The Case Against Randian Objectivism
This is a very brief debunking of Randian objectivism, as defined by Wikipedia. I fully recognize that this brief Wikipedia excerpt is not the totality of Randian objectivism. However, it is a decent summary.
Rand described Objectivism as “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”. Objectivism’s main tenets are: that reality exists independently of consciousness; direct realism, that human beings have direct and inerrant cognitive contact with reality through sense perception; that one can attain objective conceptual knowledge based on perception by using the process of concept formation and inductive logic; rational egoism, that the moral purpose of one’s life is the achievement of one’s own happiness through productive work; that the only social system consistent with this morality is one that displays full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism; and that art is “a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.”
Is man a “heroic being”?
No, man is a reproducing machine. Also, it seems rather odd to call the pursuit of one’s own happiness “heroic”, but the word is just rhetoric.
Is happiness the “moral purpose of life”?
No, there’s no “moral” purpose of life, because morality is a delusion. There is no reason to assume that happiness is the purpose of life. Also, there is no reason to assume that happiness is attainable.
Is productive achievement the “noblest activity”?
What does “noble” mean? The term is used simply to attach positive moral significance, without definition or examination. In other words, it’s rhetoric, not philosophy. Typically, “noble” is used to denote some behavior or attribute that is valued by society. In that sense, socially productive labor is noble. But the usage varies. Also, what is “productive achievement”? This can only be defined relative to some value.
See What is Value?.
Does reality exist independent of consciousness?
Do we have direct and inerrant cognitive contact with reality through sense perception?
No, of course not. Perception involves constructing a model within the brain, and the model is not in direct contact with reality. It is indirectly connected to reality through the senses, which only contain information about the effects of external reality on the sensors.
Can we obtain “objective conceptual knowledge” based on perception by using the process of concept formation and inductive logic?
No, there’s no such thing as “objective knowledge”. Induction is a process which generates knowledge from experience, so the knowledge depends on experience and on the process of induction. It is experience-dependent and brain-dependent, and thus it is subjective.
Is “rational egoism” that “the moral purpose of one’s life is the achievement of one’s own happiness through productive work”?
No, egoism is just the philosophical belief in selfishness as a normative principle: essentially, that one ought to be selfish. Selfishness is just acting for one’s own benefit, as one defines “benefit”. There is no reason to attach hedonism (the belief that life’s purpose is happiness) to the concept of egoism. Also, there is no such thing as a “moral purpose”. Rational egoism is just selfishness based on careful thought and judgment. It could involve socially productive or destructive behaviors, depending on the circumstances.
Does laissez-faire capitalism display “full respect for individual rights”?
What are “individual rights”? There are no rights in nature. You can’t derive individual rights (or obligations) from egoism itself. Rights and obligations are defined and imposed by society. They don’t exist independent of society. They are intersubjective, and thus collective. People create rights and obligations to solve problems of cooperation, and we also create institutions (such as the justice system) to impose those rights and obligations on individuals. Individual rights are a collective enterprise.
Capitalism works because people are selfish. It is not considered moral by most people, but it is effective. It is the best way to organize economic activity on a large scale, precisely because it relies on incentives, not moral norms or imperatives. Capitalism is not a complete solution to social organization, and it depends on the state.