Criticisms of Objectivism
Objectivism is controversial in a number of ways. First, it includes positions very much at odds with the ideas held by most people. Rand and other Objectivists have also been open about their own criticisms of other philosophers and intellectual traditions, sometimes denouncing them in very forceful terms. Also, Objectivism is a "popular" philosophy, which originated in the writings of novelist with no formal background as an academic philosopher. Finally, Rand's own personality and personal life have sometimes drawn fire from critics who consider her arrogant, dogmatic, hypocritical, etc.
Links to critical essays and sites are organized into the following categories:
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The following crticize Objectivism on metaphysical issues.
The following criticize Objectivism on epistemological issues.
The following criticize Objectivism on ethical or meta-ethical issues. General criticisms of "egoism" that are not specific to Objectivism are not included here.
- A Partial Critique of the Objectivist Metaethics by "aporiaaporia" -- Blog critique of Rand's metaethics for having an "inadequate account of goal directed action" and other flaws.
- The Misuse of Language: "Selfishness" and "Altruism" by Robert Bass -- Argues that Rand's uses of the terms "selfishness" and "altruism" in her ethical arguments are inappropriate.
- Rational Interests by Robert Bass -- Criticism of Rand's position that there are no conflicts of interests among rational people.
- The Rights (and Wrongs) of Ayn Rand by Robert Bass -- This essay criticizes Rand's arguments for egoism and her arguments for individual rights.
- Objectivism or Subjectivism? by Ben Best -- Suggests that Rand's ethics may be more subjective than objective.
- Some Comments on Rand's Ethics by Bryan Caplan -- Caplan objects to a number of elements of Rand's meta-ethics.
- The relentless pursuit of happiness by Scott Clark -- Article by an enviromentalist that describes Objectivists as a "menace" to the Earth because of their "selfishness and irresponsibility."
- Ayn Rand: another architect of the culture of death by Donald DeMarco -- This article in The Interim, a "pro-life, pro-family" newspaper, declares Rand's ethics to be "unlivable."
- Who Stole The Common Good? The Shadow of Ayn Rand by Julian Edney -- This article in the online magazine Swans says that "the concept of the common good" has disappeared from American discourse, and Ayn Rand is primarily responsible. Rand is denounced for her "brass-knuckle selfishness," which Edney believes "destroys social capital."
- The Patch Needed for Ayn Rand's 'The Objectivist Ethics' by Frank Forman -- Originally published by the Libertarian Alliance.
- Some Problems with Ayn Rand's Derivation of Ought from Is by David Friedman -- Criticism of Rand's meta-ethics from an economist widely known for his anarchist political theories. Offers four specific criticisms of Rand's views as they are presented in Atlas Shrugged.
- Critique of "The Objectivist Ethics" by Michael Huemer -- Essay that attempts to reconstruct Rand's meta-ethical argument in "The Objectivist Ethics" as a series of numbered steps, and then critiques that reconstruction. Originally created as a response to criticism of a comment Huemer made in "Why I Am Not an Objectivist" (see Miscellaneous Criticisms below) about Rand's meta-ethical argument: "... I have not tried to reproduce that argument here, ... because I can not understand it clearly ..."
- Is Benevolent Egoism Coherent? by Michael Huemer -- Paper delivered at the 2001 "Advanced Seminar in Objectivist Studies," sponsored by The Objectivist Center.
- The Virtues of Enlightened Selfishness by Yasuhiko Kimura -- This article from The Cosmic Light argues that although Rand's philosophy is a great achievement from a secular point of view, she lacked knowledge of "spiritual illumination" and "Kosmic Oneness," and therefore, her ethics is incomplete.
- Objections to Objectivism: A Critique of Ayn Rand's Ethics by John Ku -- Lengthy critique focused on ethics. Ku claims that prior to his work there was "no systematic critique of her ethics written with Objectivists in mind." He covers such issues as Rand's theory of life as the ultimate value and her claim that there are no conflicts in men's interests. A supplement from 2006 provides links to information on his own views of ethics. A response is available online.
- Objectivist Ethics: A Biological Critique by Ronald E. Merrill -- Argues that Rand's ethics was based on biological ideas which have since been shown incorrect. "These errors are reflected by certain problems in Rand's ethical reasoning," says Merrill. Originally published in the magazine Objectivity. Several responses were included in the "Remarks" section of the following issue.
- The Embarrassing Ethics of Ayn Rand by Tom Metcalf -- Undergraduate philosophy student criticizes Rand's egoism in his blog, apparently based on reading "The Ethics of Emergencies" (referred to by Metcalf as her "essay on ethical egoism").
- Ayn Rand and the Is-Ought Problem by Patrick M. O'Neil -- This essay for the Journal of Libertarian Studies argues that Rand's ethics are fundamentally subjective because her arguments fail to overcome the "is-ought gap."
- The Ethics of Ayn Rand: Appreciation and Critique by John Piper -- Review and critique from a Christian perspective, originally written in 1979. Summer particularly criticizes Rand's stated virtues of "pride" and "justice," along with her opposition to altruism. He ultimately concludes that "Ayn Rand's philosophy does not need to be scrapped. Rather, it needs to take all of reality into account, including the infinite God."
- Ayn Rand and Martyrdom by Michael Prescott -- Argues that "instead of self-fulfillment, [Objectivism] glorifies martyrdom; instead of happiness, suffering."
- What Is Truly Rational? by Grant Schuyler -- Criticizes Rand for not providing a more detailed moral code, and for focusing too much on the condemnation of "irrationality."
- An Objectivist Condemnation of Abortion by G. Stolyarov II -- Stolyarov says he is an Objectivist, but he disagrees with Rand's view on abortion, which he says is "a misapplication of fundamentals."
- Jesus Christ Vs Ayn Rand (author anonymous) -- A Christian bible study group declares that Rand's ethical thinking "flies in the face of true Christianity." According to the essay, "You can either be a follower of Ayn Rand or you can follow Jesus Christ."
The following criticize Objectivism on political issues. General criticisms of "capitalism" or "libertarianism" that are not specific to Objectivism are not included here. In addition, links to essays about Objectivism's relationship to libertarianism and anarchism can be found in our special collection Objectivism, Libertarianism and Anarchism
- Zombie Objectivism by "Amy" -- Blog post claiming that Objectivist views on politics have been disproven, but Objectivists will continue to support them out of stubbornness and irrationality.
- Randians for Mass Murder by Milton Batiste -- Accuses both David Kelley and Leonard Peikoff of supporting "mass murder" when they (separately) called for the United States to wage war against terrorists in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
- Despising Gays and Other Delights by Alex Forbes -- Takes the Institute for Objectivist Studies to task for circulating an article about cultural issues that Forbes interprets as having an anti-gay slant.
- Down With Randian Warmongers! by Franklin Harris -- Describes articles from the Ayn Rand Institute and the Daily Objectivist as "insane, warmongering talk" for encouraging a more confrontational approach to Communist China after an incident in which an American surveillance plane was held for 10 days after an emergency landing in China. Harris declares that "the only international threat on the scene today is the United States."
- Ayn Rand and the Perversion of Libertarianism by Lance Klafta -- Left-anarchist criticism of Rand's support for capitalism. Originally published in Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed.
- Taking out the Trash: Ayn Rand and The False Gods of Objectivism by Dimitrije Kostic -- Article in Left Hook denouncing Objectivists for supporting capitalism with "petty lying" and "ludicrous defenses."
- The Peace of Objectivism by Ronn Neff -- An anarchist criticizes Objectivists as "too friendly with tyrants."
- Peikoff's Genocidal Crusade Against Islamic Terrorism by Greg Nyquist -- After some general lambasting of Leonard Peikoff, Nyquist criticizes "Peikoff's analysis of America's Middle East problem," which he says is "demagogic nonsense."
- The Objectivist Death Cult by Justin Raimondo -- Essay accusing individuals associated with the Ayn Rand Institute of the "brazen display of naked evil" and "maniacal bloodthirstiness" for their support of military action against Islamic fundamentalists.
- The Anti-Life Name Game by Jill Stanek -- Article responding to an op-ed in support of stem cell research from the Ayn Rand Institute.
- A Response To the So-Called 'Objectivists' by Scott Weber -- Response to a letter published in a student newspaper, in which a group of Objectivists implicitly compared left-wing activists to the 9/11 terrorists.
The following criticize Objectivism on esthetic issues. General criticisms of "romanticism" or "romantic realism" that are not specific to Objectivism are not included here. Criticisms of Rand's own artistic work are also not included. Interested readers can find links to reviews and criticisms of Rand's fiction by following the links for each book in the ORC Books section.
- Ayn Rand: Theory versus Creative Life by Stephen Cox -- This essay compares and contrasts Rand's esthetic theory with her own practices as a writer. Cox praises Rand's literary work, but finds her theories inadequate in comparison. Originally published in the Journal of Libertarian Studies.
The following criticize Objectivism in multiple areas or on topics that do not fall into any of the categories above.
- Sartre and Ayn Rand Would Have Had Some Weird Children by Roman Altshuler -- Blog post accusing Rand (and Sartre) of "telling the people exactly what the people want to hear" instead of "conveying an uncomfortable truth."
- A Personal and Promethean Response to Objectivism by Colin Barth -- Author criticizes certain aspects of Objectivism, which he has rejected in favor of his own Nietzschean philosophy of "Prometheanism."
- Ending 'Don't Ask' Not Enough for Objectivists by Nicholas F. Benton -- Says Objectivists are a source of "a lot of the energy of the LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender) movement nowadays," but are too focused on "the pursuit of individual selfishness".
- The Intellectual Default of Rand and Jefferson (& Locke) by M.D.C. Bowen -- Brief essay claiming that Rand's ideas are inadequate as a philosophy, and "never dealt directly with racism or feminism."
- The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Nathaniel Branden -- Article from the Journal of Humanistic Psychology in which Rand's former protege declares his differences with her. A response by Eyal Mozes to some of Branden's criticisms is available online.
- Objectivism and Thomas Jefferson by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. -- A series of seven essays seeking to show that Objectivism is incompatible with Jefferson's philosophy on a number of points.
- Transhumanism and the Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Marc Geddes -- To quote Geddes: "This article is a brief explanation and critique of the philosophy of Ayn Rand from a transhumanist perspective."
- Urgent Memo for Haters of The Passion by Steven Greenhut -- Critique of an article from the Ayn Rand Institute that criticizes Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ.
- Ayn Rand Ran and Ran and Ran by D. Stephen Heersink -- Blog post says that Rand "deserves perennial pillory." Claims she praises Aristotle but has little in common with his ideas, and says she "approved of racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and discrimination."
- Why I Am a Former Objectivist and Former Libertarian by John B. Hodges -- A former "fanatic Randian" explains the disagreements he now has with Rand's philosophy. Part of a site devoted to cataloging criticism of anything identified as "libertarian."
- Ego strengthening vs. ego transcendence by Michael Hoffman -- Long, rambling essay about the influence of Rand on the rock group Rush. The author believes the band's lyrics are full of references to LSD and "mystic dissociative states," in contrast to Rand's excessive focus on rationality and the ego.
- Why I Am Not an Objectivist by Michael Huemer -- This lengthy multi-topic essay includes a variety of criticisms of Rand's epistemology and ethics and is one of the most frequently referenced critiques of Objectivism on the web. Huemer is a professional philosopher who participates from time to time in Usenet discussion groups. This essay was originally posted to such a group, and it has been reposted and referenced a number of times, leading to a number of responses and defenses that can be accessed via the Usenet archives at Google. A response to Huemer's arguments about ethics is available online.
- Objectivism by Karl Jahn -- In this essay for his American Nationalist website, Jahn rejects Rand's individualism in both ethics and politics.
- Ayn Rand as Moral & Political Philosopher by Jan Narveson -- This essay for a Reason Papers forum on Rand dismisses her significance as a philosopher, calling her "a minor personage on the conceptual scene."
- Ayn Rand and Satanism by Charles Nemo -- Satanist discusses disagreements between Objectivism and Satanism.
- Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature by Greg Nyquist -- Online introduction and first chapter of a book that claims Rand's vision of human nature "does not correspond to any of the scientists, builders, scholars or anyone else ever found in reality."
- An Analysis of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Carlos W. Porter -- Porter takes an essay about abortion by an anonymous college student and intersperses it with criticisms and anti-semitic commentary. (On another page, Porter criticizes the "Hoaxocau$t" and mentions that "the Jew Leonard Peikoff is the executor of the Jew Rand's estate.") He then appends Michael Shermer's critique of Objectivism and subjects it to the same type of interlinear criticism. Porter apparently thinks Shermer is an Objectivist.
- Shrugging Off Ayn Rand by Michael Prescott -- Discusses the author's own experience with Objectivism, and also provides assorted criticisms of "the sterile, airless terrain of Rand's philosophy."
- Ayn Rand's Approaches to Sexuality by Bryan Register -- Register criticizes Rand's views on sexuality (especially women's sexuality) as an example of "polaristic feminism," which he sees as grounded in "Aristotelian biologistic polarism."
- A Foolish Inconsistency: Rand, Emerson, and "Philosophical Detection" by Scott Ryan -- Essay accusing Rand of misquoting and misunderstanding a famous quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. A contrary view of Rand's comments is also available online.
- The Troubled Economics of Ayn Rand by Mark Skousen -- Article from Liberty magazine criticizing Rand's portrayal of economic activity in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged
- Far West? How Ayn Rand Instead Scripted You for No Man's Land by Wendell Solomons -- Accuses Rand of bringing "nihilism" to the United States from Russia.
- Sweeping Rand's Barnyard: Racism and Individualism by Nicholas Strakon -- Strakon rejects Rand's critique of racism and instead supports what he calls "rational racism."
- Another Experience with Objectivism and Libertarian Ideas by Michael Swierczek -- Essay of miscellaneous criticisms, posted to an anti-libertarian site.
- Ayn Rand and the Metaphysics of Kant by George V. Walsh -- Walsh argues that Rand has misinterpreted the metaphysics of Immanuel Kant in some of her criticisms of him.
The following are blogs, link lists or other sites that gather multiple criticisms of Objectivism and/or Ayn Rand in one place:
A large amount of criticism of Objectivism and response to that criticism (including responses to some of the material linked above) can be found in online discussion forums related to Objectivism. Because of the interactive and ongoing nature of such forums, critical materials from them are typically not linked above, even though some forums have web-based archives that would allow such links.
Information on published books criticizing Objectivism can be found in the "Books about Objectivism" section of the ORC.
Additional keywords: Ann Rand, Anne Rand, Ayn Rad, Ayn Ran, Any Rand, critical analysis, refutation of objectivism, rebuttal, opposition, problems
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The philosophy of Ayn Rand, a twentieth-century novelist and philosopher, is known as Objectivism. The Objectivism Reference Center provides resources about Rand, her ideas, her works, and places where those are discussed and debated. Visit the Site Information page for details on site policies. Suggestions for additional materials or additional links are welcomed.
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