It seems to me that the easiest way to demonstrate the puerility and asininity of Rand's so-called "philosophy" is to analyse her definitions. A philosopher who can't define his or her terms consistently and in a way that makes sense can't be much of a philosopher.  

It should be noted that Rand's definitions, like everything else in her philosophy, are highly deceptive. Everything is twisted into its opposite.

For example, the "right to life" means, simply, the right to abortion on demand, purely on the financial whim of the mother (the word "whim" is taboo, but since there are no objective standards, this is what it comes down to), while "the initiation of the use of force" means, simply, enforcing the law. The reasons for the existence of the law are ignored.

Nor is there any definition of the word "fraud". In practice, "fraud" only refers to whatever criminal schemes they haven't gotten around to legalising yet. Once they've legalised it, regardless of the degree of deception and irresponsibility involved, it's not "fraud" anymore ("collateralised obligations", "mortgage-backed securities", "derivatives", "haircuts", "pay-day loans", "currency swaps" leveraged at 33 to 1 but disguised as a "cheaper way to borrow money", and millions of other rip-off schemes).

For example: is it "fraud" for a CEO to pay himself a 200-million dollar "bonus" after he's bankrupted the company? Then, when the company gets taken over, is it "fraud" for that same CEO to work one single day for the new company, then collect 55 million dollars in "severance pay"?

25 years ago, it would have been considered that he was colluding with other Board members to defraud the company by diverting money into his own account, after which it could be divvied up. But now, no; it's just "in his contract", it's just a "Board decision", etc.  
Many of Rand's definitions only make sense in an extremely narrow financial context (which is never the context involved), proving that Jews are simply incapable of thinking outside of a financial money-box. Most of Rand's definitions are too narrow or too broad to be useful for anything, and simply confuse things -- even when they are not complete nonsense.

At times, she would say something quite insightful, and then, in the very next breath, something so stupid you wondered whether she knew anything.

Some of Rand's definitions come in extendible segments, like a stick of Lego blocks. At any step along the way,  any segment can be pulled out and reinserted, pointing in some entirely different direction: up, down, right, left or straight ahead. In other words, her logic is unpredictable and her conclusions are totally arbitrary.

Some examples:     
THE RIGHT TO LIFE (definition 1)

Ayn Rand's writings are full of talk about "life", "Man's life", Man's life on this earth", "individual rights", and the "right to life".  The "right to life" is said to include "all things necessary to life".

Now, to me, and -- I think, to any reasonable person -- if there is a "right to life", and if this "right to life" includes "all things necessary to life", then this implies the right of a child to get born and be nurtured by his parents. This pat formula also appears to imply the need for at least extremely mild welfare state socialism or organised private charity.

(CAVEAT: It should be noted that welfare state socialism, in my view, is not compatible with so-called "democracy" and voting, because otherwise the beneficiaries will simply vote themselves more goodies until they bankrupt the whole system. The Catholic Church, for example, with all its faults, was, for many centuries -- I say "was" -- the most successful charitable organisation which has ever existed, precisely because the beneficiaries of its charity -- widows,  orphans, hospital patients, the indigent -- were not allowed to vote in Church elections for Pope and cardinal and so on. Popes are elected by a college of cardinals, even today. For this same reason, welfare state socialism today can only be applied within the framework of what has come to be called "fascism". If people want welfare state socialism, they should stop talking about "democracy".)

Now let's see how Rand twists the argument.  


Yes, Virginia, there is a "right to life", and this "right to life" does include "all things all necessary to life", which includes financial status, explicitly exemplified as a new car or a new set of furniture; therefore, if a woman "values" a new car or set of furniture over the life of her unborn child, she should have an abortion!

"Rights", says Ayn Rand, grandly, "are possessed by persons -- not a "potential".  (Rand was incapable of writing the word "not" without italics).  

This is the entire Objectivist argument in favour of abortion -- in one single, ipse dixit pronouncement -- in effect, a fatwa, a ukase, a Diktat, a divine command --  pronounced in a grand total of  8 words: "Rights are possessed by persons -- not a potential".

Who does Rand think she is -- God? (Don't answer that: yes).

It's obvious how specious this is.

a) It's quite remarkable if you think about it -- but apart from God (for theists) there is absolutely nothing in this entire universe which is not "potentially" something else!

Stars are "potential" Black Dwarves; matter is "potential" energy; Rand herself and all her books were "potentially" nothing but a few dollars worth of organic fertiliser polluted by nicotine, benzedrine, printer's ink and other chemicals. Remember that Shakespeare quote about using the dust of a Caesar or Alexander to stop a bung hole or a chink in the wall? What planet did Rand think she lived on?

What a wonderful way to proclaim whole classes of persons right-less -- "non-persons", as Orwell would say! How very convenient!  

A foetus is a "potential" child, a child is a "potential" young adult, a 20-year old is a "potential" 21-year old, and so on, so they have no rights. Rand, at 60, was a "potential" 61-year old, and so on. All one need do is be one year older than Rand, and pronounce that SHE has no rights because she is "potentially" your age!

To continue the gag, Jewish atheists are "potential" Christians, so they have no rights; Jewish Christians are "potential" atheists, so they have no rights, either; Negro criminals are "potentially" law-abiding people, so they have no rights; law-abiding Negroes are "potentially" Negro criminals, so they have no rights.  

b) Even more remarkable -- as an illustration of Rand's stupidity -- is the fact that all living things are "potentially" dead!

Or, as Thomas Wolfe might have put it:

"Only the dead have rights, 'cause dere's no man living dat ain't just a f---ing 'potential'"!

c) Since everything in this universe is a "potential", how much sense does this make ? 

In philosophical jargon, it might be said that there are 2 kinds of "potential": contingent and necessary.

For example, to say that a child has "musical "potential" is not the same as saying that a colt has the "potential" to be a horse! The first would be called a "contingent potential". What if the kid hates music and never practices? He'll never be a musician.

But a colt will become a horse whether anybody likes it or not, with no need for anybody to do anything except feed him or let him graze, unless he dies first. It is absolutely inevitable. This would be called a "necessary potential".

Nathaniel Brandon once said that "No man lives long enough to exhaust his every potential." That is true. Nobody can do a million different things. They are contingent, not necessary. 

It is not even true that a "potential" has no rights. This is true only in a purely financial sense, in certain protected professions. For example, a law student may be a "potential" lawyer, but he has no right to practice law without passing the bar and getting a license, because law is a protected profession. Same with medicine. But you can do millions of other jobs without any license or diploma whatsoever.

To sum up, Rand defeats the first two propositions and twists the last segment of the argument into its exact opposite, as follows:

There is "a right to life"; the "right to life" includes "all things necessary to life", including financial status, explicitly exemplified as a new car or a new set of furniture.  

Since when does "life" depend on a new car or new furniture? (If your car is too dangerous to drive, just buy a new one on credit; many new cars are very cheap by the month, and car credit is notoriously easy to get. This is because the car dealerships don't care whether you ever pay or not: they "factor" the debt! This means they sell it at a discount to some other sucker. Let him collect the dough!) 

This form of argument is called the "Hierarchy of Values": if you "value" a new car or set of furniture above the life of your unborn child, you should have an abortion.

Thus, the "right to life" = the "right to an abortion". Or did I say this? (Sorry, I'm getting Alzheimer's).

(The absurdity of Rand's definition of "value" will be discussed below.)          

LIFE (definition 2) --  

Note that "life" itself is never really defined in the first example given above. Here, she defines it.   

Rand now defines "life" as a "process of self-sustaining, self-generated action".

Now, in most definitions, the predicate and subject are coextensive.

For example, if a "triangle" is a "3-sided polygon", then anything that is true of a "3-sided polygon" will be true of a "triangle". 

If that is so, then anything which is true of a "process of self-sustaining, self-generated action" will be true of "life". Am I correct?

To which words, then, do these adjectives refer? To "life", or merely to "action"? Or both?

If it is "life" that is "self-generated", then what does this mean? How is this possible? If it is "action" that is "self-generated", then what does that mean?

Or does it just mean that if a dog scratches his ear, he does so because he  feels like it? How profound is that? This is philosophy? This is "history's greatest philosopher"?

Nothing in this universe (with the exception of God Himself, for theists) is "self-generated". Everything comes from something else. This is particularly true of living things. There is no exception to this rule, whether animal, vegetable or mineral.

More questions:

What is meant by "self-sustaining"? "Self-sustaining" -- or "self-renewing" -- usually refers, for example, to cheap trees that grow very quickly and can be cut down all the time -- or, perhaps, to cheap slaves (coolies and immigrants, at least as long as they can be made to work) who can be depended upon to breed like rats and can be worked to death while replacing themselves through "natural increase", without any need to buy more, unless you can get them at rock-bottom prices.

(In a "globalised" economy, this isn't far from a realistic description of the present situation, thanks to Ayn Rand.)

(Incidentally, she's got the order wrong. Shouldn't it be "self-generated, self-sustaining"? After all, "generation" comes before "sustenance". In plain language, you've got to get born before you can go out and buy a pizza.)

Does "self-sustaining" mean "self-supporting" in a purely financial sense? To me, this whole incoherent, pretentious, pat little formula comes very close to implying that any living entity which can't go out and earn 13 billion dollars a year managing a hedge fund -- such as a foetus, a child, the elderly, the infirm, the disabled -- is not "alive", and is not a "living being"!

We have seen that a foetus is not a "person", because it is a "potential"; but at this point, it's not even "alive", because it's not "self-sustaining"! What does that mean? Does it mean that it requires nothing from its environment to stay alive? That it doesn't have to eat, or breathe? Or that anything it does, it can do indefinitely?

No living thing is "self-sustaining". All action requires energy, which means fats, protein, etc. and will be followed by fatigue. If I do the 100-yard dash, can I keep going forever?

A stone is self-sustaining, because it does nothing, needs nothing, and is not alive. But action? Life?


This is one of the most absurd and most important of all of Rand's definitions.

It is defined as a noun, but usually used as a verb.

"Value" is defined -- believe it or not -- as "that which you act to gain or keep".

This is what I mean when I say that Jews are incapable of thinking in any but purely financial terms.

You can "act to gain or keep" control of a corporation, or a one-third interest in a Broadway play, or ownership of an apartment house, or the deed to a piece of property, or a lucrative contract, but purely emotional or aesthetic appreciation is excluded, evidently because Jews find it incomprehensible. Truly, to a Jew, there is only one thing of value: money.

For example:

I "value" the whales; I wouldn't want them to become extinct.  But how do I "act to gain or keep" them?

I "value" the Milky Way; I wouldn't want it to be replaced by an electronic display reading "Drink Coke"; but how do I "act to gain or keep" it?

I "value" a Titian painting; but how do I "act to gain or keep" it? By bidding for it at auction?

By breaking into a museum and stealing it? I'd need a moving van to steal the stuff  I "value" in a single museum.

I "value" Michelangelo's "David", but how do I "act to gain or keep" it?

By showing up with a gigantic crane, all kinds of moving equipment, huge truck, a few forged documents, and saying,
"The statue is damaged, we're taking it away for repairs"?
(If they give you any crap, just say, "Well, suit yourself, we were told it's no bloody good, if you don't want it repaired, that's your business.")
(Don't laugh; the HMS Queen Mary lost the grand piano this way.)

I "value" the sight of young parents playing happily with their young children in the park; as your own life draws to a close, it is satisfying to see that life continues; but how do I "act to gain or keep" them?

By abducting them and forcing them into a bordello (three different bordellos, if you please, located, naturally, in Israel -- where else)?

I "value" the Grand Canyon, but how do I "act to gain or keep" it? By  forming a corporation, selling shares, and attempting to buy it, so I can turn it into a combination uranium mine and dumping ground for atomic waste? (This has already been done, not far from the Grand Canyon, and permission has been granted to resume.) Again, what planet did Rand live on?

All you've got to do now is convince people that national and state parks are an "initiation of the use of force" and a "violation of individual property rights" because some people are "forced" to contribute to their maintenance through taxes, while other people are "forced" to refrain from wrecking them for a quick buck, regardless of the consequences to everybody but themselves -- as long as it's in their "rational self-interest", of course!


This is the example I was thinking of when I said that Rand would sometimes say something quite insightful, and in the very next breath she'd say something so stupid you wondered if she knew anything.

In the early 60s, she published a little brochure attacking the Kennedy administration for being "fascistic" (no doubt a reflection of her Communist university training; remember, she majored in history, not philosophy, in Leningrad, in the middle of the Russian Civil War -- why major in history in a Communist university if you're anti-Communist?  The largest public library in Luxembourg, when I lived there, had a copy of a modern Soviet encyclopaedia translated into English. The scientific and mathematical articles looked excellent, and I don't think anyone would deny that the Soviets did some very good work in these fields; but the historical articles -- for example, on the American Civil War -- were ludicrous, full of unreadable Marxist jargon, a complete distortion; not only were they unreadable, they were unbelievably boring. What anti-Communist would major in such stuff for 3 years?

Now, Rand claimed that, under fascism, businessmen were burdened with the ownership of their companies but were bossed around all the time; but, of course, this happens under all systems. She then said that Fascism was a variant of guild socialism, inspired by the guilds of the Middle Ages, which is perfectly true, and captures the spirit of most modern fascist movements very well. The guilds were an extremely successful system, and so were most of the so-called "fascist" European systems until they were destroyed by the war or by Communist conquest.

She then defined OWNERSHIP as THE RIGHT OF USE AND DISPOSAL  ("disposal" = "sale")

Now, agreed, it is hard to imagine a right of ownership that does not include the right to sell (unless there's a court order against you for some reason); otherwise it would be called a "usufruct". But to imagine that all ownership implies a right of "use" -- much less an unrestricted right of use -- is simply unrealistic. Except for cash-convertible assets, the use of most property is restricted by terms of contract, applicable law, building regulations, zoning regulations, and so on. If you own a piece of leased property, you can't even drop in to inspect it without advance notice; you must notify the tenant in advance. You have to serve advance notice for everything. If you want the tenant to move, you may need legal grounds, and you may be required to pay compensation. You will certainly be required to give notice, probably three months. You can't just pop in from one day to the next and tell him you want him out by the next day because you're going to tear down the building and put up a sex shop, because you wouldn't be allowed to do it.

Remember, this is a definition: what's true of the predicate is true of the subject, i.e., no "use", no "ownership".

What if you inherited the property but it's leased for 99 years? (This is called an "emphyteutic lease").
What if the tenant has erected a 50-million dollar bank building on the land? (This is actually fairly common.)
You think they're going to clear out and abandon the building just on your say-so?
You'll never be able to use it, but it would be absurd to pretend that you don't own it.
If you don't own it, what are you doing down at the bank collecting the rent every month?

All of this shows a complete ignorance of the real world. But this is typical of Ayn Rand. Objectivists are like spoilt children: they want everything their own way, 100%, with instant satisfaction, for nothing in return. If you tell them that life just isn't like that, that things don't work that way, they throw a tantrum.

I sense that this discussion is getting tedious.

Her discussions of the "initiation of the use of force", "fraud", "sacrifice" and certain other terms will be discussed in greater detail elsewhere. 

Back to philosophical index