In 1977, Harry Binswanger, a philosopher and associate of Ayn Rand’s, proposed to her the idea of a reference work to her philosophy, collecting and organizing key excerpts from her writings and those of her associates. At that time, the Objectivist literature had “grown to include almost two thousand pages distributed among eight books — plus various lecture courses, newsletter articles, and pamphlets.”
Although Rand didn’t live to see the book’s publication, she became enthusiastic about the project and offered early editorial guidance. Dr. Binswanger notes in his preface that “one value of the book had special meaning to her: it eliminates any shred of excuse (if ever there had been one) for the continual gross misrepresentation of her philosophy at the hands of hostile commentators. As she quipped to me, ‘People will be able to look up BREAKFAST and see that I did not advocate eating babies for breakfast.’”
— Leonard Peikoff, “Introduction,” The Ayn Rand Lexicon
For those interested in what Ayn Rand wrote on a given subject, the task of finding her most important passages can be daunting. Rand’s writing spans a vast array of topics, theoretical and applied: from the nature of reality to the factual basis of morality, to the nature of knowledge, to the objectivity of art, to the source of rights, to the morality of abortion, to the roots of war, to the fundamental cause of history, to the value of literature.
Her insights on these and many other topics (more than 400 in all) are collected here in the form of hundreds of excerpts from her books, arranged by topic in alphabetical order, with copious cross-references (an online version is available here). Within each topic, the quotations are presented in deliberate, logical order.
Here are just a few entries, from A to (almost) Z: Ambition, Birth Control, Corporations, Dictatorship, Education, Femininity, Grammar, Humility, Infinity, Justice, Knowledge, Loneliness, Mercy, Numbers, Objectivity, Pity, Racism, Sex, Tribalism, Unions, Words.
AMERICA: I can say — not as a patriotic bromide, but with full knowledge of the necessary metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, political and esthetic roots — that the United States of America is the greatest, the noblest and, in its original founding principles, the only moral country in the history of the world.
ART: Art (including literature) is the barometer of a culture. It reflects the sum of a society’s deepest philosophical values: not its professed notions and slogans, but its actual view of man and of existence.
CAPITALISM: When I say “capitalism,” I mean a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism — with a separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.
EMOTIONS: There can be no causeless love or any sort of causeless emotion. An emotion is a response to a fact of reality, an estimate dictated by your standards.
MORALITY: The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.
Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, is a full system of thought. The Ayn Rand Lexicon offers a conceptually organized collection of many of Objectivism’s key positions, formulations and principles, quoted word-for-word from Rand’s own writings.
However, the Lexicon should not be mistaken for a systematic, nonfiction presentation of Objectivism. Rand herself never wrote such a book, though her student and associate, philosopher Leonard Peikoff, did so in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.
What the Lexicon does offer, and what makes it such a valuable resource, are passages in which Rand discusses her philosophical principles. For example, you will find Rand’s definition of reason and excerpts from her grounding of moral values in the nature of life. The extensive cross-referencing will help you explore the many connections among these principles.
The Lexicon’s entry Religion reflects Ayn Rand’s view that reason — not any form of mysticism or faith — is man’s only means of knowledge and guide to action. The excerpts touch on Rand’s atheism as well as her views on original sin, mercy, religious art, and two papal encyclicals concerning capitalism and contraception.
Here, for example, is Rand’s distinctive, personal response to the story of Jesus: “In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the nonideal, or virtue to vice.”
And here is some of what she says about the relation between religion and philosophy: “Philosophy is the goal toward which religion was only a helplessly blind groping.”
At the end of each Lexicon topic, the editor has added value to the Ayn Rand quotes by suggesting extensive cross-references to other topics. This approach reflects Objectivism’s emphasis on system and highlights commonalities among subjects not typically seen as related.
Suppose, for example, one is interested in the philosopher Aristotle, of whom Rand wrote: “The only philosophical debt I can acknowledge is to Aristotle. I most emphatically disagree with a great many parts of his philosophy — but his definition of the laws of logic and of the means of human knowledge is so great an achievement that his errors are irrelevant by comparison.”
At the end of the Aristotle entry are cross-references to Ancient Greece, Logic, Pride, and Science. Following the link to Pride, one finds Selfishness, then Love, then Virtue, then Rationality, then Evasion, then Evil, then Envy — and so forth, in a long series of provocative and illuminating links.
One of the Lexicon’s longest entries is devoted to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804). Ayn Rand regards Kant as the most destructive thinker in the history of philosophy. For example, she traces the horrors of twentieth-century dictatorships and concentration camps to Kant’s philosophical influence. “On every fundamental issue,” Rand writes, “Kant’s philosophy is the exact opposite of Objectivism.”
In one of her most brilliant formulations, Rand simultaneously captures the essence and the irrationality of Kant’s epistemology: “His argument, in essence, ran as follows: man is limited to a consciousness of a specific nature, which perceives by specific means and no others, therefore, his consciousness is not valid; man is blind, because he has eyes — deaf, because he has ears — deluded, because he has a mind — and the things he perceives do not exist, because he perceives them.”
The Lexicon entry Love contains twelve quotations expressing Ayn Rand’s view that true love is profoundly selfish. “To love is to value,” Rand states. “Only a rationally selfish man, a man of self-esteem, is capable of love — because he is the only man capable of holding firm, consistent, uncompromising, unbetrayed values. The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone.”
Rand rejects the widespread view that love involves self-sacrifice. “Concern for the welfare of those one loves is a rational part of one’s selfish interests,” she writes. “If a man who is passionately in love with his wife spends a fortune to cure her of a dangerous illness, it would be absurd to claim that he does it as a ‘sacrifice’ for her sake, not his own, and that it makes no difference to him, personally and selfishly, whether she lives or dies.”
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