Rugged Individualism

A guide To Living Your Own Life. 

Why Do You Need Philosophy?

A philosophy is your world view. Its how you make sense of the world around you. A guide to living. 

How do you make choices in a world of alternatives, trade-offs, and pressures in society? How do you decide what benefits you? What should you do? How do you know? 

Philosophy applies to every area of your life, whether you explicitly recognize it or not. You can choose to live your life unconsciously, accepting every idea that comes you way, or you can be mindful and think.

Philosophy Who Needs It?

A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation -- or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind's wings should have grown. 

Ayn Rand

Philosophy is a system of ideas that shapes our culture.

Everyone has some kind of framework on how the world works. When you learn new facts you mentally try to integrate what your learned into what you already know. 

You observe and learn based on your own perspective of how the world runs. For example, when a magician "manifests" a rabbit from his magic hat, a child may be bewildered, but as an adult you understand this is an illusion and entertainment. 

Man needs philosophy by his essential nature and for a practical purpose: in order to be able to think, to act, to live.

If man needs philosophy, she held, he needs one that is true, i.e., in accordance with reality.

Philosophy studies the fundamental nature of existence, of man, and of man’s relationship to existence.


But here is what it would tell you: Are you in a universe which is ruled by natural laws and, therefore, is stable, firm, absolute—and knowable? Or are you in an incomprehensible chaos, a realm of inexplicable miracles, an unpredictable, unknowable flux, which your mind is impotent to grasp? Are the things you see around you real—or are they only an illusion? Do they exist independent of any observer—or are they created by the observer? Are they the object or the subject of man’s consciousness? Are they what they are—or can they be changed by a mere act of your consciousness, such as a wish?


As an example of philosophy’s function, political philosophy will not tell you how much rationed gas you should be given and on which day of the week—it will tell you whether the government has the right to impose any rationing on anything.


You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational convictions—or a grab-bag of notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, context and consequences you do not know, notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot potato if you knew.

But the principles you accept (consciously or subconsciously) may clash with or contradict one another; they, too, have to be integrated. What integrates them? Philosophy. A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation—or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind’s wings should have grown.

Observe these young people’s dread of independence and their frantic desire to “belong,” to attach themselves to some group, clique or gang. Most of them have never heard of philosophy, but they sense that they need some fundamental answers to questions they dare not ask—and they hope that the tribe will tell them how to live. 


The best way to study philosophy is to approach it as one approaches a detective story: follow every trail, clue and implication, in order to discover who is a murderer and who is a hero. The criterion of detection is two questions: Why? and How? If a given tenet seems to be true—why? If another tenet seems to be false—why? and how is it being put over? You will not find all the answers immediately, but you will acquire an invaluable characteristic: the ability to think in terms of essentials.

Nothing is given to man automatically, neither knowledge, nor self-confidence, nor inner serenity, nor the right way to use his mind. Every value he needs or wants has to be discovered, learned and acquired—even the proper posture of his body. In this context, I want to say that I have always admired the posture of West Point graduates, a posture that projects man in proud, disciplined control of his body. Well, philosophical training gives man the proper intellectual posture—a proud, disciplined control of his mind.


Formally, I call it Objectivism, but informally I call it a philosophy for living on earth.


I said that the best way to study philosophy is to approach it as one approaches a detective story. A detective seeks to discover the truth about a crime. 


A philosophical detective must remember that all human knowledge has a hierarchical structure; he must learn to distinguish the fundamental from the derivative, and in judging a given philosopher’s system, he must look—first and above all else—at its fundamentals. If the foundation does not hold, neither will anything else.


As a philosophical detective, you must remember that nothing is self-evident except the material of sensory perception


There are a lot of everyday sayings that influence how we think. “It may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.” “Don’t be so sure—nobody can be certain of anything.” What is the meaning of the concept “truth”: Truth is the recognition of reality. that pronouncement includes itself; therefore, one cannot be sure that one cannot be sure of anything. The pronouncement means that no knowledge of any kind is possible to man, i.e., that man is not conscious. “Don’t be so sure—nobody can be certain of anything.”

Now observe the method I used to analyze those catch phrases. You must attach clear, specific meanings to words, i.e., be able to identify their referents in reality. 

All philosophical con games count on your using words as vague approximations.

Intellectual honesty consists in taking ideas seriously. To take ideas seriously means that you intend to live by, to practice, any idea you accept as true. Philosophy provides man with a comprehensive view of life.

Most people would be astonished by this method. They think that abstract thinking must be “impersonal”—which means that ideas must hold no personal meaning, value or importance to the thinker. This notion rests on the premise that a personal interest is an agent of distortion. But “personal” does not mean “non-objective”; it depends on the kind of person you are. If your thinking is determined by your emotions, then you will not be able to judge anything personally or impersonally. But if you are the kind of person who knows that reality is not your enemy, that truth and knowledge are of crucial, personal, selfishimportance to you and to your own life—then, the more passionately personal the thinking, the clearer and truer.


Would you be willing and able to act, daily and consistently, on the belief that reality is an illusion? That the things you see around you, do not exist? That it makes no difference whether you drive your car down a road or over the edge of an abyss—whether you eat or starve—whether you save the life of a person you love or push him into a blazing fire? It is particularly important to apply this test to any moral theory. Would you be willing and able to act on the belief that altruism is a moral ideal? That you must sacrifice everything—everything you love, seek, own, or desire, including your life—for the benefit of any and every stranger?


An emotion as such tells you nothing about reality, beyond the fact that something makes you feel something.


The field of extrospection is based on two cardinal questions: “What do I know?” and “How do I know it?” Rationalization is a process not of perceiving reality, but of attempting to make reality fit one’s emotions. 

Philosophical catch phrases are handy means of rationalization. They are quoted, repeated and perpetuated in order to justify feelings which men are unwilling to admit.

“Nobody can be certain of anything” is a rationalization for a feeling of envy and hatred toward those who are certain. “It may be true for you, but it’s not true for me” is a rationalization for one’s inability and unwillingness to prove the validity of one’s contentions. “Nobody is perfect in this world” is a rationalization for the desire to continue indulging in one’s imperfections, i.e., the desire to escape morality.


Observe that the history of philosophy reproduces—in slow motion, on a macrocosmic screen—the workings of ideas in an individual man’s mind. A man who has accepted false premises is free to reject them, but until and unless he does, they do not lie still in his mind, they grow without his conscious participation and reach their ultimate logical conclusions. 


Altruism is the rationalization for the mass slaughter in Soviet Russia—for the legalized looting in the welfare state—for the power-lust of politicians seeking to serve the “common good”—for the concept of a “common good”—for envy, hatred, malice, brutality—for the arson, robbery, highjacking, kidnapping, murder perpetrated by the selfless advocates of sundry collectivist causes—for sacrifice and more sacrifice and an infinity of sacrificial victims. When a theory achieves nothing but the opposite of its alleged goals, yet its advocates remain undeterred, you may be certain that it is not a conviction or an “ideal,” but a rationalization.


What objectivity and the study of philosophy require is not an “open mind,” but an active mind—a mind able and eagerly willing to examine ideas, but to examine them critically


The source of this reversal (primacy of consciousness vs. reality) is the inability or unwillingness fully to grasp the difference between one’s inner state and the outer world, i.e., between the perceiver and the perceived (thus blending consciousness and existence into one indeterminate package-deal).


Man’s volition is an attribute of his consciousness (of his rational faculty) and consists in the choice to perceive existence or to evade it. To perceive existence, to discover the characteristics or properties (the identities) of the things that exist, means to discover and accept the metaphysically given. Only on the basis of this knowledge is man able to learn how the things given in nature can be rearranged to serve his needs (which is his method of survival).


The power to rearrange the combinations of natural elements is the only creative power man possesses. It is an enormous and glorious power—and it is the only meaning of the concept “creative.” “Creation” does not (and metaphysically cannot) mean the power to bring something into existence out of nothing. “Creation” means the power to bring into existence an arrangement (or combination or integration) of natural elements that had not existed before. (This is true of any human product, scientific or esthetic: man’s imagination is nothing more than the ability to rearrange the things he has observed in reality.)


Without this knowledge and this equipment, centuries of wishing, praying, screaming and foot-stamping would not make a man’s voice heard at the distance of ten miles. But man exists and his mind exists. Both are part of nature, both possess a specific identity.


His volition is limited to his cognitive processes; he has the power to identify (and to conceive of rearranging) the elements of reality, but not the power to alter them. He has the power to use his cognitive faculty as its nature requires, but not the power to alter it nor to escape the consequences of its misuse.


It is the metaphysically given that must be accepted: it cannot be changed. It is the man-made that must never be accepted uncritically: it must be judged, then accepted or rejected and changed when necessary. Nature does not give man any automatic guarantee of the truth of his judgments (and this is a metaphysically given fact, which must be accepted). Who, then, is to judge? Each man, to the best of his ability and honesty. What is his standard of judgment? The metaphysically given. The metaphysically given cannot be true or false, it simply is—and man determines the truth or falsehood of his judgments by whether they correspond to or contradict the facts of reality. The metaphysically given cannot be right or wrong—it is the standard of right or wrong, by which a (rational) man judges his goals, his values, his choices. The metaphysically given is, was, will be, and had to be. Nothing made by man had to be: it was made by choice.


Any natural phenomenon, i.e., any event which occurs without human participation, is the metaphysically given, and could not have occurred differently or failed to occur; any phenomenon involving human action is the man-made, and could have been different.


Observe that the philosophical system based on the axiom of the primacy of existence (i.e., on recognizing the absolutism of reality) led to the recognition of man’s identity and rights. But the philosophical systems based on the primacy of consciousness (i.e., on the seemingly megalomaniacal notion that nature is whatever man wants it to be) lead to the view that man possesses no identity, that he is infinitely flexible, malleable, usable and disposable. Ask yourself why.


But nothing is exempt from the Law of Identity. A man-made product did not have to exist, but, once made, it does exist. A man’s actions did not have to be performed, but, once performed, they are facts of reality. The same is true of a man’s character: he did not have to make the choices he made, but, once he has formed his character, it is a fact, and it is his personal identity.


A man does not have to be a worthless scoundrel, but so long as he chooses to be, he is a worthless scoundrel and must be treated accordingly; to treat him otherwise is to contradict a fact. A man does not have to be a heroic achiever; but so long as he chooses to be, he is a heroic achiever and must be treated accordingly; to treat him otherwise is to contradict a fact. What has to be “obeyed” is man’s metaphysically given nature—in the sense in which one “obeys” the nature of all existents; this means, in man’s case, that one must recognize the fact that his mind is not to be “commanded” in any sense, including the sense applicable to the rest of nature. Natural objects can be reshaped to serve men’s goals and are to be regarded as means to men’s ends, but man himself cannot and is not. The philosophers’ denial of the Law of Identity permits them to evade man’s identity and the requirements of his survival. It permits them to evade the fact that man cannot survive for long in a state of nature, that reason is his tool of survival, that he survives by means of man-made products, and that the source of man-made products is man’s intelligence. Intelligence is the ability to grasp the facts of reality and to deal with them long-range (i.e., conceptually). On the axiom of the primacy of existence, intelligence is man’s most precious attribute. But it has no place in a society ruled by the primacy of consciousness: it is such a society’s deadliest enemy.

Resources

Philosophy is kind of a theory of thinking. Its a system of ideas that will help you identify the facts of reality, give you clarity on your own path in life, and guide to you towards happiness. 

Objectivism is broken down into five branches of philosophy: Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Politics, and Aesthetics. 

Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Ethics answer the most basic questions of philosophy. Does existence exist? Are we living in the matrix? Can man know about existence? Are our senses valid? 

Metaphysics

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Epistemology

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Ethics

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Politics

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Esthetics

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Other

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