She is quoted in the “About the Author” appendix of “Atlas Shrugged” as describing her philosophy.
My philosophy, in essence, is 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.
Naturally things are a lot more complicated than this. In her essay “Introducing Objectivism,” here quoted from the Any Rand Lexicon, she gives a fuller, yet still brief description.
At a sales conference at Random House, preceding the publication of Atlas Shrugged, one of the book salesmen asked me whether I could present the essence of my philosophy while standing on one foot. I did as follows:
- Metaphysics: Objective Reality
- Epistemology: Reason
- Ethics: Self-interest
- Politics: Capitalism
If you want this translated into simple language, it would read: 1. “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” or “Wishing won’t make it so.” 2. “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.” 3. “Man is an end in himself.” 4. “Give me liberty or give me death.”
If you held these concepts with total consistency, as the base of your convictions, you would have a full philosophical system to guide the course of your life. But to hold them with total consistency—to understand, to define, to prove and to apply them—requires volumes of thought. Which is why philosophy cannot be discussed while standing on one foot—nor while standing on two feet on both sides of every fence. This last is the predominant philosophical position today, particularly in the field of politics.
My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:
Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.
Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.
The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.
Again, this is still an extremely brief and simplified description of what can be an extremely complicated subject. I urge everyone who is the least bit intrigued to check the Resources page for some suggestions on where to learn more.
Here is the same information, expanded a bit, in video format from the Ayn Rand Institute.