Friday, May 29, 2015

WTF is Objectivism and What Do We Mean When We Say Something Is Objectively So?

Objectivism is the moral theory that there are certain moral truths that would remain true regardless of an individual's perception or desire and that this would remain so regardless of whether or not anyone else agreed or if everyone else in the world agreed with the moral truth. The underlying idea of this theory is that there is a way to determine the status of moral truths; however, the problem lies in actually creating a process to do so. In Antony Flew's A Dictionary of Philosophy he illustrated the problem for Objectivism as follows:
. . . If we accept that such judgements are not reports of what is but only relate to what ought to be . . . then they cannot be proved by any facts about the nature of the world. Nor can they be analytic, since that would involve lack of action-guiding content; 'One ought always to do the right thing' is plainly true in virtue of the words involved but it is unhelpful as a practical guide to action . . . At this the objectivist may talk of 'self-evident truths,' but can he deny the subjectivist's claim that self-evidence is in the mind of the beholder? If not, what is left of the claim that some moral judgments are true? (Flew, 343)
Objectivism, however, has morphed in the years since Flew wrote his fantastic dictionary in 1979 through the efforts of Ayn Rand and her cult like following. For our understanding of the term it can be broken down to hold the following (though it is not limited to just these concepts): (1) reality exists independently of consciousness; (2) human beings have direct contact with reality through their senses; (3) one can obtain objective knowledge through concept formation and inductive logic; and (4) that a proper morality is based around the pursuit of the individual's happiness - sometimes called 'rational self-interest.' Ayn Rand's philosophy is rightly discredited by most moral and political philosophers though that hasn't stopped her followers from pretending otherwise as they stick their fingers in their ears and loudly bray on.

What do we mean when we say that something is objectively so then?

To use the term in this sense is to say that the statement we are referring true will remain true regardless of an individual's opinion or of the opinion of the entire world. Often this refers to verifiable statements such as, "The Earth is the third planet from the Sun," but it can be used for logical statements such as, "All men are mortal" (which is true so far as we know but may not always be the case). 

Works Cited
Flew, Antony. A Dictionary of Philosophy Revised Second Edition. St. Martin's Press. New York: 1979. Print


  1. You're giving me flashbacks to my college years, man.

    Do one on relativism next! Then segue into existentialism, then my favorite topic, postmodernism.

    1. I may just yet, Holmes. Right now, though, I'm laying the groundwork for an article that I'm working on.

  2. How exactly has Objectivism been "rightly" discredited?

    1. (Without touching on the political side of things) The objectivism of Ayn Rand does not objectively look at morality but instead looks at it subjectively while maintaining that doing so is objective. This is patently false. There are other issues (many of them widely discredited by political and social philosophers who have demonstrated that her ideas are either absurd or as false as her objective morality) but that is one of the big hurdles for her philosophy.

      Now Objectivism, in general, has a lot of trouble as creating a system to judge things is incredibly difficult when your not talking about absolutes but rather social constructs, languages, or ideas. It's one of the reasons why things like Logical Positivism ultimately failed and why Rationalism has struggled over time. It's not impossible to accomplish but it is incredibly difficult.


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