Most people, if asked to list the subjects that are of most practical significance to human
life, might name medicine, computer science, engineering, physics, or even political
science. But few would name philosophy, which is regarded as an esoteric subject, good
for little more than debating unanswerable questions on college campuses or in coffee
shops. When it comes to living one’s life in the real world and dealing with real issues, it
is commonly thought, philosophy is irrelevant.
Ayn Rand’s view is the exact opposite. To her, philosophy is a subject of tremendous
The science of philosophy studies the fundamentals of human thought and action. It asks
and answers questions such as: What kind of world do I live in? Do I control my own
destiny? What do I know? Can I prove it? What is the good? Should I be selfish and
pursue my own interests, or should I devote myself to serving God or other people?
There is no escape from these questions, Ayn Rand held. One cannot operate without
some conception, correct or incorrect, consciously thought out or inchoate, of the nature
of the world one lives in, of how to come to conclusions about it, and of how to act
properly in it. The answers one accepts to these questions determine the basic course of
one’s life. The answers that dominate in a culture determine the basic direction of that
culture. Art, sex, friendship, politics, economics, law, business, science, history—every
aspect of one’s life and every aspect of the culture are, she argued, shaped by philosophic
The power and inescapability of philosophy is a theme that runs through Ayn Rand’s
fiction and nonfiction writings. To learn more about her unique perspective on
philosophy, the three best works to start with are Atlas Shrugged, For the New
Intellectual, and Philosophy: Who Needs It.