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Did Ayn Rand really create Objectivism?

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We all know that Ayn Rand is credited (and most of us agree) for the creation of the philosophy "Objectivism"; but did she really create it? She may be the first person to have thought of it in such terms, and consequently the first to put it into words, but if the philosophy is one based on the facts of man's existence in reality, then didn't reality itself dictate what we call "Objectivism"? Is Ayn Rand the source, or is reality?

Edited by GreedyCapitalist

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I don't understand the question. Objectivism is a system of ideas, so it doesn't grow on trees or get mined from holes in the ground, nor does it fall from the sky when it rains. Since you seem to grant that Rand was the first to have brought into existence this particular integrated system of thoughts, and since that's what it means to "create", haven't you answered your own question?

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We all know that Ayn Rand is credited (and most of us agree) for the creation of the philosophy "Objectivism"; but did she really create it?  She may be the first person to have thought of it in such terms, and consequently the first to put it into words, but if the philosophy is one based on the facts of man's existence in reality, then didn't reality itself dictate what we call "Objectivism"?  Is Ayn Rand the source, or is reality?

[bold added for emphasis.]

"Reality" isn't a person. Reality doesn't "dictate." There are no ideas out there waiting to be articulated. That would be Platonism.

I would also suggest you study closely pp. 241-245 of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. There she and her students discuss "facts." The discussion shows that "fact" is both a metaphysical and an epistemological term/idea.

Further, do you understand that to be "based on" something is not the same thing as to be something? The myriad existents in existence are not the philosophy of Objectivism. Ayn Rand looked at existence, thought about it, and logically drew conclusions (over a period of decades). The result, as it applies to everyone, everywhere, at all times, is her philosophy.

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I think you're asking: was Objectivism created or discovered?

I suppose it's best to broaden the question a bit and ask: in sciences (Physics, Chemistry, etc.), are the various "laws" discovered or created?

Let's take Newton's 1st Law. He did not discover it in the sense that an explorer discovers a new animal or continent. Yet, he did discover it in the sense of observing reality, observing a "pattern"/relationship among the elements of reality, and then formulating (or creating) a "law" to describe reality.

Is Newton the source of Newton's law, or is nature the source? I would say that the patterns and relationships exist in reality, and therefore (in that sense) reality is the source. However, someone has to discover the relationships, and create the correct concepts and laws to describe reality. In that sense, Newton is the creator of his laws.

In either case, Newton's laws are Newton's laws. If Mr. Smith discovers a something else about reality, that is not Newton's law, but Smith's law.

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I think you're asking: was Objectivism created or discovered?

Rand discovered certain facts and thereby created Objectivism.

Don Watkins

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Is Ayn Rand the source, or is reality?

I think it's worth mentioning, too, that Ayn Rand was real. Human consciousness exists, and ideas exist-- as separate, although derived, from the metaphysical facts of physical reality.

In that sense, it's a mistake to ask "Is Ayn Rand the source, or is reality?" Just as it would be to say "Is Plato the source of Platonism, or is reality?" The relevant question is: "Did Ayn Rand's ideas (or Plato's) correspond to reality." Or: "Was she right?"

We would say Ayn Rand's ideas corresponded to reality (and Plato's did not-- at least, not all of them.) But inasmuch as they were her ideas, they were derived from her (ie, they were not automatic, conditioned, behavioral responses to her environment, but were the product of mental effort and creativity on her part.)

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This is probably a bit off topic from what was originally asked, but one of the problems I've run into when defending Rand and Objectivism is the charge that most of the ideas of Objectivism were not originally Rand's. Typically, I'll get into a debate with some left-wing student on campus, or in a left-wing forum and they claim that Nietzsche or some other random philosopher came up with all the Objectivist ideas before Rand did.

I'm not familiar with most of the philosophers that these people cite, so I've never been able to successfully debate this point. So are these people correct? Did Rand just take pre-existing ideas and package them into Objectivism? If not, then which aspects of Objectivism specifically originated from Rand?

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It's not necessary to know which ideas originated with Miss Rand to be able to say that she was a great philosopher. Did Thomas Edison invent the wheel? The airplane? But he was a great inventer nonetheless, no?

Ayn Rand's greatest original discovery in philosophy (in my mind) is her theory of concept-formation, which is spelled out in the Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Namely, that concepts are connected to reality via a process of integration and differentiation whereby you recognize the similarities between objects while omitting their particular measurements.

I think a lot of the Metaphysics (like on the order of 90%) comes from Aristotle, and a fair bit of the Ethics does as well. Ayn Rand certainly didn't invent the idea of laissez-faire Capitalism, but she was the first to provide a fully consistent rational defense of it. The Politics is largely consistent with the ideals on which America was originally founded. The Esthetics has some similarities with Aristotle's ideas of art, but I think Ayn Rand was the first to fully identify the ideas of Romantic Realism.

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The onus of proof lies on those who claim other people as the source for Objectivist ideas. Needless to say, those left-wing people who attribute her ideas to forerunners are completely ignorant of the philosophy they talk about. Ayn Rand has explicitly given credit to Aristotle for many of the fundamentals in Objectivism (discovering others herself), and John Locke for his political contributions, but much of Objectivism is new integration and new discoveries.

Lastly, I will suggest that I would not recommend you to go around arguning for Objectivism if you don't understand it enough to be able to tell which ideas in it are original, and which are not. So, I'd recommend you devote more time to reading and studying of those ideas for now, and less time to arguing about it with others.

Edited by Free Capitalist

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...[ left-wingers] ... claim that Nietzsche or some other random philosopher came up with all the Objectivist ideas before Rand did.
What do they conclude from this supposition?

I have heard people sneer at Objectivists for following "someone else's philosophy"? I've heard people say that we must surely bring our own individuality "to the table" and express a philosophy that is in some way our own. Is not that the only true "individualism"? How can we claim to be individualists when we follow the philosophy of someone else? The underlying premise in this view is that philosophy is not a body of knowledge about the real world. At best, it confuses the optional with the non-optional; at worst it flows from a subjective view of reality.

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The onus of proof lies on those who claim other people as the source for Objectivist ideas. [...]

So, I'd recommend you devote more time to reading and studying of those ideas for now, and less time to arguing about it with others.

I agree fully with both points Free Capitalist has made. However, for scap35, I would like to offer a distinction.

Anyone can study a particular philosophy, such as Objectivism, and master it completely -- without having any understanding of the historical precedents. The former is philosophical study; the latter is historical study. They are two different sciences. (The history of philosophy is still history, not itself philosophizing.)

A philosophy -- whether it is Plato's, Kant's, or Ayn Rand's -- is a whole. It is a view of the world, a view formulated by a particular philosopher looking at his world and thinking about it. Whether he personally acquires some of the elements of his integrated system from earlier philosophers is irrelevant philosophically. What matters is the completeness of the philosophy and its objectivity (which means both internal consistency and its logical connection to facts).

I would also like to emphasize, in different words, a point Free Capitalist has made. Only debate a subject when you have mastered it. Until you have mastered a subject, discussion is more appropriate (other factors being equal). Discussion is the interaction between individuals who offer suggestions and raise questions in order to solve some problem they hold in common and sincerely want to solve. And if you don't know a subject well enough even to discuss it productively, you can always use dialectics -- skills in asking questions in order to understand someone else's position -- to discover what other philosophizers hold true and why.

So, you have three choices: dialectics, discussion, and debate. Beginners should start with the first in that line and proceed to the end of that line.

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