Thirty years after her death, Ayn Rand, the Russian-American novelist and philosopher, is still making headlines. Among statements of admiration and dismissal by several public figures such as Paul Ryan and Barack Obama, Rand’s work and philosophy of objectivism have gained public attention in the past few years. This new consideration of her philosophy has piqued the interest of many on the UT campus.
The UT Objectivism Society is a philosophy club at UT devoted to discussing and studying objectivism as well as educating the community about Rand and her works. Many students in the society stumbled upon their own philosophical view by chance.
“One semester into college, I was on winter break, so I picked up a book that had been sitting on my mom’s shelf for a long time, ‘Atlas Shrugged,’” Grant Baker, president of the UT Objectivism Society, said. “I had no idea what it was about, but I started reading it and it was so contrary to everything I believed up unto that point. The case was so good and totally overwhelmed me, and over time, even though I had these strong emotional connections with things that were contradictory to objectivism, I came to see that objectivism was beautiful.”
Objectivism follows four main branches: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics, according to the Ayn Rand Institute. Metaphysically, objectivism states that reality is objective despite one’s feelings or wishes. Epistemologically, objectivism states that reason is the only way to gain knowledge in the world and the only guide to acting in the world. Ethically, objectivism states that one should pursue self-interest and personal happiness rather than altruism. And politically, objectivism states that an ideal government is based on laissez-faire capitalism.
This philosophy has received much criticism for centering itself on self-interest and a pursuit of personal happiness rather than holding altruism as a virtue, Baker said. He said the media’s portrayal of objectivism often focuses on the selfishness it preaches and objectivists’ love of capitalism. However, members of the UT society see it a different way.
“Selfishness is a very polluted word,” Baker said. “With selfishness you bundle in Bernie Madoff with Bill Gates. Bill Gates benefits everyone while Bernie Madoff is a self-destructive man. The fallacy is putting these two very different groups of people in the same category. Objectivism believes you should be a creator, you should engage in positive relationships with other people. The criticism stems from a misunderstanding in how we mean selfish.”
Jonathan Divin, the society’s treasurer, also said that the philosophy has been misunderstood.
“Objectivism is very radical,” Divin said. “People turn away from that because there’s this idea that selfishness means sacrificing someone else’s happiness to further your life. We see selfishness as just living for yourself, and it’s a bad thing to hurt others because they have just the same right to live for themselves as you do.”
Divin said that while the philosophy is not well known throughout the country, students of the society believe their ideas are slowly but surely gaining influence and could change the face of American society very soon.
“I think it’s ambitious, because it’s not well known and it’s radical, so people tend to turn away from it,” Divin said. “But the fact that the president has to have an opinion on Ayn Rand just says something about the way the society is going and the face of our movement, so I think that’s a big deal. It’s reasonable that we could have an impact on society.”