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How would you summarize Objectivism—and prove it’s not crazy?

by Jason on August 18th, 2011

On Objectivist Answers someone asked: “How would you summarize the key features of Objectivism?” In their elaboration they added: “if someone told you ‘Objectivism is crazy’ (or something along those lines), is there a list of features you could put forward to refute their claim?” Here is my answer:

Rand’s “Objectivism on one foot” is a good summary. Another good summary from her is this one-liner: “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.”

In some situations, I just say it is a secular philosophy that upholds reason, science, technology, industry, business, and capitalism. That’s not a great description of Objectivism, but for someone who has no clue what it is, that brief list of keywords gives a sense of where the philosophy stands relative to today’s common philosophic positions.

But if someone just says “Objectivism is crazy”, there is no magic phrase to make them change their mind. You have to find out why they think that. It is probably because:

  • They know nothing about the philosophy firsthand, but heard a misrepresentation of it from someone else. In that case, find out what their misconception is, and correct it.
  • They know little to nothing about the actual ideas of Objectivism, but they have known one or more self-professed Objectivists who were, in fact, a little crazy. In that case, educate them on what the philosophy actually says, and why their acquaintance’s craziness was in spite of Objectivism, not because of it.
  • They know some of the content of Objectivism, such as its advocacy of selfishness or laissez-faire capitalism, and they consider those ideas crazy. In that case, find out what they think those ideas really mean. They probably confuse selfishness with being an amoral brute, or capitalism with anarchy. Again, educate them on the actual meaning of Objectivist concepts and how they work in practice.

 

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One Comment
  1. I would say that, on its face, someone saying “Objectivism is crazy” is making a completely arbitrary statement, so the likelyhood they will listen to a well-reasoned argument is low. If they make such a statement, they demonstrate that they accept whim as fact, so the best advice is to walk away.

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