Rational Egoism in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead
by Dr. Andrew Bernstein
In The Fountainhead, novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand fully dramatizes the moral theory of rational egoism—the theory which holds that it is each person’s responsibility to choose his goals and values by use of his independent reasoning mind; and that it is his right to pursue these goals in quest of his own selfish, personal happiness. Put another way, conscientious adherence to one’s best rational judgment is the only appropriate means—and success, creative achievement, and personal happiness are the proper ends—of human life. The theme of the novel is the virtue of independence in thought and action: the crucial importance of deriving your values and standards by the exercise of your own best judgment, as opposed to blindly following the judgment of others; and then pursuing these values consistently and indefatigably, as opposed to betraying or compromising them in practice. Dr. Bernstein explores how the plot and conflict of The Fountainhead convey this theme, including a detailed, in-depth analysis of the five major characters in the story—Peter Keating, Ellsworth Toohey, Gail Wynand, Dominique Francon, and the hero Howard Roark.