Ayn Rand was once asked if she could present the basics of her philosophy, in short form, while standing on one foot. Here’s what she said:
1. METAPHYSICS: Objective Reality
or “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” or “Wishing won’t make it so.”
Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
2. EPISTEMOLOGY: Reason
or “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.”
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.
3. ETHICS: Self-interest
or “Man is an end in himself.”
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.
4. POLITICS: Capitalism
or “Give me liberty or give me death.”
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.
FINAL THOUGHTSIf 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.
Copyright © 1962 by Times-Mirror Company
This article has been edited by The Atlas Society. It was originally published on June 17, 1962 in the Los Angeles Times as "Ayn Rand Ties Her Beliefs to Today's World"