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This commentary is part of The Atlas Society's 2000 online "CyberSeminar" entitled " Nietzsche and Objectivism ."  

Essays and Comments on Nietzsche and Ayn Rand:

1. Eyal Mozes, "The Relationship Between the Philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand"

2. David Potts, "Some Points of Agreement Between Ayn Rand and Nietzsche"

3. Michal Fram Cohen, "Nietzsche's Influence on Jewish Writers"

Introduction to the Discussion, by Stephen Hicks

In this final unit of the CyberSeminar, we turn our attention officially to the relationship between the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand . I sense that this is the moment most of us have been waiting for, so let the fray commence.  

I would like to frame our discussion by isolating three questions:  

1. The question of the extent of agreement: On how many issues do Nietzsche and Rand agree?  

And then: Of the issues upon which they agree, which are of fundamental significance and which of secondary or less significance?

2. The question of influence: In the areas of agreement, to what extent did Nietzsche influence Rand? Can we determine whether Rand was influenced on that issue by Nietzsche, or by some other thinker(s), or whether she arrived at that position independently?  

3. The question of the early versus the mature Rand: Are there issues about which the early Rand agreed with Nietzsche but which the mature Rand did not? And then: Can we isolate when and why those changes occurred?

My contribution to the discussion will be focused upon the first question. To begin, I’ve constructed a table that compares Nietzsche’s and Rand’s views on 68 philosophical issues. The table covers the major issues in metaphysics, epistemology, human nature, ethics, and politics. The table also includes six other, philosophically related issues of comparison.  

After the table, I’ve added some comments on the significance of the tabulated results.  

I have given references for Nietzsche’s works; but I’ve assumed that we are all familiar enough with Rand’s works to know where to look for her view on any given issue. In the references to Nietzsche’s works, I’ve used the following abbreviations: 
     A Antichrist 
     BGE Beyond Good and Evil 
     D Dawn 
     EH Ecce Homo 
     GM Genealogy of Morals 
     GS Gay Science 
     HA Human All-too-Human 
     TI Twilight of the Idols 
     WP Will to Power 
     Z Thus Spake Zarathustra  

Comparing Nietzsche's and Rand's Philosophies

Issue

Nietzsche's position

Rand's position

Metaphysical

   

Entity or process

Process (GM I:13; WP 552, 1067; BGE 54)

Entities as objective; be wary of armchair physics

Monism, dualism, or pluralism

Monism (WP 1067)

Naturalism: no armchair physics

Identity

No (WP 507-517)

Yes

Identity and change compatible

No (WP 520)

Yes

Causality

No (WP 497, 545-552)

Yes

Teleology

No (WP 552, 1067, Postcard to Overbeck)

Yes for organisms

Direction to evolution

Yes (GM II.24)

No armchair physics or biology

Existence of God

No (GS 125)

No

Consciousness as identification

No (WP 507, 511, 513; GM II.16)

Yes

Consciousness as functional/useful

Yes (WP 505)

Yes

Consciousness as causal

No (WP 477-478, 524)

Yes

Epistemological

   

Consciousness as identification

No (BGE 211; WP 473, 479, 481, 516, 521)

Yes

Sensations as awareness of reality

No (WP 479)

Yes

Sensations as value laden

Yes (WP 505)

No

Concepts as awareness of reality

No (WP 507, 513)

Yes

Logic as reality-based

No (WP 477, 512)

Yes

Sensations, concepts, and theories as impositions upon reality

Always (WP 515-516)

Sensations never; false conceptions only

Truth

As functional only (WP 487), as a useful error (WP 493)

Both as identification and as functional

Reason as efficacious

Weakly at best

Yes

Reason as primary cognitive tool

No (GS 354)

Yes

Instinct as cognitively efficacious

Yes (GM II.16)

No

Philosophy as systematic

Yes (GM, Preface, 2)

Yes

Intrinsicism

False (GM III.12; BGE 207)

False

Objectivism

False (GM III.12)

True

Subjectivism

True (BGE 211), but not in the dualistic sense (WP 481)

False

Perspectivalism/ Relativism

True (GM III.12; WP 540)

False

Human Nature

   

Reduction of morality to psychology

Yes (BGE 6; GM I.10?)

No

Reduction of psychology to biology

Yes (TI 33; WP 529)

No

Individual as real

No (TI 33)

Yes

Will as primary

Yes (WP 1067)

No

Free will

No (BGE 21; GM II.10: no "guilt," only sickness; Postcard to Overbeck)

Yes

Reason and passion/emotion priority

Passion/emotion has priority (BGE 36, 68, 158, 191)

Reason primary

Reason and Passion/emotion relationship

Conflict (EH: "The Birth of Tragedy" 1: "'Rationality' against instinct")

Should be harmony

Tabula rasa or nativism

Strong nativism (BGE 231, 264)

Cognitive and moral tabula rasa

Science as ennobling

No (GM III.25)

Yes

Ethics

   

Morality in the service of life

Yes (BGE; GM)

Yes

Psychological egoism

Yes (BGE)

No

Conflict of interest the fundamental social fact

Yes (BGE 259)

No

Values as intrinsic

No (GM I.10)

No

Values as objective

No

Yes

Values as subjective

Yes (BGE 260?)

No

Individuals as ends in themselves

No (WP 287), yes (BGE 287)

Yes

Individuals responsible for their characters

No (BGE 264)

Yes

Individuals responsible for their actions

No and yes

Yes

Sacrificing self to others

Yes, if a weakling (TI 33)

No

Sacrificing others to self

Yes, if strong (BGE 265; WP 369, 982)

No

Individual life as the standard

No (BGE 188)

Yes

The improvement of the species as the end

Yes (BGE 126; Z Prologue 4)

No

Sacrificing some for the sake of the species

Yes (BGE 62, 258; WP 246; GM II.12)

No

Power as the end

As means and end (WP 1067)

As means only

Survival as standard

No (BGE 13)

Yes

Happiness as the end

No

Yes

Egoism as good

Depends (TI 33). "[T]he subject--the striving individual bent on furthering his egoistic purposes--can be thought of only as the enemy of art, never its source" (BT)

Yes

Altruism as bad

Yes; depends (TI 33)

Yes

Altruism as the egoism of the weak

Yes (GM I.8, III.14)

No

Rationality as a virtue

No (EH: "Birth of Tragedy" 1)

Primary virtue

War as good

Yes (GS 283; HA 477)

No

Morality as relative to psychological type

Yes (BGE 221)

No

Social and Political

   

Individual rights

No. "For the preservation of society, for making possible higher and highest types--the inequality of rights is the condition"

Yes

On equality

False and destructive (WP 246)

Before the law

On democracy

Bad (BGE 202)

Secondary to rights

On socialism

Bad

Bad

On the welfare state

Bad

Bad

On aristocracy

Good (BGE 257, 258)

Bad

On slavery

Sometimes good (BGE 188)

Evil

On the role of government

Limited (D 179)

Limited

On capitalism

Dehumanizing for most (D 2 6)

Moral, productive

Civilization as ascending or declining

Dec|ining (BGE 202; GM I.11,12); but Zarathustra will come (GM II.24)

Currently declining; future could go either way

Sense of Life

   

Exalted sense of human potential

Yes (GM I.12)

Yes

Engaged in a cosmic battle

Yes

Yes

Struggle as good

Yes (BGE 262)

Yes?

On Others

   

On Christianity

"A rebellion of everything that crawls on the ground against that which has height" (A 43)

Ditto

On Plato

"A coward before reality" (TI 2)

Ditto

On Kant

"A catastrophic spider" (A 11)

Ditto

What does the table signify?

Let’s start with a crude measure: a count of the number of issues on which they agree and disagree.

Of the 68 issues, I count 51 disagreements and 17 agreements between Nietzsche and Rand. That’s a disagreement/agreement ratio of 3 to 1.  

Of the 17 agreements, 11 of them are negative agreements, i.e., agreements that something is false or wrong--e.g., that God does not exist, that values are not intrinsic, that Plato and Kant are not wonderful human beings.  

That leaves 6 areas of positive agreement, i.e., agreements that something is right or true. Those six include three philosophical theses: 

  • Philosophy is systematic.
  • Consciousness is functional/useful.
  • Morality is in the service of life.  

And the six include three sense of life issues: 

  •  Exalted sense of human potential.
  •  Engaged in a cosmic battle.
  • Struggle is good.

If we compare the agreements and disagreements by area of philosophy, then we get the following.  

In metaphysics, Nietzsche and Rand agree on nothing except that God is dead and that consciousness is functional. They disagree on the priority of process, about identity, causality, teleology, and on a series of issues involving the extent to which (putting it in Objectivist terms) philosophers can do armchair science.  

In epistemology, there is even less agreement between the two. Except for agreeing that philosophy is systematic and that intrinsicism is false, they disagree on everything from whether consciousness is identification, to the validity of sensation, concepts, logic, reason, and the universality of truth.  

In human nature, there are no areas of agreement. (Though if we added traditional mind/body dualism to the table, then the two would agree that it’s false.)  

In ethics, there is significant agreement on two major issues: that morality should be in the service of life, and that altruism is anti-life. There are also substantial disagreements: about whether conflicts of interest are fundamental, about whether life is the standard of value, about whether power or happiness is the end, about whether sacrifice is good, about whether rationality is the primary virtue or even a virtue at all.  

In politics, they agree that contemporary civilization has very significant problems, and that socialism and the welfare state are nauseating; but while Nietzsche has good things to say about aristocracy, slavery, and war and bad things to say about capitalism, Rand says the opposite. Finally, they share the same exalted, heroic struggle sense of life--although Nietzsche adds to that a strong dose of bloodthirstiness that we do not find in Rand, while Rand regularly adds a strong dose of anger that we do not find in Nietzsche.  

Conclusion: Summarizing the key differences and similarities. My judgment is that the differences between Nietzsche and Rand greatly outweigh the similarities. They are both atheists, they both are naturalistic in their approach to consciousness and values, and they are both hostile to altruism. Yet they share very little positive philosophy: they disagree on virtually every fundamental issue in metaphysics, epistemology, and human nature; and they disagree about the proper positive standard, means, and end of ethics.   My post does not address the questions of Nietzsche’s influence upon Rand or of the extent to which Rand later expunged earlier Nietzschean elements in her thinking. Please feel welcome to address those questions too.  

Response by Eyal Mozes

Response by Chris Sciabarra

> Return to the parent page for this 2000 online CyberSeminar, "Nietzsche and Objectivism."

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