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Core Objectivist Values

Having read a few of Ayn Rand’s books, here’s my list of what I think are objectivism’s core values and what they mean, in no particular order.

I’m not an expert on objectivism. Putting together this list is primarily an effort to understand objectivism better, which is why, in addition to quotes, I’m giving my own thoughts and elaborations.

But I can say that I’m not aware of any other philosophy offering this many values, not just to live by and become a better person, but also to survive.

Note that some of these values are also virtues.1

Freedom

The opposite of serfdom; the absence of physical coercion. Man has free will and should reject unchosen burdens.

Accountability

Be accountable for your ideas as well as their consequences, and hold others accountable for theirs. Don’t evade responsibility – among other things, it dilutes the value of your ideas.

Responsibility literally means people can expect a response from you, in words or in action. If you’re responsible for something, they can prompt you about it. For example, if you sell a broken product, the response that is expected of you is to make it right (instead of, say, coming up with excuses).

In particular, you have a responsibility to think for yourself. You also have a responsibility to pronounce judgement, especially when silence could reasonably be inferred to imply the sanction of evil.

Doesn’t a responsibility to think for yourself or pronounce judgment potentially present an unchosen burden? There are people who’d rather not think for themselves or pronounce judgment. If so, isn’t that in conflict with the value of freedom, which includes the rejection of unchosen burdens?

Integrity

The opposite of hypocrisy. You have integrity when your actions are in line with your values.

Integrity is loyalty to one’s convictions and values; it is the policy of acting in accordance with one’s values, of expressing, upholding and translating them into practical reality. If a man professes to love a woman, yet his actions are indifferent, inimical or damaging to her, it is his lack of integrity that makes him immoral.

Integrity also means internal consistency among one’s ideas as well as an unwillingness to compromise on one’s moral code; see ‘Individuality’.

Honesty

Don’t lie; make a genuine effort to tell the truth. Contrary to what most believe, lying is not just intentionally misleading someone. According to objectivist philosopher Elliot Temple, a lie is “a communication (or a belief, for lying to yourself) which you should know is false” (emphasis modified).

In other words, honesty is a matter of being conscientious in accurately representing reality.

Conscientiousness

The opposite of negligence. Make genuine efforts; don’t cut corners.

Achievement

The opposite of mediocrity. Man can go “as high as his ability will carry him” (The Virtue of Selfishness, ch. 12).

Individuality

The opposite of second-handedness. Be yourself; don’t worry about what others think; don’t live your life through others; don’t blindly borrow your values from others; don’t compromise on your values; don’t surrender your consciousness to others; don’t derive your self-respect from others.

Justice

Justice is when you get what you deserve, good or bad.

It stands in opposition to charity, which is when you get something you haven’t earned. It also stands in opposition to mercy, which is an “unearned forgiveness”.

Justice requires conscientiousness and may seem ‘cold’ to those who expect charity.

Trade

An instantiation of justice in men’s interactions. “A trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved.” Stands in opposition to looting and parasitism as well as compromise.

The above quote is from Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged, but I noticed that it is also reproduced verbatim in The Virtue of Selfishness, ch. 1. If you do a word search for the quote on the linked page, you will see both instances. Isn’t that self-plagiarism?

Judgment

To judge means: to evaluate a given concrete by reference to an abstract principle or standard.

You have a responsibility to judge (see ‘Accountability’). You should follow proper, objective standards for evaluating ideas and judging accordingly.

Realism

Reality is real. As in: don’t fake reality, don’t evade it. You will only hurt yourself in the process.

Realism stands in opposition to relativism. In Atlas Shrugged, character John Galt says “[r]eality is an absolute, existence is an absolute […].”

Faking reality is a type of dishonesty.

Reason

Rand’s definition of reason says:

Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.

Following Karl Popper, I have to reject this definition. (Or we can call what she talks about reason while calling what Popper means something else – that’s not important.) The above definition is empiricist, and empiricism (the idea that knowledge comes to us through the senses) has many problems. This is a big topic, which is largely beyond scope here, so I’ll focus on the fact that empiricism is false, as Popper explains. So instead, I offer this Popperian definition: reason is the faculty that conjectures and criticizes solutions to problems. It is also known as creativity.

If reason were merely the identification and integration of sense material (ie empirical data), which is a passive/mindless process, men would be neither creative nor conscious – so Rand’s definition is actually a denial of reason, a denial of man’s mind. As evidence, consider the vast amount of ‘artificial intelligence’ programs that routinely identify and integrate empirical data, yet have no consciousness or reason whatsoever. This is something Rand should have known, given that neural networks, which are routinely used to identify and integrate data, gained popularity before her death (the current wave of AI isn’t the first). Also, Popper’s work was both available and not unknown in the field of epistemology, yet as far as I know, Rand never references it.

I do agree with Rand, however, that reason is man’s primary tool for survival; that he must therefore use it if he wants to live; that reason stands in opposition to mysticism, which is “the claim to some […] non-rational, non-definable, supernatural means of knowledge” (The Voice of Reason, ch. 10); that man should reject mysticism, if for no other reason that he wants to live.

Note that my quote omits “non-sensory” since that would be empiricist. Oddly enough, since Popper denied any sensory means of knowledge, he would have sounded like a mystic to Rand!

On the topic of Popper, I wonder if his guiding principle – ‘I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth’ – is a particular instance of conscientiousness.

Objectivity

The opposite of subjectivity. Judgment is objective when it is based “exclusively on the factual evidence and […] consider[s] all the relevant evidence available.”

Is this focus on evidence a result of Rand’s empiricist notion of reason? If so, is there a better definition of objectivity?

Life

Life stands in opposition to parasitism and altruism. Your life is yours to live, no one else’s. Don’t submit to those who want to enslave you; you don’t need to ‘buy’ your right to exist by giving resources, attention, or whatever else to others.

Life is the ultimate value:

It is only the concept of “Life” that makes the concept of “Value” possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.

Property

The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.

Like trade, property is an instantiation of justice since the right to property is “a guarantee that he will own [property] if he earns it” (ibid., emphasis added).


Many, maybe all, of these values are related. For example, people have a responsibility to be honest – conversely, rejecting accountability often causes dishonesty; so does not being conscientious. Lack of conscientiousness can also cause coercion, which results in a lack of freedom. And so on.

Also, some of these values are more fundamental than others. For example, conscientiousness underlies both honesty and justice, so you should expect a negligent person to be both dishonest and unjust. Conscientiousness also helps you be a better intellectual overall, eg when it comes to accurate quoting.

Did I forget any values? Let me know in the comments below.


  1. For example, integrity is a virtue, as is honesty. All virtues are also values, but not all values are virtues. For instance, trade is a value but not a virtue. Rand says a “‘[v]alue’ is that which one acts to gain and keep, [whereas] ‘virtue’ is the action by which one gains and keeps it.” But I think a virtue is not just an action – one of Rand’s books, as mentioned above, is titled The Virtue of Selfishness, and selfishness isn’t an action but a trait. So I think a virtue is the action or trait by which one gains and keeps a value. 


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What do you think about this critique of Objectivism?: https://zerocontradictions.net/misc/critiquing-ayn-rands-objectivism

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