While it’s focused on Objectivism, the philosophy devised by Ayn Rand, the broader point it makes is of of intellectual independence: that only you’re able to learn and understand something for yourself, and only you can make a decision about it—whether based on facts or ignorance.
The most important resource for understanding Objectivism is your own reasoning mind. In a certain respect, this point is too obvious to warrant mentioning. In another respect, it can’t be emphasized enough. So I’ll say a few words about it upfront.
Objectivism is often misrepresented by those who fear its actual nature. One of the most widespread and destructive misrepresentations of the philosophy is the claim that it is a set of dogmas issued by Ayn Rand that you must accept and follow in order to be a “good Objectivist.” In other words, this assertion goes, the absolutism of Objectivism is like the dogmatism of religion: doctrinaire, authoritarian, confining.
But it is not. And understanding the difference is essential to understanding Objectivism.
Objectivism is indeed a philosophy of absolutes. It’s a system of black-and-white principles. It is also utterly non-dogmatic and profoundly liberating. And its reality-based, life-serving nature lies in the integration of these facts.
Objectivism identifies absolutes about the nature of reality, man’s means of knowledge, the requirements of human life, the source and nature of rights, the moral purpose of government. Its principles are black and white because reality is black and white: Things are what they are; they’re not what they’re not. An idea is either supported by evidence and logic, or it is not. An action either advances human life, or it does not. A law or policy either initiates physical force and thus violates individual rights, or it does not. And so on.
Objectivism recognizes and upholds such absolutes, but it does not call for you to accept them on faith or because some authority said so. Rather, Objectivism calls for you to look at reality for yourself, to use your own mind, and to draw first-hand conclusions on the basis of your own observations and logic. If an idea doesn’t make sense to you, if you don’t see how it is supported by facts, then, according to Objectivism, you should not accept it as true. And this applies emphatically to the principles of Objectivism.
This is the Objectivist principle of independence. And it too is an absolute: If you want to understand some aspect of reality, you must perceive the world with your own senses and integrate your observations with your own reasoning mind. Of course, you can learn from other people by listening to what they say, considering their arguments, observing their actions, and relating what they say or do to what you know. But the fact remains that in order genuinely to understand an idea, theory, or subject, you must rely ultimately on your own observations and logic. You must establish and maintain a primary orientation toward the facts as you see them, not toward the views or opinions of other people…
Reality, Objectivism acknowledges, exists independently of any consensus or consciousness. The function of the mind is not to create reality, but to comprehend it. And the mind is an attribute of the individual.
Applied to the aim at hand, this particular absolute means that if you want to understand Objectivism, you must activate your mind and consider the philosophy as it actually is—not as those who fear the philosophy falsely portray it to be.
If you approach Objectivism with a commitment to seeing for yourself what it actually says and means, then whatever your assessment—whether positive, negative, or mixed—it will be your assessment. And that, of course, is what matters.