Key Terms and Definitions

by Mia Claudia Wood

This chapter is a free excerpt from Quicklet on Ayn Rand's Philosophy: Who Needs It.

Because Rand often utilizes terms in fairly specific ways, it is helpful to consult The Ayn Rand Lexicon. Another reason to peruse the lexicon is because, although Rand uses terms in specific ways, she rarely distinguishes the same terminology used differently by the philosophers she references. As a result, her references may be misleading, if you do not have a working knowledge of her definitions.


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Because Rand often utilizes terms in fairly specific ways, it is helpful to consult The Ayn Rand Lexicon. Another reason to peruse the lexicon is because, although Rand uses terms in specific ways, she rarely distinguishes the same terminology used differently by the philosophers she references. As a result, her references may be misleading, if you do not have a working knowledge of her definitions.

Major terms Rand enlists include the following:

  • altruism: “The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.” (from “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World”)
  • causality: “The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action. All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the entities that act; a thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature . . . . “ (from Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged, reprinted in For The New Intellectual)
  • concept: “A concept is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated by a process of abstraction and united by a specific definition.” (from “The Psycho-Epistemology of Art” in The Romantic Manifesto)
  • consciousness: “[T]he faculty of perceiving that which exists.” (from Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged, reprinted in For The New Intellectual)
  • faith: The “blind acceptance of a certain ideational content, acceptance induced by feeling in the absence of evidence or proof.” (Leonard Peikoff, The Ominous Parallels)
  • identity: What a thing is, its characteristics.
  • individualist: “A man who recognizes the inalienable individual rights of man—his own and those of others.” (from “Textbook of Americanism” in The Ayn Rand Column)
  • knowledge: “[A] mental grasp of a fact(s) of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation.” (From “Concepts of Consciousness” in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology)
  • logic: “[T]he art of non-contradictory identification.” (from Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged, reprinted in For The New Intellectual)
  • Objectivism: “[T]he concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” (from “About the Author” in the appendix to Atlas Shrugged)
  • Objectivist: An individual who adheres to Objectivism as a guide to thinking about the world and one’s interactions with it.
  • reason: “[T]he faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.” (from “The Objectivist Ethics” in The Virtue of Selfishness)
  • rationality: “[T]he recognition of the fact that existence exists, that nothing can alter the truth and nothing can take precedence over that act of perceiving it, which is thinking—that the mind is one’s only judge of values and one’s only guide of action—that reason is an absolute that permits no compromise—that a concession to the irrational invalidates one’s consciousness and turns it from the task of perceiving to the task of faking reality—that the alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind—that the acceptance of a mystical invention is a wish for the annihilation of existence and, properly, annihilates one’s consciousness.” (from Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged, reprinted in For The New Intellectual)
  • self: “A man’s self is his mind—the faculty that perceives reality, forms judgments, chooses values.” (from “Selfishness without a Self” in Philosophy: Who Needs It?)
  • selfishness: “[R]ational selfishness—which means: the values required for man’s survival qua man—which means: the values required for human survival—not the values produced by the desires, the emotions, the “aspirations,” the feelings, the whims or the needs of irrational brutes, who have never outgrown the primordial practice of human sacrifices, have never discovered an industrial society and can conceive of no self-interest but that of grabbing the loot of the moment. (from “The Objectivist Ethics” in The Virtue of Selfishness)
  • truth: “[T]he product of the recognition (i.e., identification) of the facts of reality. Man identifies and integrates the facts of reality by means of concepts. He retains concepts in his mind by means of definitions. He organizes concepts into propositions—and the truth or falsehood of his propositions rests, not only on their relation to the facts he asserts, but also on the truth or falsehood of the definitions of the concepts he uses to assert them, which rests on the truth or falsehood of his designations of essential characteristics.” (from “Definitions” in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology)
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