Objectivism the Philosophy
Disclaimer: This Will Take Time and Effort

Before you can appreciate the logical arguments that shore up the conclusions on the previous page, you must understand two things:

First, Objectivism is not a deductive philosophy. In other words, no set of principles yet exists that would be sufficient to arrive at these conclusions. There are many principles involved, but experience and experiment (read: history) are just as important. Objectivism is the first philosophy to collect scientific and historic evidence in support of its ideas. This means that you will study history, science, politics, and economics if you wish to study Objectivism.

Second, it helps to have a solid understanding of the fundamentals, so some individual research will be required. This website is intended to be a starting point. The links at left list many excellent resources for you to pursue. The intent of this website is to be a low-cost "first option." Note that the text and organization follow Leonard Peikoff's "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand," which is the next step (if not the first step) for an interested reader.

A Technical Beginning

To give you a "mile high" view, the Objectivist philosophy is depicted schematically in Figure 1. The philosophy is broken into three pieces. The first, called "metaphysics," is just a statement to describe what we know about reality. The pure sciences -- such as biology, physics, chemistry -- aspire to improve the description under metaphysics. (This is why an advanced scientific degree is best termed "Doctor of Philosophy," not "Doctor of Science," which has narrower implications.) For those who are not technically trained, metaphysics in philosophy describes at its most fundamental level what reality is.

The second piece is called "epistemology," which means only "study of knowledge." Strictly speaking, a philosophy needs to explain what it means to be conscious, and concordantly, what it means to be conscious of something. Epistemology is now more specifically called "teaching and learning sciences," and is therefore absolutely essential to an institution like MIT, although the technical name of the field remains the province of philosophy.

The third piece is called "ethics," or morality, which answers the day-to-day question of "Given what's around me, and what I know about it, what should I do now?" From ethics derive politics, humor, and even art, along with the answers to many of the "unresolved" issues debated today.

The Three Axioms

There are three primary pieces, or axioms, on which Objectivism rests. These axioms are taken as self-evident, therefore unprovable. Just as in thermodynamics, one cannot "prove that energy is conserved," we take it as an empiricial fact and hold it as knowledge. The first two axioms are contained in the upper left bubble, the one about reality. The third is contained in the upper right bubble, the one about knowledge. The Objectivist Ethics (or Morality) follows, with ample evidence to support it, from the two top fields. What we care about in every day life is politics, or art, or what to do with ourselves and our lives. These questions are answered once the field of ethics has been examined.

The first axiom is the acknowledgement that existence exists. In other words, life is not just a dream, it's real.

The second axiom is that existents have definite identities. Stated differently, when a thing exists, it has a definite nature, such that "A is A," "a rock cannot also be not a rock," or most simply, the rules of logic hold.

The third axiom is that we are conscious of reality, and that knowledge of reality is possible.

Big deal, right? Well, it's important to be clear about the starting point and working assumptions, and many past philosophers have not been this explicit. Worse yet, some have suggested the following:

  • If I wish it to be real, it will be. Reality is therefore dependent on my consciousness.
  • Identities are not fixed. This looks like a rock, but it might be a leaf, I don't know.
  • Absolute knowledge is impossible to prove! It's not possible to know anything! I give up.

Copyright MIT Objectivist Club 2005