shoot any stranger who looked suspicious (and who in turn would be ready to shoot him) – or, much more likely, men would form packs to protect themselves from other, similar packs, and the result would be gang wars and mob rule. In either case, peaceful coexistence among men would be impossible.

A society must remove the retaliatory use of force methodically from the realm of whim. Every aspect of such use must be defined in advance, validated, codified: under what conditions force can be employed, by whom, against whom, in what forms, to what extent. The nonarbitrary use of force requires objective rules of evidence to establish that a crime has been committed and to prove who committed it, as well as objective rules to define punishments and enforcement procedures. Men who attempt to prosecute crimes, without such rules, are a lynch mob.

A government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control – i.e., under objectively defined laws.

A government should be an impersonal robot, with the laws as its only motive power.

If men are to be free, they need a government of a definite kind. Such a government is a government of laws and not of men.

This leads to an essential function of government: the protection and enforcement of contracts, including the resolution of disputes that arise therefrom – their impartial resolution, in accordance with objectively defined laws. Under such a system, none of the parties needs to (or may) decide unilaterally that he is a victim with the onus of taking physical action to repair his interests. Here again the government acts to defend men’s rights and thus to prevent any arbitrary use of physical force. Proper civil courts are the most crucial need of a peaceful society. Criminals are a small minority; contractual protection for honest undertakings, however, is a daily necessity of civilized life.

The purpose of government is to bar men’s use of physical force against others for any reason – in part, by protecting men from aggressors, domestic or foreign; in part, by settling impartially disputes that involve men’s rights.

This purpose entails three and only three governmental functions. These are:

Any additional function would have to involve the government initiating force against innocent citizens. Such a government acts not as man’s protector, but as a criminal.

The above means, first of all, that the state must not intervene in the intellectual or moral life of its citizens. It has no standards to uphold and no benefits to confer in regard to education, literature, art, science, sex (if adult and voluntary), or philosophy. Its function is to protect freedom, not truth or virtue.

The right to think and act as one chooses necessarily includes the right to choose incorrectly, whether through ignorance or evasion (and then to suffer the consequences). An individual free to choose only what the government authorizes as correct has no freedom.

For the same reason, the state must not intervene in another aspect of men’s intellectual life: the realm of production and trade. The state must not undertake to provide men with economic standards or benefits, whether in regard to goods, services, or conditions of trade. A proper government offers freedom from coercion (including fraud), not from the responsibility of self-sustenance. It protects men from thieves, swindlers, and killers, not from reality or the need to create one’s values by one’s own mind and labor. Politicians, therefore, must have nothing to do with production or distribution; they may not build, manage, or regulate schools, hospitals, utilities, roads, parks, post offices, railroads, steel mills, banks, and the like, nor may they hand out subsidies, franchises, tariff protection, social insurance, minimum-living standards, minimum-wage laws for workers, parity laws for farmers, insider-trading laws for investors, fair-price laws for consumers, and so on. No one but the creator may dispose of the products of his thought or determine the process of creating them. In this field as in every other, the goal of a proper society is the opposite of compulsion. Here, too, the goal is to make value (in this instance, wealth) possible – through the protection of freedom.

The American system, as has often been stated by conservatives, was not a democracy, whether representative or direct, but a republic. (I use these terms as the Founding Fathers did.) “Democracy” means a system of unlimited majority rule; “unlimited” means unrestricted by individual rights. Such an approach is not a form of freedom, but of collectivism. A “republic”, by contrast, is a system restricted to the protection of rights. In a republic, majority rule applies only to some details, like the selection of certain personnel. Rights, however, remain an absolute; i.e., the principles governing the government are not subject to vote.

Statism as the Politics of Unreason πŸ”—

“Statism” means any system that concentrates power in the state at the expense of individual freedom. Among other variants, the term subsumes theocracy, absolute monarchy, Nazism, fascism, communism, democratic socialism, and plain, unadorned dictatorship. Such variants differ on matters of form, tactics, and / or ideology. Some statists nationalize the means of production; others allow the facade of private ownership but give the state control over the use and disposal of property. Some righteously practice a caste system; others, who also practice it, deny that they do. Some hold that free countries should move toward omnipotent government peacefully, by “evolution”; others cry for revolution. Some uphold statism on intrinsicist grounds (e.g., the divine right of kings, ayatollahs, or witch doctors); others invoke social subjectivism, citing the needs of the race, the nation, the class, mankind, or the tribe.

Anarchism is the idea that there should be no government. This amounts to the view that every man should defend himself by using physical force against others whenever he feels like it, with no objective standards of justice, crime, or proof.

A mixed economy is a mixture of freedom and controls.

Such an approach, its defenders argue, rejects absolutes and thereby offers “the best of both worlds”: it combines self-interest and duty; independence for the individual and compulsion in the service of a higher cause, private property as the engine of production and a compassionate government to regulate the producers and redistribute their products.

The theory of the mixed economy is a blatant contradiction. It advocates rights and no rights, i.e., an unphilosophical, unprincipled approach to political questions.

The terminal stage of a mixed economy is implicit in the system’s definition. As the virtue of integrity tells us, compromise between good and evil leads to the triumph of evil. This applies to every field of human action, politics included. If one believes that individual rights may be overridden by government sometimes, “when the public welfare (or God) necessitates it”, then one has conceded that rights are not inalienable, but are conditional on the requirements of a higher value. This means that man exists not by right, but by the permission of society or God. If so, the principle of individual rights has not been “moderated”; it has been thrown out in theory – in favor of the principle of statism, which, therefore, wins out in practice.

As the history of the West in the past century demonstrates, the mixed economy is not a “third way” between capitalism and socialism. It is merely a transition stage, a disintegrating antisystem, careening drunkenly but inexorably from freedom to dictatorship.

As a rule, the calls within a mixed economy for more controls are originated not by the people (who are busy earning a living), but by two groups of intellectuals. In America, these groups are referred to as the “liberals” and the “conservatives” (the term “liberal”, it seems, is now being replaced by “moderate”). Both groups are opposed to capitalism; both endorse Bismarck’s welfare state, i.e., a highly controlled stage of the mixed economy; both reject “extremes” of any kind, including the principle of individual rights. Their disagreement pertains to a single question: what kind of rights should the government violate next?

Both groups obviously subscribe to and reflect the mind-body dichotomy.

Precisely because of their pretense, the conservatives are morally lower than the liberals; they are farther removed from reality – and, therefore, they are more harmful in practice.

Since they purport to be fighting “big government”, they are the main source of political confusion in the public mind, they give people the illusion of an electoral alternative without the fact. Thus the statist drift proceeds unchecked and unchallenged.

Historically, from the Sherman Act to Herbert Hoover to the Bush Administration, it is the conservatives, not the leftists, who have always been the major destroyers of the United States.

“Conservative” here must be construed in philosophic terms. It subsumes any “rightist” who attempts to tie the politics of the Founding Fathers to unreason in any form – whether he is

Freedom is the opposite of every one of these creeds – and so is Objectivism their opposite.

We are not “conservatives”. We do not seek to preserve the present system, but to change it at the root. In the literal sense of the word, we are radicals


Politics is to economics as mind is to body, or as an abstraction is to one of its concretes.

Politics identifies the principles that should govern every social field. The right political system thus includes as one of its aspects the right economic system. Morality determines politics, as its application to organized human interaction – and politics then determines economics, as its application to the field of production and trade.

The purpose of the science of economics is to identify how the principles of a proper politics actually work out in regard to men’s productive life (and what happens to production under an improper system). Politics tells us that man has the right to property. But

By defining the laws of a free market, a proper economist answers all such questions; in regard to the virtue of productiveness, he explains why nothing but good can come to everyone from the principle of freedom (and nothing but evil from its abrogation). In essence, he completes the case for man’s rights by showing that, here as elsewhere, the moral is the practical.

all property is privately owned
state and economics are separated
no government controls over the economy
a private monopoly can be gained and kept only through merit
a producer can do with his wealth what he chooses
productiveness is the virtue of creating material values
no governmental bonuses for parasites
he who does not work shall not eat
only producers are consumers
has no competition at all in regard to the achievement of material abundance
counts on the profit motive, a man’s incentive to work in order to gain something for himself, to make money
the amount of a businessman’s profit indicates how much his customers value his product over the factors constituting the input to the enterprise
the economic value of goods and services is their price (including wages, rents, and interest rates), and prices are determined by the law of supply and demand, it is at once the highest price sellers can command and the lowest price buyers can find
profit is the difference between two prices, the price of the input (including labor) to a business and the price of its output
income is not determined β€œintrinsically” or β€œsubjectively”; it cannot be too high or too low; all earnings are earned
the degree of a man’s productiveness is the degree of his reward
a man’s wealth under capitalism depends on two factors, on his own creative achievement, and on the choice of others to recognize it
the more active a mind, within any given field of production, the richer its possessor eventually becomes
the love of money is the root of all good
money is not worthless paper arbitrarily decreed to be legal tender by men in positions of political power
no man’s powers, however great, are a hindrance to anyone else; they are a benefit to others
the more wealth there is in the world, the easier it is for everyone to flourish economically
men enjoy “equality of opportunity” in the only legitimate sense: each has the right to act on his mind’s conclusions and keep its products
all the evils widely ascribed to capitalism flow not from capitalism, but from its opposite; this includes such evils as depression, child labor, racism, adulterated food and drugs, pollution, war, and pornography
monopolists or other β€œexploiters” charge any amount they feel like charging; landlords and bankers set rents or interest rates at whim; employers pay whatever small wage their avarice decreesthe government must legislate an inherently β€œfair price” independent of market conditions

Capitalism as the Only Moral Social System πŸ”—

Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.

Under capitalism, state and economics are separated just as state and church are separated and for the same reasons.

Producers must obey the criminal law and abide by the decisions of the courts; but otherwise the policy of the government is: hands off! The term “laissez-faire capitalism”, therefore, is a redundancy, albeit a necessary one in today’s linguistic chaos. Capitalism is the system of laissez-faire; it is not the mixture of political opposites that now rules the West.

In a free market, there are no government controls over the economy. Men act and interact voluntarily, by individual choice and free trade.

Historically, pure capitalism has never existed. It was, however, approached by the West during the period of the Industrial Revolution; the best example was America in the nineteenth century. That was the closest men have yet come to an unbreached recognition of rights and, therefore, to a free market.

Under capitalism, as reputable economists have demonstrated repeatedly, a private monopoly can be gained and kept only through merit; without government favors, it is impossible for anyone to monopolize even a single commodity and then, enjoying a life of stagnant ease, use his property to “exploit” others. The moment a person attempts to set prices above (or wages below) the market level, he invites competition – competition on the consumer’s level, as men turn to other commodities (or employers); and / or, what is ultimately more important, competition on the producer’s level, as capitalists move money into the stagnant field in order to compete for the higher profits.

Throughout history, the great innovators always flourished in the freer periods.


Observe also the fate of the independent man even in the semistatist countries today. The most eloquent evidence of it is called the “brain drain”, as people from around the world, England included, flee to the United States. Within the United States, there is a similar flight – away from all-but-socialized fields like manufacturing and medicine to the less controlled professions.

In a free-market system, every man must pay his own way; he can claim from others only what he has earned, as judged by the parties’ mutual, uncoerced evaluations. As to the nonearners and nontraders, the system is fully as “cruel” (i.e., as just) as its enemies say: it offers people no alibis, no welfare workers, no booty. Under capitalism, no man’s achievements or troubles, whatever their nature or source, are assets or liabilities belonging to other men.

In a capitalist system, a producer can do with his wealth what he chooses. He can invest it, spend it on himself and his loved ones, or give it away. He can give a reasonable amount of help to unfortunates who cannot support themselves (this is moral if his help is consistent with a proper hierarchy of values). He can bleed himself dry by a course of self-sacrifice. He can will his possessions to any heirs he picks, deserving or otherwise. Under capitalism, however, the man who bleeds himself dry gets no transfusion from the state; while any undeserving recipient finds the market system set against him. The most eloquent example of this last is the playboy in a free country who inherits a fortune; he does not keep it long.

“From shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”, Americans used to say at the turn of the century. If a poor man rose to wealth, then left his money to worthless heirs, his grandson was back on the street without a suit to his name.

Project how widespread this phenomenon had to be to give rise to a popular aphorism, then observe what happens to the worthless children of the rich under our present policies. (Most end up in Washington demanding a redistribution of suits.)

Productiveness is the virtue of creating material values.

In a free market, such a virtue is a necessity; there are no governmental bonuses for parasites. Contrary to another Big Lie, the rule of capitalist society, as of nature, is: he who does not work shall not eat. Capitalism is the system of productiveness; it is the system of and for producers. As to consumers under such a system, they are men who pay for what they consume, i.e., men who themselves earned the means of payment (or received it from someone who did). In a free society, only producers are consumers.

Because it is the system geared to the requirements of the creative process, capitalism is the system of wealth. It is a system that has no competition at all in regard to the achievement of material abundance – a fact that the enemies of capitalism turn into an objection.

In essence, both these objections are true: capitalism is the system of this material world, and it is, as we hear, a “rat race” – but so is life. Life is motion, one way or the other, forward or backward, in the direction of self-preservation or of destruction. Capitalism is the forward system; it is the “progressive” system, using “progress” for once in the literal sense.

The most obvious expression of capitalism’s egoism, however, occurs in the material realm. Capitalism counts on the profit motive.

The “profit motive”, speaking broadly, means a man’s incentive to work in order to gain something for himself – in economic terms, to make money. By our standards, such a motive, being thoroughly just, is profoundly moral.

Socialists used to speak of “production for use” as against “production for profit”. What they meant and wanted was: “production by one man for the unearned use of another”.

In a specialized sense, “profit” means the financial return to the owner of a business enterprise; it is the difference between a businessman’s costs and his income.

If there are to be business enterprises,

These are the effort-demanding, risk-laden decisions and actions on which abundance depends. Profit represents success in regard to such decisions and actions; loss represents failure. Profit, therefore, may be described as a payment earned by moral virtue, the virtue of a specific group within the economy; it is a payment for the thought, the initiative, the long-range vision, the courage, the efficacy of an economy’s prime movers. (Profit is “exploitation” only in a mystic viewpoint, such as Marxism; if wealth is the product of muscular labor, then anyone not turning cranks on the assembly line is a parasite.)

The amount of a businessman’s profit indicates how much his customers value his product over the factors constituting the input to the enterprise. Profit thus measures exactly the creation of wealth by the profit-maker. Loss indicates people’s lower evaluation of the output than of the input; loss thus measures the destruction of wealth. As Isabel Paterson words the point in The God of the Machine: “Production is profit; and profit is production. They are not merely related; they are the same thing. When a man plants potatoes, if he does not get back more than he put in, he has produced nothing.”

The moral justification of capitalism is not that it serves the public. Capitalism does achieve the “public good” (appropriately defined), but this is an effect, not a cause; it is a secondary consequence, not an evaluative primary. The justification of capitalism is that it is the system which implements a scientific code of morality; i.e., which recognizes man’s metaphysical nature and needs; i.e., which is based on reason and reality. A secondary consequence of such a system is that any group who lives under it and acts properly has to benefit.

In this situation, the (post-Kantian) altruist has only two choices:

Since neither group of men can demonstrate an objective causal sequence in this matter, the choice comes down to the following: should we endorse a vice without understanding why we must, or should we try the path of virtue and see where it leads? On its face, the conservative position is morally bankrupt. In the end, therefore, the conservative, like the liberal, comes to deny the causal sequence itself: individual freedom, he comes to agree, is not the means to the public welfare. On the contrary, he starts to say, I see now that unrestrained capitalism “sometimes” (then “often”) hurts the public.

Capitalism as the System of Objectivity πŸ”—

The economic value of goods and services is their price (this term subsumes all forms of price, including wages, rents, and interest rates); and prices on a free market are determined by the law of supply and demand. Men create products and offer them for sale; this is supply. Other men offer their own products in exchange; this is demand. (The medium of exchange is money.) “Supply” and “demand”, therefore, are two perspectives on a single fact: a man’s supply is his demand; it is his only means of demanding another man’s supply. The market price of a product is determined by the conjunction of two evaluations, i.e., by the voluntary agreement of sellers and buyers.

The market price is based not on arbitrary wishes, but on a definite mechanism: it is at once the highest price sellers can command and the lowest price buyers can find.

Economic value thus determined is objective.

The dominant view today is that economic value (like every other kind) is not objective, but arbitrary. Monopolists or other “exploiters”, subjectivists claim, charge any amount they feel like charging; landlords and bankers set rents or interest rates at whim; employers pay whatever niggardly wage their avarice decrees. Economic theory and history alike prove that capitalism does not work this way; both theory and history make clear what happens in a free market to overchargers, underpayers, and any other would-be fiat-mongers (they lose their customers, their workers, and ultimately their shirts). Subjectivists, however, cannot heed any such proof, since they do not acknowledge the possibility of consciousness perceiving existence, they cannot accept the possibility of an objective economy.

The standard cure for capitalism’s “arbitrary prices” is recourse to the state; the government, we are told, must legislate an inherently “fair price” independent of market conditions. This represents intrinsicism posing as the solution to subjectivism. “Fairness” in an economic context, however, means honest free trade; the “fair” price is the price men agree to pay. Since force and mind are opposites, the government under capitalism does not legislate prices; it does not legislate any value-judgments, economic or otherwise. But intrinsicists have no compunctions about unleashing force against a mind and no qualms about the means they employ to discover what price is “fair”. As always, they count on revelation – in this instance, emanating not from the will of God, but from the caprice of politicians reacting to the caprice of pressure groups.

The subjectivist intellectual, in effect, causes people to turn in self-defense to the intrinsicist leader, who acts as a spokesman for a different group of subjectivists. This kind of vicious circle extends far beyond the realm of politics and economics.

Since economic value under capitalism is objective, profits are objective, also.

Profit is the difference between two prices, the price of the input (including labor) to a business and the price of its output. There is, therefore, no such thing as an intrinsically “fair” profit, and there is no such thing as an “excess” or “arbitrary” profit. There is only the profit men earn.

In general, since material goods and services in every category are evaluated objectively, their creators’ (long-range) financial compensation is equally objective. Whatever its form, income under capitalism is not determined “intrinsically” or “subjectively”; it cannot be too high or too low; all earnings are earned. The degree of a man’s productiveness is the degree of his reward.

A man’s wealth under capitalism depends on two factors:

Since the system promotes such recognition, however, a man’s wealth depends in the end only on his exercise of his creative faculty. The more active a mind, within any given field of production, the richer its possessor eventually becomes. Such is the harmony between mind and body attained in practice by a system that is based from the start on a correct view of these two attributes of man.

Money is a medium of exchange – and in principle one makes it under capitalism not by vote, pull, or luck, but by a process of rational work. In this sense, money is an objective measure and reward of objective behavior, intellectual and then existential. The love of money is not “the root of all evil”, as the moralists of sacrifice and the mind-body dichotomy insist. On the contrary, the love of money is more aptly described as the root of all good.

(Money itself must be a freely chosen material value, a commodity such as gold, which is an objective equivalent of wealth. Under capitalism, money is not worthless paper arbitrarily decreed to be legal tender by men in positions of political power.)

Economic power is the power resulting from the possession of wealth. Political power is the power resulting from the government’s monopoly on coercion. In essence, the difference is that between purchase and plunder.

Economic power is power. Any proper value is a form of power; it endows its possessor with capabilities that nonpossessors lack. If this were not so, the object would not be a value. In a free society, however, no man’s powers, however great, are a hindrance to anyone else; they are a benefit to others.

Economic power is not unique in this regard. Consider, for example, a spiritual value, such as knowledge. If a man enjoys “cognitive power”, he can achieve his goals better than an ignorant person; he can choose a better course to pursue, then influence his fellows in a way that ignoramuses cannot hope to match. This does not mean that knowledgeable men succeed by exploiting fools. Nor does it mean that “An ignorant man is not free”. If a fool wants to shape the destiny of society, but experts convince people to take an opposite direction, is this a case of “coercive” cognitive power? Only an egalitarian would say so; since it is impossible for everyone to be equally wise, he adds, we must see to it that everyone is equally stupid. (The name of this program is progressive education.) In this approach, any value – economic, cognitive, amatory, athletic, esthetic, or otherwise – is unfair. The only solution is the equality of a graveyard.

Knowledge – to continue the example – like material wealth, can be acquired and used to achieve one’s ends only by objective means; this requires that men judge freely whether to accept a given idea, just as they must judge freely whether to buy a given product. Further: knowledge is not a static quantity; it has to be discovered and, practically speaking, the sky is the limit. One man’s knowledge is not looted from the brain of his neighbor, nor does it harm his neighbor, it helps him. The cognitive beginner in the era of Galileo or Einstein enjoys an incomparably greater return for the same mental effort than his counterpart did in the era of Ptolemy or Bernard of Clairvaux. Wealth is not a static quantity, either; it, too, has to be created; and the more wealth there is in the world, the easier it is for everyone to flourish economically. Thus the relative riches of the poorest Western drone today, thanks to the “robber barons”, as against the standard of living of the most industrious serf under Pope Gregory VII or King Louis IX.

Under capitalism, men enjoy “equality of opportunity” in the only legitimate sense of that vague, usually statist term: each has the right to act on his mind’s conclusions and keep its products. This is the only “opportunity” a person needs or has any grounds to demand. Accidents aside, the result of this social condition, for every individual, strong or weak, who struggles to make something of himself, is the pursuit of happiness – and then in due course its achievement.

Opposition to Capitalism as Dependent on Bad Epistemology πŸ”—

The moral issue, by now obvious, is that one cannot combine the ethics of sacrifice with the politics of individualism.

In addition, morality in this context is what gives content to “practicality”. The “practical” is that which fosters a desired result, and morality is what specifies the results a social system should aim to reach. The evaluation of an action as “practical” depends on what it is that one wishes to practice. If what one wishes to practice is power lust, going “back to nature”, sacrificing the able, and / or sacrificing everybody (egalitarianism), then capitalism is not practical; it represents the opposite of all such practices.

And as in the issue of monopolies, all the evils widely ascribed to capitalism flow not from capitalism, but from its opposite. This includes such evils as depression, child labor, racism, adulterated food and drugs, pollution, war, and pornography.

Most of the anticapitalist charges, absurd as they are taken singly, are presented to the public in pairs, both sides of which are wrong. We are bombarded by a stream not only of false-hoods, but of contradictory, self-canceling falsehoods, such as:

The most ludicrous of all the projections we hear is: “What if, under capitalism, no one volunteers to help the truly helpless?” Such callousness never existed in early America; it is possible on a large scale only when men are crushed by poverty, thanks to statism; and / or when men feel mutual hatred, thanks to being forced to subsist as prisoners in collectivist chain gangs.

ART πŸ”—

The last of the five branches that make up a full system of philosophy is esthetics, the philosophy of art.

Philosophy as such does not deal with the problems of a specialized professional field, such as law, education, psychology, or physics.

A branch of philosophy, by contrast, is universal and time-less. It deals with an intellectual need of man qua man.

Besides the need of

the only other need within the province of pure philosophy is art.

is an end in itself, in the sense that it serves no purpose beyond man’s contemplation of it
fulfills an essential need of human life, not a material need, but a spiritual need
is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments
art brings man’s concepts to the perceptual level of his consciousness and allows him to grasp them directly, as if they were percepts
art is a universal language
esthetic abstractions are formed by the criterion of: what is important
that which is not worth contemplating in life is not worth recreating in art
beauty is not “in the object” or “in the eye of the beholder”; it is in the object as judged by a rational beholder
art is a frill, an indulgence unrelated to reason or to man’s life in this worldart is the prerogative of a mystic elite oriented to a supernatural dimension

Art as a Concretization of Metaphysics πŸ”—

A work of art is an end in itself, in the sense that it serves no purpose beyond man’s contemplation of it. When one differentiates art from other human products, this fact is an essential. A scientific treatise, a machine, a busy signal on the telephone are a means to a utilitarian goal; a novel, a statue, a symphony are not.

The materialist mentality typically concludes that art is a frill, an indulgence unrelated to reason or to man’s life in this world. The spiritualist mentality, in full agreement, takes off for points unknowable: he concludes that art is the prerogative of a mystic elite oriented to a supernatural dimension.

In opposition to both views, we hold that art does have a purpose, a rational, worldly, practical purpose.

Art fulfills an essential need of human life, not a material need, but a spiritual need. Art is inextricably tied to man’s survival – not to his physical survival, but to that on which his physical survival depends: to the preservation and survival of his consciousness.

Metaphysical principles are the widest of all; they involve the total of human experience, subsuming a vast range of concretes by means of long chains of abstractions. Any given principle, once identified consciously, can be assessed as true or false (and if necessary revised) by applying the method of logic; this task belongs to the science of philosophy. But no one, philosophers included, can hold such a complexity of experiences and abstractions within the focus of his awareness as a sum. Yet a sum is precisely what a man needs.

If this kind of vision is to be available to a man’s consciousness, his fundamental conclusions must be condensed into a unit on which he can choose to focus. He needs a concrete that can become an object of direct experience while carrying with it the meaning of his whole view of life. This is the role of art.

Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.

An art work does not formulate the metaphysics it represents; it does not (or at least need not) articulate definitions and principles. So art by itself is not enough in this context.

But the point is that philosophy is not enough, either. Philosophy by itself cannot satisfy mans need of philosophy. Man requires the union of the two: philosophy and art, the broad identifications and their concrete embodiment. Then, in regard to his fundamental, guiding orientation, he combines the power of mind and of body, i.e., he combines the range of abstract thought with the irresistible immediacy of sense perception.

We summarize in a definitive formulation: Art is a concretization of metaphysics. Art brings man’s concepts to the perceptual level of his consciousness and allows him to grasp them directly, as if they were percepts.

This is the psycho-epistemological function of art and the reason of its importance in man’s life (and the crux of our esthetics).

Here again we see man’s need of unit-economy.

There is an obvious analogy here between language and art.

The claim that “art is a universal language” is not an empty metaphor, it is literally true – in the sense of the psycho-epistemological function performed by art.

So far, I have been considering the subject of an art work, or what it presents – the perceptual concretes that convey its view of the world. But there is another essential aspect of art: style, i.e., how the artist presents his subject.

An artist’s style, for example, may express a state of full focus – of clarity, purpose, precision; or a state of fog – of the opaque, the random, the blurred. In either (and any) case, style, like subject, has philosophical roots and meaning. Style reveals an artist’s implicit view of the mind’s “proper method and level of functioning”, the level “on which the artist feels most at home”. This is another reason why men react to art in profoundly personal terms. Like subject, though from a different aspect, style is experienced by the reader or viewer as a confirmation or denial of his consciousness.

An art work tells man not that something is, but that it is important.

“Important” is not synonymous with “good” (an evil may be important). “Important”, according to one dictionary, denotes a standing “such as to entitle to attention or consideration” – and the only fundamental entitled to man’s attention is reality. “Important”, therefore, is essentially a metaphysical term, which pertains to and demarcates the special province of the artist.

A similar issue is involved when critics sneer at the heroes of popular novels or TV shows for always finding the murderer, curing the patient, winning the case. The critics invoke “truth”, the truth found in statistical tables or in newspapers; in real life, they say, people, unlike Perry Mason, do not always triumph over obstacles. What actually motivates such criticism is not “truth”, but philosophy. No one contests the fact that detectives et al. can fail. The esthetic issue is whether such failure indicates man’s destiny. The intellectuals’ hatred of “happy endings” does not spring from the fact that criminals often go free in real life; it springs from the haters’ insistence that when criminals are caught or patients cured or values achieved, such an outcome is metaphysically insignificant.

Romantic Literature as Illustrating the Role of Philosophy in Art πŸ”—

“Romanticism” denotes an art movement dating from the early nineteenth century; among its greatest writers are Victor Hugo, Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Schiller, and Edmond Rostand.

This movement must not be confused,with what is called “Romanticism” in philosophy, i.e., the Fichte-Schelling-Schopenhauer brand of mysticism. Judged by essentials these two movements are opposites.

The most obvious characteristic of Romanticism, which many critics take as definitional, is its projection of passion, drama, color – i.e., of emotion – as against the formulaic Classicism that preceded it and the bleak Naturalism that followed it. The root of emotion, however, is value-judgments, and the root of value-judgments is man’s power of choice. According to the rule of fundamentality, therefore, this last must be taken as the school’s essential characteristic. Romanticism is a category of art based on the recognition of the principle that man possesses the faculty of volition.

The Romantic school arose on the heels of the Enlightenment, when medievalism had finally succumbed to the pagan, especially Aristotelian, influence. The result, philosophically, was not Aristotelian ideas – thinkers were turning en masse to Kant – but, culturally, an Aristotelian sense of life. What dominated the culture was a largely subconscious confidence in the power of man’s mind; the political corollary was the spread of capitalism. Thus arose an art intoxicated by the discovery of man’s unlimited potential, an art centering on choice and freedom, emphasizing the ability of the individual to select his course and to act accordingly.

Contrary to the prevalent literary doctrines of today it is realism that demands a plot structure in a novel. If one is to present man as he is – as he is metaphysically, by his nature, in reality – one has to present him in goal-directed action.

“The distinction between historian and poet,” writes Aristotle in the Poetics, “consists really in this, that the one describes the thing that has been, and the other a kind of thing that might be. Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history.” History represents things as they are, while fiction represents them as they might be and ought to be.

Esthetic Value as Objective πŸ”—

In judging an artwork qua art, by contrast, one enters the domain of a highly personal emotion, sense of life. The goal of art, we have said, is not to prove but to show – to concretize whatever sense of life the artist has, whether it be true or false. The fact that one agrees or disagrees with an artist’s philosophy is irrelevant to an esthetic appraisal of his work qua art. A false philosophy can be embodied in a great work of art; a true philosophy, in an inferior or worthless one. How then does one judge esthetic value?

The standard answer, which we reject, is that one judges it by feeling. Even though the task of art is to concretize a certain emotion this does not mean that the emotion is a tool of cognition; a sense of life is the source of art, but it is not a means of esthetic judgment.

The viewer, reader, or listener can feel that a given work is great, he can even feel that it is a superlative embodiment of profound value-judgments – but feeling doesn’t make it so. In this field, as in any other, valid assessment requires a process of reason.

With rare exceptions, estheticians who rejected emotionalism turned instead to authoritarianism. Just as mankind’s religious leaders laid down concrete-bound moral commandments, so their equivalents in esthetics laid down concrete-bound decalogues of their own to govern the evaluation of plays, music, and buildings. These esthetic commandments were usually derived from esteemed art works of the past, then upheld as a guide for all future art. In modern times, this approach was represented by Classicism. It is a telling commentary on Western thought that the dogmatic absolutes urged by Classicism are still widely regarded as an example in esthetics of “the cool voice of reason”.

A proper esthetic evaluation is neither emotional nor authoritarian. The pattern to follow in this field is: In essence, an objective evaluation requires that one identify the artist’s theme, the abstract meaning of his work (exclusively by identifying the evidence contained in the work and allowing no other, outside considerations), then evaluate the means by which he conveys it – i.e., taking his theme as criterion, evaluate the purely esthetic elements of the work, the technical mastery (or lack of it) with which he projects (or fails to project) his view of life.

That which is not worth contemplating in life is not worth recreating in art.

Misery, disease, disaster, evil, all the negatives of human existence, are proper objects of study in life, for the purpose of understanding and correcting them – but are not proper objects of contemplation for contemplation’s sake.

In art, and in literature, these negatives are worth recreating only in relation to some positive, as a foil, as a contrast, as a means of stressing the positive – but not as an end in themselves.

That one should wish to enjoy the contemplation of values, of the good – of man’s greatness, intelligence, ability, virtue, heroism – is self-explanatory. It is the contemplation of the evil that requires explanation and justification; and the same goes for the contemplation of the mediocre, the undistinguished, the commonplace, the meaningless, the mindless.

A second principle of esthetic judgment, which pertains to style, is the requirement most simply described as clarity.

In the broad sense applicable here, “clarity” denotes the quality of being distinct, sharp, evident to the mind, as against being obscure, clouded, confused.

A third principle of esthetic judgment, which can make the difference between good and great art, is the requirement that we call “the hallmark of art”: integration.

Since art is selective, the artist must be so, too – in every aspect of his function. Taking as the standard of selection his theme, he must weigh the need and implications of every item, major or minor, which he considers including in his work. He must regard and present the items he chooses not as isolated ends-in-themselves, but as attributes of an indivisible whole.

This is the only way to achieve the kind of whole which is art, i.e., a slanted concrete, embodying, objectifying, flaunting a definite sense of life.

Art can be judged rationally. Esthetic appraisal does not involve an “esthetic sense” that divines qualities inherent in an art work apart from any relation to human consciousness. It does not involve the equivalent of a mystic “conscience” in ethics, which “just knows” the right estimates. Nor does the rejection of such a faculty entail a retreat to the notion that art is a matter of taste, personal or social, about which there is no disputing. Here again we see the false alternative of intrinsicism vs. subjectivism.

As in ethics, so in esthetics: value is an aspect of reality in relation to man. Value means the evaluation of a fact (in this case, of a certain kind of human product) in accordance with rational principles, principles reducible to sense perception. This is precisely the pattern one follows in esthetic evaluation. One reduces esthetic principles to the nature of art, and art to a need of human life, i.e., to the primary of ethics; which in turn reduces to one’s acceptance of the axiom of existence.

Like goodness, therefore, beauty is not “in the object” or “in the eye of the beholder”. It is objective. It is in the object as judged by a rational beholder.

Esthetic principles are not the only standards relevant to evaluating a work of art. Objective evaluation must recognize that art includes both esthetic means and metaphysical content. Full objectivity consists in identifying both elements, judging each rationally, then integrating one’s judgments into an estimate of the total. As in regard to judging people, the emotional effect produced by the total may range across the spectrum, from revulsion to indifference to delimited appreciation to a profound embrace of substance and form, the equivalent in the art realm of romantic love.

Esthetic quality alone, therefore, is not sufficient to make a work of art a value to a rational man. Since art is a philosophical composite it is not a contradiction to say: “This is a great work of art, but I don’t like it” – provided one defines the exact meaning of that statement: the first part refers to a purely esthetic appraisal, the second to a deeper philosophical level which includes more than esthetic values.

It is by the standards of this deeper level – of truth and mastery combined – that we evaluate Romanticism, in the hands of its top practitioners, as being, objectively, the greatest achievement in art history.


If man is the conceptual being, philosophy is the prime mover of history.

For two millennia, Western history has been the expression of a philosophic duel. The duelists are Plato and Aristotle.

Plato is the first thinker to systematize other-worldliness.

Aristotle, Plato’s devoted student for twenty years, is the first thinker to systematize worldliness.

The first battle in the historical duel was won decisively by Plato, through the work of such disciples as Plotinus and Augustine.

The Dark Ages were dark on principle. As the barbarians were sacking the body of Rome, the Church was struggling to annul the last vestiges of its spirit, wrenching the West away from nature, astronomy, philosophy, nudity, pleasure, instilling in men’s souls the adoration of Eternity, with all its temporal consequences.

For centuries, Aristotle’s works were lost to the West.

Then Thomas Aquinas turned Aristotle loose in that desert of crosses and gallows.

Within a century, the West was on the threshold of the Renaissance.

The period from Aquinas through Locke and Newton was a transition, at once gingerly and accelerating. The rediscovery of pagan civilization, the outpouring of explorations and inventions, the rise of man-glorifying art and of earthly philosophy, the affirmation of man’s individual rights, the integration of earlier leads into the first system of modern science – all of it represents a prodigious effort to throw off the medieval shackles and reorient the Western mind. It was the prologue to a climax, the first unabashedly secular culture since antiquity: the Enlightenment. Once again, thinkers accepted reason as uncontroversial.

In regard to every philosophic essential, the ruling spirit was the opposite of intrinsicism – and of subjectivism. The spirit was worldliness without skepticism. This means that, despite the period’s many contradictions, the spirit was Aristotle’s.

Faith and force entail each other, a fact exemplified in the feudalism of the medieval centuries.

But reason and freedom entail each other, too. The purest example of this fact was the emergence of a new nation in the New World. It was the first time a nation had ever been founded consciously on a philosophic theory. The theory was the principle of rights.

Man, America’s Founding Fathers said in essence, is the rational animal. Therefore the individual, not the state, is sovereign; man must be left free to think, and to act accordingly.

Unlike Plato, whose political ideas followed from his basic premises, Aristotle’s political ideas were mixed; they were a blend of individualistic and Platonic elements (the concept of “rights” had not yet been formulated). In the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that implements it, we see at last the full expression, in political terms, of the Aristotelian fundamentals.

Despite the claims, then and since, about its Judeo-Christian roots, the United States with its unique system of government could not have been founded in any philosophically different period. The new nation would have been inconceivable in the seventeenth century, under the Puritans, to say nothing of the twelfth – just as, the power of tradition apart, its selfish, absolutist individualism would never survive a vote today (which is why a second Constitutional convention would be a calamity). America required what the Enlightenment alone offered: enlightenment.

The combination of reason and freedom is potent. In the nineteenth century, it led to the Industrial Revolution, to Romantic art, and to an authentic good will among men; it led to an unprecedented burst of wealth, beauty, happiness.

Wherever they looked, people saw a smiling present and a radiant future. The idea of continuous improvement came to be taken for granted, as though it were an axiom. Progress, people thought, is now automatic and inevitable.

The whole magnificent development – including science, America, and industrialization – was an anomaly. The ideas on which the development rested were on their way out even as they were giving birth to all these epochal achievements.

Since the Renaissance, the anti-Aristotelian forces had been regrouping. In the seventeenth century, Descartes planted Platonism once again at the base of philosophy.

Thanks to their intrinsicist element, the Aristotelians had always been vulnerable to attack; above all, they were vulnerable in two crucial areas, the theory of concepts and the validation of ethics. (Ethics, Aristotle had taught, is not a field susceptible to objective demonstration.) These were the historic openings, the double invitation that the better intellectuals unknowingly handed to the Cartesian trend. In the penultimate decade of the eighteenth century, just when America was being born, that trend, unopposed, bore its fruit.

The fruit was the end of the West’s philosophical commitment to reason, the conscious changeover in the ivory tower from the remnants of Aristotle to his antithesis. The thinker who ended the Enlightenment and laid the foundation for the twentieth century was Kant.

In order to solve the problem of concepts, Kant held, a new metaphysics and epistemology are required.

This approach left Kant free to declare as beyond challenge the essence of the intrinsicist ethics: duty, i.e., imperatives issued by (noumenal) reality itself. When Kant’s new approach took over Western philosophy fully, as it did within decades, duty to the noumenal world became duty to the group or the state.

Kant’s Copernican Revolution reaffirmed the fundamental ideas of Plato. This time, however, the ideas were not moderated by any pagan influence. They were undiluted and thus incomparably more virulent.

Plato and the medievals denied Existence in the name of a fantasy, a glowing super-reality with which, they believed, they were in direct, inspiring contact.

Kant is a different case.

Occasional fig leaves aside, Kant offers humanity no alternative to the realm of that which is, and no reward for renouncing it. He is the first philosopher in history to reject reality, thought, and values, not for the sake of some “higher” version of them, but for the sake of the rejection. The power in behalf of which his genius speaks is not “pure reason”, but pure destruction.

The result of Plato’s approach was a form of adoration. The result of Kant was “hatred of the good for being the good”. The hatred took shape in the culture of nihilism.

Modernist intellectuals are comparable to a psychopath who murders for kicks. They seek the thrill of the new; and the new, to them, is the negative. The new is obliteration, obliteration of the essential in every field; they have no interest in anything to take its place. Thus the uniqueness of the century behind us:

A void everywhere that was acclaimed by the avant-garde with a metaphysical chuckle. It was the sound of triumph, the triumph of the new anti-ideal: of the unknowable, the unreachable, the unendurable.

In a Kantian reality, nothing else was possible.

Kant, surrounded by the Enlightenment, did not develop the political implications of his philosophy. His followers, however, had no trouble in seeing the point; from the premises he supplied, Fichte, Hegel, Marx (and Bismarck) drew the conclusion. Thus the two most passionately anti-freedom movements in history, Communism and Fascism, along with all their lesser, welfare-statist antecedents and kin.

Modern statism emanated, as it had to, from the “land of poets and philosophers”. The reason is not the “innate depravity” of the Germans, but the nature of their premier philosopher.

Statism cannot sustain an industrial civilization. Nihilism cannot abide it. Hence, in due course, another manifestation, the growing attacks on technology, i.e., the Industrial Revolution. It was the vow of poverty over again, not as a gateway to Heaven this time, but as a means to the welfare of water, trees, and “endangered species”. The latter could be any species – except the human.

So much has been lost so fast. In no time at all, the West moved from “perpetual peace” to perpetual war; from the rapture of Victor Hugo to the tongue in the asshole of Molly Bloom; from progress taken for granted to Auschwitz taken for granted.

Ayn Rand is to Aristotle what Kant is to Plato. Both sides of the perennial duel, in their pure form, have finally been made explicit.

At this moment in history, the West is mutating again. The reason is that Kant as a cultural power is dead.

Kant is dead in academic philosophy; the subject has effectively expired under his tutelage. He is dead among the intellectuals, whose world view is disillusionment (they call it the “end of ideology”). He is dead in the realm of art, where nihilism, with little left to defy, is turning into its inevitable product: nihil (this is now being called “minimalism” and postmodernism”).

Kant is dead even in Berlin and Moscow. As of this writing, although it is too early to know, communism seems to be disintegrating.

The collapse of a negative, however, is not a positive.

The atrophy of a vicious version of unreason is not the adoption of reason. If men fail to discover living ideas, they will keep moving by the guidance of dead ones; they will keep following, by inertia, the principles they have already institutionalized. For the nations of East and West alike today, no matter what their faddish lipservice to a “free market”, the culmination of these principles is some variant of dictatorship, new or revised – if not communist, then fascist and / or religious and / or tribal. Force and faith on such a scale would mean the fate of the ancients over again.

The only man who can stave off another Dark Ages is the Father of the Enlightenment.

It is true that Aristotle has flaws, which always gave his enemies an opening. But now the opening has been closed.

The solution to the crisis of our age is love, as everyone says. But the love we need is not love of God or the neighbor.

It is love of the good for being the good. The good, in this context, includes reality, man the hero, and man’s tool of survival.

Some remnant of such love still survives in the West.

Above all, it survives in the people of America – which, despite its decline, is still the leader and beacon of the world.

This is the grounds for hope. A nation, however, is shaped ultimately not by its people, but by its intellectuals. This is the grounds for fear, unless some “new intellectuals” can be created.

To save the world is the simplest thing in the world.

All one has to do is think.

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Updated on 2022 Dec 13.

DISCLAIMER: This is not professional advice. The ideas and opinions presented here are my own, not necessarily those of my employer.