Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand, née Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum

*February 2, 1905 (St. Petersburg, Russia)
†March 6, 1982(New York, U.S.)

Ayn Rand was a major intellectual of the twentieth century. Born in Russia in 1905, she emigrated to the United States after graduating from university. Upon establishing herself as a writer of fiction, she became well-known as an advocate of Objectivist philosophy.

Rand’s philosophy is Aristotelian, with its emphasis upon naturalism, empirical reason, and self-realization. Her politics are classically liberal, with connections John Locke’s emphasis upon individualism, the constitutional protection of individual rights to life, liberty, and property, and limited government. She wrote popular and technical philosophy and presented it in fictional and non-fictional forms.

Rand’s first novel was We the Living (1936), followed by The Fountainhead (1943), and her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged (1957). These philosophical novels embody themes she subsequently developed in the 1960s and 1970s in non-fiction essays and books ranging over concept-formation in epistemology, meta-ethics and virtue theory, political and economic rights, and aesthetics.

Her views were controversial in her lifetime and continue to be so. “Right conservatives” (defined broadly) criticize her (a) metaphysical naturalism for undermining religion, (b) emphasis upon empirical rationality for undermining faith and tradition, and (c) egoism for undermining duty and selflessness.

“Left progressives” (again taken broadly) criticize her (a) individualism on the ground that it isolates human from their social needs, (b) free-market capitalism on the ground that that it leads to exploitation of the weak by the strong, and by postmodernists favorable to the left (c) her naturalism and advocacy of reason that they judge to be untenable.

Rand and those influenced by her naturally engage and the debates continue. In the 1990s a survey conducted by the Library of Congress asked readers to identify the book that had most influenced them: Atlas Shrugged was second to the Bible.

She died in her New York City apartment in 1982.

Hicks, Stephen (Rockford University)

  • Primary Sources
    • Rand, Ayn 1957. Atlas Shrugged. Random House. Rand’s magnum opus of fiction.
    • Rand, Ayn 1967. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. New American Library. A collection of twenty of Rand’s essays on politics, history, and economics. Also includes two essays by psychologist Nathaniel Branden, three by economist Alan Greenspan, and one by historian Robert Hessen.
    • Rand, Ayn 1943. The Fountainhead. Bobbs-Merrill. The novel of individualism, independence, and integrity that made Rand famous.
    • Rand, Ayn 1979. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. New American Library. Rand’s theory of concept-formation. Includes an essay by philosopher Leonard Peikoff on the analytic/synthetic distinction.
    • Rand, Ayn 1982. Philosophy: Who Needs It. Bobbs-Merrill. A collection of Rand’s essays on the nature and significance of philosophy, including her critiques of other thinkers such as Kant, Aristotle, Rawls, and Skinner.
    • Rand, Ayn 1969. The Romantic Manifesto. World Publishing. A collection of Rand’s essays on philosophy of art and aesthetics.
    • Rand, Ayn 1964. The Virtue of Selfishness. New American Library. A collection of fourteen of Rand’s essays on ethics. Also includes five essays by psychologist Nathaniel Branden.
    • Rand, Ayn 1936. We the Living. Macmillan. Rand’s first novel, set in the Soviet Union in the years following the Russian Revolution.
  • Secondary Sources
    • Badhwar, Neera & Long, Roderick T. 2016. “Ayn Rand.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Two philosophers present an overview of Rand’s life and work in the major areas of philosophy with special attention to several major disagreements by philosophers working within Objectivism.
    • Branden, Nathaniel 2009. The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism. Cobden Press. A comprehensive overview of Rand’s philosophy based on the lecture series presented under Rand’s auspices in the 1960s.
    • Burns, Jennifer 2011. Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. Oxford University Press. Written by a historian, a scholarly discussion of Rand’s ambiguous relationship with free market, libertarian, and conservative movements.
    • Gotthelf, Allan & Lennox, James. 2011. Metaethics, Egoism and Virtue: Studies in Ayn Rand’s Normative Theory. University of Pittsburgh Press. An anthology of philosophers debating the foundations of Rand’s moral philosophy.
    • Gotthelf, Allan & Lennox, James. 2013. Concepts and Their Role in Knowledge: Reflections on Objectivist Epistemology. University of Pittsburgh Press. An anthology of philosophers debating the foundations Rand’s theory of concepts.
    • Gotthelf, Allan & Salmieri, Gregory (eds.) 2016. A Companion to Ayn Rand. Wiley-Blackwell. The editors have compiled a series of scholarly entries on all of the major elements of Rand’s philosophy.
    • Hicks, Stephen 2009. “Egoism in Nietzsche and Ayn Rand.” Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 10:2, 249-291. A philosopher compares and contrasts the positions that underlay Nietzsche’s and Rand’s theses on egoism and altruism.
    • Kelley, David 1986. The Evidence of the Senses. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986. Written by a philosopher working within the Objectivist tradition, this scholarly work in epistemology focuses on the foundational role the senses play in human knowledge.
    • Peikoff, Leonard 1991. Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. New York: Dutton. A comprehensive overview of Objectivist philosophy, written by a philosopher close to Rand during her lifetime.
    • Rasmussen, Douglas & Douglas Den Uyl (eds.) 1984. The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. A collection of scholarly essays by philosophers, defending and criticizing various aspects of Objectivism’s metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics.
    • Sciabarra, Chris Matthew 1995. Ayn Rand, The Russian Radical. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. A work in history of philosophy, this book attempts to trace the influence upon Rand’s thinking of dialectical approaches to philosophy prevalent in 19th century Europe and Russia. Also an introduction and overview of the major branches of Objectivist philosophy.
    • Smith, Tara 2006. Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist. Cambridge University Press. A scholarly work by a philosopher on Rand’s meta-ethics and its application in normative ethics.
    • Wilkinson, Will (ed.) 2010. “What’s Living and Dead in Ayn Rand’s Moral and Political Thought?” Cato Unbound. Philosophy professors Douglas B. Rasmussen, Michael Huemer, Neera K. Badhwar & Roderick T. Long discuss and debate the current state of Rand scholarship.
    • Younkins, Edward 2018. Perspectives on Ayn Rand’s Contributions to Economic and Business Thought. Rowman and Littlefield. Thirteen economists, philosophers, and business scholars discuss aspects of Rand’s business and economic philosopher
    • Zwolinski, Matthew 2017. “Is Ayn Rand Right about Rights?” Learn Liberty. A philosophy professor argues that Rand’s theory of individual rights is subject to three major criticisms.
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