Philosopher of the Week. February 3, 2003.

Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

Russia/United States

Writer and philosopher, Ayn Rand was born Alissa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1905. At the age of nine, she decided to become a fiction writer. During high school, she was an eyewitness to both the Kerensky Revolution and the Bolshevik (Communist) Revolution. When the communists took over Russia, her father's pharmacy was confiscated and her family was reduced to severe poverty.

Rand graduated from the University of Petrograd in 1924, where she studied philosophy and history. Because of her love of movies, she studied screen writing at the State Institute for Cinema Arts following graduation. Near the end of 1925, Rand received permission to visit her relatives in the United States. Once in the U.S., she was determined to stay, eventually making her way to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting.

In Hollywood, Rand met Cecil B. DeMille, who gave her a job at his studio. She worked for several years doing odd jobs at the studio before she sold her first screenplay, "Red Pawn," in 1932. Her first novel, We the Living, was published in 1936. While writing her novels, she realized that to create heroic fictional characters, she had to learn what made these characters possible. She developed "a philosophy for living on earth," which became the basis for her philosophy called Objectivism. "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 absolute."

Objectivism states that a person's purpose should be achieving happiness, but finding happiness means that one live by objective, rational principals, including moral integrity, "My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists Đ and in a single choice: to live," and respect for the rights of others, "The recognition of individual rights entails the banishment of physical force from human relationships: basically, rights can be violated only by means of force." The heroic person will build, invent, and create, depending on their own talents and trading with other independent people. They will not initiate force to achieve their goals. Objectivism believes that all people have the ability within themselves to live rich, fulfilling, and independent lives and that there is no limit to human achievement and happiness.

Classroom Discussion Questions:

How would Ayn Rand, have answered the question, what is the meaning of life?

Who in history might Ayn Rand have considered to be a heroic character? Are there any heroic characters alive today? Who?

Would Ayn Rand and the objectivists have said that human nature was good or evil? Why?

Friedrich Nietzsche believed that there are supermen, or higher beings, who are the key to the future. How are RandŐs heroes similar to Nietzsche's supermen? How are they different?

Would Rand have agreed with the philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr.? Why or why not?


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