Ayn Rand called her philosophy Objectivism because of the central importance she placed on the concept of objectivity. To be objective, she held, means to consciously commit oneself to seeking the facts as one’s only standard of truth. Being objective does not mean being omniscient—it does not mean one is always correct in one’s understanding. Rather, the concept names the state of mind of someone who is honestly striving to logically comprehend the world around him.
Rand argued that the commitment to objectivity is the basis of morality. One can only decide what is right by reference to what is true, so the identification of truth is at the heart of the moral process. Living morally is not achieved by blindly following rules dictated by a mystical God or society, or by naively following whatever one “feels” to be right. It means consistently making the choice to think, to strive to reach true conclusions, and to guide one’s life by those conclusions one judges to be true. The moral man does not do whatever others say is proper; he struggles to clearly identify for himself what is proper. He does not act on short-term impulses; he works to project foreseeable consequences and to determine what is actually the best course of action. He does not make important choices haphazardly; he strives to discriminate good from bad, true from false, and right from wrong in each issue confronting him. The moral man, in other words, endeavors for objectivity in thought and action.
Rand’s conception of morality does not speak well of the moral status of the cultural trends and political debates going on around us today. Wishful thinking and blind acceptance, not objectivity, are what seem to characterize the approach we see our peers and our leaders adopting. In politics, for instance, we see Republicans and Democrats continuing to bicker over the cost of a dramatic growth of government, while ignoring the fundamental issue such growth raises (read Noah Stahl’s article, Putting a Price on Freedom). The debate over expanding healthcare coverage (read Yaron Brook’s Why Are We Moving Toward Socialized Medicine?) is just one example among many. In academia, we see that business schools are more interested in demonizing Wall Street than identifying the true cause of recent corporate corruption and economic failures (read Ryan Pucyzki’s Sacrifice before Solvency). Even amongst undergraduates, we see students engaging in rampant file sharing while ignoring the implications of their own actions (read Rituparna Basu’s It’s Not Stealing Because I Don’t Want It to Be). Each of these articles investigates an issue in which the problem is deeper than whether the people involved are right or wrong about their views. In different ways, each highlights the fact that we live in a world where too many people accept moral positions without honestly putting forth the work that truth seeking requires.
The issues of the day are complex, multi-faceted, and not easy to parse apart, yet the cultural voices around us seem to be insisting that the answers are obvious and that we should hurry up and offer our support to their position. Should we? Or should we think about it, read about it, debate it, discuss it, argue some more, and actually identify what we judge to be the truth of the matter?
As students, we can gain a lot from Ayn Rand’s discovery that moral action has an objective foundation. It means that we do have a valid means to observe, to think, and to learn and measure our own actions and those of others against a firm, knowable, fact-based standard. And it means that others should ask us for our considered judgment, not our unthinking allegiance to their own views.
We here at The Undercurrent are adamantly not seeking to cajole you into blind acceptance of a given conclusion. That said, we are of course seeking to rationally convince. Consider our arguments in your search for the truth, and let us know what you think!
“The most selfish of all things is the independent mind that recognizes no authority higher than its own and no value higher than its judgment of truth.” –Ayn Rand