"My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:
Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.
Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.
The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church."
In the appendix of her work, "Atlas Shrugged", she has this to say:
"My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."
Ayn Rand Lexicon
Is she right? If one were to listen to her acolytes in broadcasting such as Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck and Napolitano, among others, it would seem that at the very least her belief system can lead to success in this life. I suppose that if they view their reason for being as " ...with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity...", then they've succeeded at the highest possible levels. But, is that really the end we exist for, to please ourselves? Or is there something more? Further, as a Catholic or member of any other Christian faith, can I follow the teachings of Ayn Rand?
The short answer is no. Objectivism is, just like Capitalism and Communism, a purely materialistic view of life. They all lead away from God and towards man and the material world. They all look to reason as the ultimate arbiter of mans actions. While Communism looks to the state, Objectivism/Capitalism places an equally dangerous emphasis on the individual, both at the expense of the truth that man is an individual, yes, but also a member of and a participant in the state, whether the family or the political, and that without the state he cannot reach his potential, further, he cannot survive. Man cannot exist without the state and the state cannot exist without man. Both are absolutely vital to the existence of the other and because of this neither can be viewed in a vacuum.
"No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
I agree with the first point in Rand's description of her philosophy:
"Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears."
Truth is. This simple fact is something that seems nearly impossible for most of the modern world to understand. It's not situational, it's not relative and it certainly never changes. Our inability to accept this and believe it applies to every act and thought we involve ourselves in leads to most of the suffering that surrounds us. If we act in accord with truth we will act rightly. If not, we generally get hurt. Maybe not immediately. In fact, we can lie ourselves into some pretty sweet deals. But eventually it'll catch up to us, here or in the afterlife.
Of course, for an atheist such as Rand questions of judgement and eternal damnation never rear their head. So why would an Objectivist act truthfully if the truth might cause them harm?
From Dr. Leonard Peikoff at Ayn Rand.org:
"The answer lies in man's nature as a living organism. A living organism has to act in the face of a constant alternative: life or death. Life is conditional; it can be sustained only by a specific course of action performed by the living organism, such as the actions of obtaining food. In this regard plants and animals have no choice: within the limits of their powers, they take automatically the actions their life requires. Man does have a choice. He does not know automatically what actions will sustain him; if he is to survive he must discover, then practice by choice, a code of values and virtues, the specific code which human life requires. The purpose of ethics is to define such a code.
Objectivism is the first philosophy to identify the relationship between life and moral values. "Ethics," writes Ayn Rand, "is an objective, metaphysical necessity of man's survival—not by the grace of the supernatural nor of your neighbors nor of your whims, but by the grace of reality and the nature of life."
The standard of ethics, required by the nature of reality and the nature of man, is Man's Life. "All that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; all that which destroys it is the evil.""
Darwin begins to raise his head, as he always seems to among atheists. Survival of the individual is the highest order and man must act in a manner that will insure it; "...if he is to survive he must discover, then practice by choice, a code of values and virtues, the specific code which human life requires." For a belief system that is named for and based on objective truth, does this seem just a bit subjective? Ethics are formed by the individual based on his specific needs for survival? If survival of the fittest is the basis for our ethical and moral system than how can it be wrong for one to murder in this dog eat dog, me against the world philosophy if it advances the goal of "his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life"? After all, it's hard to be happy when you no longer exist! Hey buddy, if it's you or me I know who's walking away! For that matter, could the killing of someone that stands in the way of your happiness rightly be called murder? After all, it seems the ends justify the means and you have a moral right, imposed upon yourself by your own reason, to survive no matter what the cost.
So, is it true that murder is always wrong? To the Objectivist the answer would have to be an unequivocal yes, but we'd have to define murder within the larger context of personal advancement. What the Christian would consider murder could be justifiable killing for the Objectivist.
At least in the case of murder, truth is unknowable because it is completely subjective.
But let's say, just for argument, that the majority decide, through the use of their individual powers of reason, that murder, however they define it, is bad for society as a whole. Let's say they come to the conclusion that it retards advancement of the many individuals (we can't think in group think here). And let's say, just for argument, that using my reasoning powers I decide that because I've very few marketable skills, terrible social habits and am just downright hard to look at that the best way for me to survive, as a reasoning individual, is to shoot people dead on the road and steal their stuff. Good return on investment, low risk, easy work hours, etc. Since I'm doing what I've decided is the best thing for me how can the others judge my activity unethical or immoral? And what's more, how can they punish me for it?
For, remember, according to Rand, "Ethics is an objective, metaphysical necessity of man's survival—not by the grace of the supernatural nor of your neighbors nor of your whims, but by the grace of reality and the nature of life."
So I'm a brutish thief with a killing streak. That's the grace of my reality and the nature of my life. Who are they to judge?
"Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.
Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life."
"...nor sacrificing others to himself"? So does this mean I can't kill for profit? Why? Who made this law? I know I sure didn't! So why should I obey it?
This is the problem with Objectivism and all other materialist philosophies. In the end, one way or the other, Darwin runs up against God. Certain laws exist apart from man and his reason. We all know this intuitively. We can sense them even though we can't see them. And these laws carry across all time and all cultures. Murder is always wrong, everywhere and everyplace. The definition of murder might change but not the fact that murder is wrong. So does this prove Rand's point? Is the definition of murder subject to reason?
To an extent, yes. But that doesn't change the fact that the underlying, foundational principle that the taking of innocent human life is always wrong exists. This is objectively true. And objective truth exists apart from man, it is not created by him. Man's task, with the use of his reason, is to understand the natural law and to accede to it, not to create it out of whole clothe.
This is a point that the Objectivist may agree with. The question then becomes, at least for the Objectivist, where does this law come from? For this is a law with a spiritual basis. It isn't a physical law like gravity. It exist purely in the metaphysical and moral realm.
"[T]he source of man's rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A—and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival."
As a Christian I have definite opinions about man's nature and his proper survival. Some are based on reason, some on experience and some on revelation but all have at their foundation the teachings of the Church because I accept the existence of God and the role of the Church here on earth. My question for the Objectivist would be how he can impose any universal ideas about man's nature and his proper role on others when all of the Objectivist's ethical standards are formed by his own reason? He appeals to no higher court than himself! Who is he to tell anyone else that he's right and they're wrong?
And where do rights come from? Are they merely constructs created in the mind of the individual? If so, how can they be binding on anyone but the individual that conceived them?
But if they're something more, if they exist as part of the individual's nature and have authority and power over all of us, where did they come from? Who created them? Why are they here?
These are the questions, at least some of the questions, that materialist belief systems like Objectivism can never answer and because of this these systems of belief are incomplete at best and worthless as a guide to the truth.
Because they don't lead to the truth they are not true and because they are not true the Christian may not follow them because our Lord, He that we must follow, is the truth. Anything else will lead us away.