Study Guide

Atlas Shrugged Philosophical Viewpoints: Objectivism

By Ayn Rand

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Philosophical Viewpoints: Objectivism

"Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exit unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value." (2.2.4.220)

Francisco here expresses Objectivist ideas in his view of money as the only alternative to force. Money to him is how free people deal peacefully with one another as "traders."

"Here, we trade achievements, not failures – values, not needs. We're free of one another, yet we all grow together. Wealth, Dagny? What greater wealth is there, than to own your life and to spend it on growing? Every living thing must grow. It can't stand still. It must grow or perish." (3.1.1.66)

Ellis Wyatt here redefines wealth as more than just money – wealth is freedom. He also describes Atlantis in utopian terms.

"All work is an act of philosophy. And when men will learn to consider productive work – and that which is its source – as the standard of their moral values, they will reach that state of perfection which is the birthright they lost....The source of work? Man's mind, Miss Taggart, man's reasoning mind." (3.1.2.40)

Hugh Akston raises an interesting point here: the idea that people can achieve a "state of perfection" with good values and work that expresses those values. In order to reach perfection, though, it needs to be defined in advance, which is what Galt's values do. How is work revealing and a potential proof of perfection?

[Robin Hood] is the man who became the symbol of the idea that need, not achievement, is the source of rights, that we don't have to produce, only to want, that the earned does not belong to us, but the unearned does. (2.7.2.99)

Pirates vs. Ninjas are out – here it's pirates vs. Robin Hood. Ragnar feels that the Robin Hood myth has been abused and now celebrates "need" over achievement. Achievement is a way of earning something, while need is a way of getting something for free.

"I do not wish to work in a world that regards me as a slave. I do not wish to be of any value to people. If I succeeded in rebuilding the motor, I would not let you place it in their service. I would not take it upon my conscience that anything produced by my mind should be used to bring them comfort." (2.9.1.151)

Quentin Daniels defines what the strike is all about here. He feels it would be immoral for him to cooperate with the "looters," so he's like a conscientious objector.

"I do not seek the good of others as a sanction for my right to exist, nor do I recognize the good of others as a justification for their seizure of my property or their destruction of my life." (2.4.2.73)

At his trial, Hank refuses to recognize the court's right to judge him. He implies that selfishness is a virtue here by saying that he doesn't exist for "others."

"I want you to know this. I started my life with a single absolute: that the world was mine to shape in the image of my highest values and never to be given up to a lesser standard, no matter how long or hard the struggle.... I am going back to fight for this valley – to release it from its underground, to regain for it its full and rightful realm, to let the earth belong to you in fact, as it does in spirit – and to meet you again on the day when I'm able to deliver to you the whole of the world." (3.2.6.67)

Dagny hits upon the main moral conflict of the book here: is the best way to live Objectivist values to go on strike or to continue fighting the looters in the "outside" world?

"Whenever anyone accuses some person of being 'unfeeling' he means that that person is just. He means that that person has no causeless emotions and will not grant him a feeling which he does not deserve. He means that 'to feel' is to go against reason, against moral values, against reality." (3.4.2.47)

Dagny explains to Cherryl one of the conflicts of language in the book. Looters use the word "unfeeling" as an insult, but Dagny explains that in Objectivism feeling is a product of reason and values. What the looters call "feeling" isn't really feeling at all.

"But to think is an act of choice. The key to what you so recklessly call 'human nature'...is the fact that man is a being of volitional consciousness. Reason does not work automatically; thinking is not a mechanical process...you are free to think or to evade the effort. But you are not free to escape from your nature, from the fact that reason is your means of survival." (3.7.1.129)

Galt's idea of "volitional consciousness" means that people can choose to use reason to make various life choices. Choice becomes each person's right and responsibility here.

"Reality is that which exists; the unreal does not exist; the unreal is merely that negation of existence which is the content of a human consciousness when it attempts to abandon reason. Truth is the recognition of reality; reason, man's only means of knowledge, is his only standard of truth." (3.7.1.161)

Galt's views here are part of one of the book's more interesting, and largely implicit, debates on the nature of reality. Galt says reality is "objective," meaning that people don't define it themselves. (So Galt wouldn't have been a fan of The Matrix.) But to what extent is Galt defining reality himself here, in opposition to the looters?

"My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists – and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these. To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason – Purpose – Self-Esteem. Reason, as his only tool of knowledge – Purpose, as his choice of the happiness which that tool must proceed to achieve – Self-Esteem, as his inviolate certainty that his mind is competent to think and his person is worthy of happiness, which means: is worthy of living." (3.7.1.171)

Galt outlines the basic principles of his philosophy here. Life is all about reason, what people use to live well; purpose, how people live a good life; and self-esteem, why they live a good life – for themselves.

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