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Ayn Rand Objectivism Fountainhead Essay

"Objectivist philosophy" redirects here. For objectivity in philosophy, see Objectivity (philosophy). For other uses, see Objectivism (disambiguation).

Objectivism is a philosophical system developed by Russian-American writer Ayn Rand (1905–1982). Rand first expressed Objectivism in her fiction, most notably The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), and later in non-fiction essays and books.[1]Leonard Peikoff, a professional philosopher and Rand's designated intellectual heir,[2] later gave it a more formal structure. Peikoff characterizes Objectivism as a "closed system" that is not subject to change.[3]

Objectivism's central tenets are that reality exists independently of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness (rational self-interest), that the only social system consistent with this morality is one that displays full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-fairecapitalism, and that the role of art in human life is to transform humans' metaphysical ideas by selective reproduction of reality into a physical form—a work of art—that one can comprehend and to which one can respond emotionally.

Academic philosophers have mostly ignored or rejected Rand's philosophy.[4] Nonetheless, Objectivism has been a significant influence among libertarians and American conservatives.[5] The Objectivist movement, which Rand founded, attempts to spread her ideas to the public and in academic settings.[6]


Rand originally expressed her philosophical ideas in her novels, most notably, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. She further elaborated on them in her periodicals The Objectivist Newsletter, The Objectivist, and The Ayn Rand Letter, and in non-fiction books such as Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology and The Virtue of Selfishness.[7]

The name "Objectivism" derives from the idea that human knowledge and values are objective: they exist and are determined by the nature of reality, to be discovered by one's mind, and are not created by the thoughts one has.[8] Rand stated that she chose the name because her preferred term for a philosophy based on the primacy of existence—"existentialism"—had already been taken.[9]

Rand characterized Objectivism as "a philosophy for living on earth", grounded in reality, and aimed at defining human nature and the nature of the world in which we live.[7]

My philosophy, in essence, is the 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.

— Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged[10]

Metaphysics: objective reality[edit]

Rand's philosophy begins with three axioms: existence, consciousness, and identity.[11] Rand defined an axiom as "a statement that identifies the base of knowledge and of any further statement pertaining to that knowledge, a statement necessarily contained in all others whether any particular speaker chooses to identify it or not. An axiom is a proposition that defeats its opponents by the fact that they have to accept it and use it in the process of any attempt to deny it."[12] As Objectivist philosopher Leonard Peikoff argued, Rand's argument for axioms "is not a proof that the axioms of existence, consciousness, and identity are true. It is proof that they are axioms, that they are at the base of knowledge and thus inescapable."[13]

Rand held that existence is the perceptually self-evident fact at the base of all other knowledge, i.e., that "existence exists." She further held that to be is to be something, that "existence is identity." That is, to be is to be "an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes." That which has no nature or attributes does not and cannot exist. The axiom of existence is grasped in differentiating something from nothing, while the law of identity is grasped in differentiating one thing from another, i.e., one's first awareness of the law of non-contradiction, another crucial base for the rest of knowledge. As Rand wrote, "A leaf ... cannot be all red and green at the same time, it cannot freeze and burn at the same time... A is A."[14] Objectivism rejects belief in anything alleged to transcend existence.[15]

Rand argued that consciousness is "the faculty of perceiving that which exists." As she put it, "to be conscious is to be conscious of something", that is consciousness itself cannot be distinguished or grasped except in relation to an independent reality.[16] "It cannot be aware only of itself—there is no 'itself' until it is aware of something."[17] Thus, Objectivism holds that the mind does not create reality, but rather, it is a means of discovering reality.[18] Expressed differently, existence has "primacy" over consciousness, which must conform to it. Any other approach Rand termed "the primacy of consciousness", including any variant of metaphysical subjectivism or theism.[19]

Objectivist philosophy derives its explanations of action and causation from the axiom of identity, calling causation "the law of identity applied to action."[20] According to Rand, it is entities that act, and every action is the action of an entity. The way entities act is caused by the specific nature (or "identity") of those entities; if they were different they would act differently. As with the other axioms, an implicit understanding of causation is derived from one's primary observations of causal connections among entities even before it is verbally identified, and serves as the basis of further knowledge.[21]

Epistemology: reason[edit]

According to Rand, attaining knowledge beyond what is given in perception requires both volition (or the exercise of free will) and adherence to a specific method of validation through observation, concept-formation, and the application of inductive and deductive reasoning. For example, a belief in dragons, however sincere, does not mean reality contains any dragons. A process of proof identifying the basis in reality of a claimed item of knowledge is necessary to establish its truth.[22]

Objectivist epistemology begins with the principle that "consciousness is identification". This is understood to be a direct consequence of the metaphysical principle that "existence is identity."[23] Rand defined "reason" as "the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses."[24] Says Rand, "The fundamental concept of method, the one on which all the others depend, is logic. The distinguishing characteristic of logic (the art of non-contradictory identification) indicates the nature of the actions (actions of consciousness required to achieve a correct identification) and their goal (knowledge)—while omitting the length, complexity or specific steps of the process of logical inference, as well as the nature of the particular cognitive problem involved in any given instance of using logic."[25]

According to Rand, consciousness possesses a specific and finite identity, just like everything else that exists; therefore, it must operate by a specific method of validation. An item of knowledge cannot be "disqualified" by being arrived at by a specific process in a particular form. Thus, for Rand, the fact that consciousness must itself possess identity implies the rejection of both universal skepticism based on the "limits" of consciousness, as well as any claim to revelation, emotion or faith based belief.

Objectivist epistemology maintains that all knowledge is ultimately based on perception. "Percepts, not sensations, are the given, the self-evident."[26] Rand considered the validity of the senses to be axiomatic, and claimed that purported arguments to the contrary all commit the fallacy of the "stolen concept"[27] by presupposing the validity of concepts that, in turn, presuppose the validity of the senses.[28] She held that perception, being physiologically determined, is incapable of error. For example, optical illusions are errors in the conceptual identification of what is seen, not errors in sight itself.[29] The validity of sense perception, therefore, is not susceptible to proof (because it is presupposed by all proof as proof is only a matter of adducing sensory evidence) nor should its validity be denied (since the conceptual tools one would have to use to do this are derived from sensory data). Perceptual error, therefore, is not possible. Rand consequently rejected epistemological skepticism, as she holds that the skeptics' claim to knowledge "distorted" by the form or the means of perception is impossible.[29]

The Objectivist theory of perception distinguishes between the form and object. The form in which an organism perceives is determined by the physiology of its sensory systems. Whatever form the organism perceives it in, what it perceives—the object of perception—is reality.[30] Rand consequently rejected the Kantian dichotomy between "things as we perceive them" and "things as they are in themselves." Says Rand, "The attack on man's consciousness and particularly on his conceptual faculty has rested on the unchallenged premise that any knowledge acquired by a process of consciousness is necessarily subjective and cannot correspond to the facts of reality, since it is "processed knowledge...[but] all knowledge is processed knowledge—whether on the sensory, perceptual or conceptual level. An "unprocessed" knowledge would be a knowledge acquired without means of cognition."[31]

The aspect of epistemology given the most elaboration by Rand is the theory of concept-formation, which she presented in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. She argued that concepts are formed by a process of measurement omission. Peikoff described her view as follows:

To form a concept, one mentally isolates a group of concretes (of distinct perceptual units), on the basis of observed similarities which distinguish them from all other known concretes (similarity is 'the relationship between two or more existents which possess the same characteristic(s), but in different measure or degree'); then, by a process of omitting the particular measurements of these concretes, one integrates them into a single new mental unit: the concept, which subsumes all concretes of this kind (a potentially unlimited number). The integration is completed and retained by the selection of a perceptual symbol (a word) to designate it. "A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted."[32]

According to Rand, "[T]he term 'measurements omitted' does not mean, in this context, that measurements are regarded as non-existent; it means that measurements exist, but are not specified. That measurements must exist is an essential part of the process. The principle is: the relevant measurements must exist in some quantity, but may exist in any quantity."[33]

Rand argued that concepts are hierarchically organized. Concepts such as 'dog,' which bring together "concretes" available in perception, can be differentiated (into the concepts of 'dachshund,' 'poodle,' etc.) or integrated (along with 'cat,' etc., into the concept of 'animal'). Abstract concepts such as 'animal' can be further integrated, via "abstraction from abstractions", into such concepts as 'living thing.' Concepts are formed in the context of knowledge available. A young child differentiates dogs from cats and chickens, but need not explicitly differentiate them from deep-sea tube worms, or from other types of animals not yet known to him, to form a concept 'dog.'[34]

Because of its view of concepts as "open-ended" classifications that go well beyond the characteristics included in their past or current definitions, Objectivist epistemology rejects the analytic-synthetic distinction as a false dichotomy[35] and denies the possibility of a priori knowledge.[36]

Rand rejected "feeling" as sources of knowledge. Rand acknowledged the importance of emotion for human beings, but she maintained that emotions are a consequence of the conscious or subconscious ideas that a person already accepts, not a means of achieving awareness of reality. "Emotions are not tools of cognition."[37] Rand also rejected all forms of faith or mysticism, terms that she used synonymously. She defined faith as "the acceptance of allegations without evidence or proof, either apart from or against the evidence of one's senses and reason... Mysticism is the claim to some non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable means of knowledge, such as 'instinct,' 'intuition,' 'revelation,' or any form of 'just knowing.'"[38] Reliance on revelation is like reliance on a Ouija board; it bypasses the need to show how it connects its results to reality. Faith, for Rand, is not a "short-cut" to knowledge, but a "short-circuit" destroying it.[39]

Objectivism acknowledges the facts that human beings have limited knowledge, are vulnerable to error, and do not instantly understand all of the implications of their knowledge.[40] According to Peikoff, one can be certain of a proposition if all of the available evidence supports it, i.e., it can be logically integrated with the rest of one's knowledge; one is then certain within the context of the evidence.[41]

Rand rejected the traditional rationalist/empiricist dichotomy, arguing that it embodies a false alternative: conceptually-based knowledge independent of perception (rationalism) versus perceptually-based knowledge independent of concepts (empiricism). Rand argued that neither is possible because the senses provide the material of knowledge while conceptual processing is also needed to establish knowable propositions.

Criticisms on epistemology[edit]

The philosopher John Hospers, who was influenced by Rand and shared her moral and political views, disagreed with her over issues of epistemology.[42] Some philosophers, such as Tibor Machan, have argued that the Objectivist epistemology is incomplete.[43]

Psychology professor Robert L. Campbell says the relationship between Objectivist epistemology and cognitive science remains unclear because Rand made claims about human cognition and its development which belong to psychology, yet Rand also argued that philosophy is logically prior to psychology and in no way dependent on it.[44][45]

The philosophers Randall Dipert and Roderick Long have argued that Objectivist epistemology conflates the perceptual process by which judgments are formed with the way in which they are to be justified, thereby leaving it unclear how sensory data can validate propositionally structured judgments.[46][47]

Ethics: self-interest[edit]

Objectivism includes an extensive treatment of ethical concerns. Rand wrote on morality in her works The Virtue of Selfishness,We the Living, and Atlas Shrugged. Rand defines morality as "a code of values to guide man's choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life."[48] Rand maintained that the first question is not what should the code of values be, the first question is "Does man need values at all—and why?" According to Rand, "it is only the concept of 'Life' that makes the concept of 'Value' possible," and, "the fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do."[49] Rand writes: "there is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action... It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death..."

Rand argued that the primary focus of man's free will is in the choice: 'to think or not to think'. "Thinking is not an automatic function. In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one's consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make."[50] According to Rand, therefore, possessing free will, human beings must choose their values: one does not automatically hold one's own life as his ultimate value. Whether in fact a person's actions promote and fulfill his own life or not is a question of fact, as it is with all other organisms, but whether a person will act to promote his well-being is up to him, not hard-wired into his physiology. "Man has the power to act as his own destroyer—and that is the way he has acted through most of his history."[51]

Says Rand, "Man's mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not. His body is given to him, its sustenance is not. His mind is given to him, its content is not. To remain alive he must act and before he can act he must know the nature and purpose of his action. He cannot obtain his food without knowledge of food and of the way to obtain it. He cannot dig a ditch—or build a cyclotron—without a knowledge of his aim and the means to achieve it. To remain alive, he must think."[52] In her novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, she also emphasizes the central importance of productive work, romantic love and art to human happiness, and dramatizes the ethical character of their pursuit. The primary virtue in Objectivist ethics is rationality, as Rand meant it "the recognition and acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge, one's only judge of values and one's only guide to action."[53]

The purpose of a moral code, Rand held, is to provide the principles by reference to which man can achieve the values his survival requires.[54] Rand summarizes:

If [man] chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice. If he does not choose to live, nature will take its course. Reality confronts a man with a great many "must's", but all of them are conditional: the formula of realistic necessity is: "you must, if –" and the if stands for man's choice: "if you want to achieve a certain goal".[55]

Rand's explanation of values presents the view that an individual's primary moral obligation is to achieve his own well-being—it is for his life and his self-interest that an individual ought to adhere to a moral code.[56]Ethical egoism is a corollary of setting man's life as the moral standard.[57] Rand believed that rational egoism is the logical consequence of humans following evidence wherever it leads them. The only alternative would be that they live without orientation to reality.

A corollary to Rand's endorsement of self-interest is her rejection of the ethical doctrine of altruism—which she defined in the sense of Auguste Comte's altruism (he coined the term), as a moral obligation to live for the sake of others. Rand also rejected subjectivism. A "whim-worshiper" or "hedonist," according to Rand, is not motivated by a desire to live his own human life, but by a wish to live on a sub-human level. Instead of using "that which promotes my (human) life" as his standard of value, he mistakes "that which I (mindlessly happen to) value" for a standard of value, in contradiction of the fact that, existentially, he is a human and therefore rational organism. The "I value" in whim-worship or hedonism can be replaced with "we value," "he values," "they value," or "God values," and still it would remain dissociated from reality. Rand repudiated the equation of rational selfishness with hedonistic or whim-worshiping "selfishness-without-a-self." She held that the former is good, and the latter evil, and that there is a fundamental difference between them.[58]

For Rand, all of the principal virtues are applications of the role of reason as man's basic tool of survival: rationality, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, productiveness, and pride—each of which she explains in some detail in "The Objectivist Ethics."[59] The essence of Objectivist ethics is summarized by the oath her Atlas Shrugged character John Galt adhered to: "I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."[60]

Criticisms on ethics[edit]

Many philosophers have criticized Objectivist ethics. The philosopher Robert Nozick argues that Rand's foundational argument in ethics is unsound because it does not explain why someone could not rationally prefer dying and having no values. He argues that her attempt to defend the morality of selfishness is, therefore, an instance of begging the question. Nozick also argues that Rand's solution to David Hume's famous is-ought problem is unsatisfactory. In response, the philosophers Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl have argued that Nozick misstated Rand's case.[61][62]

Charles King criticized Rand's example of an indestructible robot to demonstrate the value of life as incorrect and confusing.[63] In response, Paul St. F. Blair defended Rand's ethical conclusions, while maintaining that his arguments might not have been approved by Rand.[64]

Politics: individual rights and capitalism[edit]

Rand's defense of individual liberty integrates elements from her entire philosophy.[65] Since reason is the means of human knowledge, it is therefore each person's most fundamental means of survival and is necessary to the achievement of values.[66] The use or threat of force neutralizes the practical effect of an individual's reason, whether the force originates from the state or from a criminal. According to Rand, "man's mind will not function at the point of a gun."[67] Therefore, the only type of organized human behavior consistent with the operation of reason is that of voluntary cooperation. Persuasion is the method of reason. By its nature, the overtly irrational cannot rely on the use of persuasion and must ultimately resort to force to prevail.[68] Thus, Rand saw reason and freedom as correlates, just as she saw mysticism and force as corollaries.[69] Based on this understanding of the role of reason, Objectivists hold that the initiation of physical force against the will of another is immoral,[70] as are indirect initiations of force through threats,[71] fraud,[72] or breach of contract.[73] The use of defensive or retaliatory force, on the other hand, is appropriate.[74]

Objectivism holds that because the opportunity to use reason without the initiation of force is necessary to achieve moral values, each individual has an inalienable moral right to act as his own judgment directs and to keep the product of his effort. Peikoff, explaining the basis of rights, stated, "In content, as the founding fathers recognized, there is one fundamental right, which has several major derivatives. The fundamental right is the right to life. Its major derivatives are the right to liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness."[75] "A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context."[76] These rights are specifically understood to be rights to action, not to specific results or objects, and the obligations created by rights are negative in nature: each individual must refrain from violating the rights of others.[77] Objectivists reject alternative notions of rights, such as positive rights,[78]collective rights, or animal rights.[79] Objectivism holds that the only social system which fully recognizes individual rights is capitalism,[80] specifically what Rand described as "full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism."[81] Objectivism regards capitalism as the social system which is most beneficial to the poor, but that this isn't its primary justification.[82] Rather, it is the only moral social system. Objectivism maintains that only societies seeking to establish freedom (or free nations) have a right to self-determination.[83]

Objectivism views government as "the means of placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control—i.e., under objectively defined laws;" thus, government is both legitimate and critically important[84] in order to protect individual rights.[85] Rand opposed anarchism because she saw putting police and courts on the market as an inherent miscarriage of justice.[86] Objectivism holds that the proper functions of a government are "the police, to protect men from criminals—the armed services, to protect men from foreign invaders—the law courts, to settle disputes among men according to objectively defined laws," the executive, and legislatures.[87] Furthermore, in protecting individual rights, the government is acting as an agent of its citizens and "has no rights except the rights delegated to it by the citizens"[88] and it must act in an impartial manner according to specific, objectively defined laws.[89] Prominent Objectivists Peikoff and Yaron Brook have since expressed support for other government functions.[90][91]

Rand argued that limited intellectual property monopolies being granted to certain inventors and artists on a first-to-file basis are moral because she viewed all property as fundamentally intellectual. Furthermore, the value of a commercial product comes in part from the necessary work of its inventors. However, Rand viewed limits on patents and copyrights as important and held that if they were granted in perpetuity, it would necessarily lead to de facto collectivism.

Rand opposed racism and any legal application of racism. She considered affirmative action to be an example of legal racism.[92] Rand advocated the right to legal abortion.[93] Rand believed capital punishment is morally justified as retribution against a murderer, but dangerous due to the risk of mistakenly executing innocent people and opening the door to state murder. She therefore said she opposed capital punishment "on epistemological, not moral, grounds."[94] She opposed involuntary military conscription.[95] She opposed any form of censorship, including legal restrictions on pornography, opinion or worship, famously quipping; "In the transition to statism, every infringement of human rights has begun with a given right's least attractive practitioners".[96][97]

Objectivists have also opposed a number of government activities commonly supported by both liberals and conservatives, including antitrust laws,[98] the minimum wage, public education,[99] and existing child labor laws.[100] Objectivists have argued against faith-based initiatives,[101] displaying religious symbols in government facilities,[102] and the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools.[103] Maintaining that it should be phased out gradually, Rand opposed taxation as she considered it theft and an endorsement of force over reason.[104][105]

Criticisms on politics[edit]

Some critics, including economists and political philosophers such as, Murray Rothbard, David D. Friedman, Roy Childs, Norman P. Barry, and Chandran Kukathas, have argued that Objectivist ethics are consistent with anarcho-capitalism instead of minarchism.[106][107][108][109][110]

Aesthetics: metaphysical value-judgments[edit]

See also: Romantic realism

The Objectivist theory of art flows from its epistemology, by way of "psycho-epistemology" (Rand's term for an individual's characteristic mode of functioning in acquiring knowledge). Art, according to Objectivism, serves a human cognitive need: it allows human beings to grasp concepts as though they were percepts. Objectivism defines "art" as a "selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgments"—that is, according to what the artist believes to be ultimately true and important about the nature of reality and humanity. In this respect Objectivism regards art as a way of presenting abstractions concretely, in perceptual form.[111]

The human need for art, on this view, stems from the need for cognitive economy. A concept is already a sort of mental shorthand standing for a large number of concretes, allowing a human being to think indirectly or implicitly of many more such concretes than can be held explicitly in mind. But a human being cannot hold indefinitely many concepts explicitly in mind either—and yet, on the Objectivist view, needs a comprehensive conceptual framework to provide guidance in life. Art offers a way out of this dilemma by providing a perceptual, easily grasped means of communicating and thinking about a wide range of abstractions, including one's metaphysical value-judgments. Objectivism regards art as an effective way to communicate a moral or ethical ideal.[112] Objectivism does not, however, regard art as propagandistic: even though art involves moral values and ideals, its purpose is not to educate, only to show or project. Moreover, art need not be, and usually is not, the outcome of a full-blown, explicit philosophy. Usually it stems from an artist's sense of life (which is preconceptual and largely emotional).[113]

Rand held that Romanticism was the highest school of literary art, noting that Romanticism was "based on the recognition of the principle that man possesses the faculty of volition," absent which, Rand believed, literature is robbed of dramatic power, adding:

What the Romanticists brought to art was the primacy of values... Values are the source of emotions: a great deal of emotional intensity was projected in the work of the Romanticists and in the reactions of their audiences, as well as a great deal of color, imagination, originality, excitement, and all the other consequences of a value-oriented view of life.[114]

The term "romanticism," however, is often affiliated with emotionalism, to which Objectivism is completely opposed. Historically, many romantic artists were philosophically subjectivist. Most Objectivists who are also artists subscribe to what they call romantic realism, which is how Rand labeled her own work.[115]

Development by other authors[edit]

See also: Objectivist movement

Several authors have developed and applied Rand's ideas in their own work. Rand described Peikoff's The Ominous Parallels (1982), as "the first book by an Objectivist philosopher other than myself."[116] In 1991, Peikoff published Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, a comprehensive exposition of Rand's philosophy.[117]Chris Matthew Sciabarra discusses Rand's ideas and theorizes about their intellectual origins in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (1995). Surveys such as On Ayn Rand by Allan Gotthelf (1999), Ayn Rand by Tibor R. Machan (2000), and Objectivism in One Lesson by Andrew Bernstein (2009) provide briefer introductions to Rand's ideas.

Some scholars have focused on applying Objectivism in more specific areas. Machan has developed Rand's contextual conception of human knowledge (while also drawing on the insights of J. L. Austin and Gilbert Harman) in works such as Objectivity (2004), and David Kelley has explicated Rand's epistemological ideas in works such as The Evidence of the Senses (1986) and A Theory of Abstraction (2001). In the field of ethics, Kelley has argued in works such as Unrugged Individualism (1996) and The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand (2000) that Objectivists should pay more attention to the virtue of benevolence and place less emphasis on issues of moral sanction. Kelley's views have been controversial, and critics Peikoff and Peter Schwartz have argued that he contradicts important principles of Objectivism.[118] Kelley has used the term "Open Objectivism" for a version of Objectivism that involves "a commitment to reasoned, non-dogmatic discussion and debate," "the recognition that Objectivism is open to expansion, refinement, and revision," and "a policy of benevolence toward others, including fellow-travelers and critics."[119]

An author who focuses on Rand's ethics, Tara Smith, stays closer to Rand's original ideas in such works as Moral Rights and Political Freedom (1995), Viable Values (2000), and Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics (2006).[120] In collaboration with Peikoff, David Harriman has developed a theory of scientificinduction based upon Rand's theory of concepts in The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics (2010).[121]

The political aspects of Rand's philosophy are discussed by Bernstein in The Capitalist Manifesto (2005). In Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (1996), George Reisman attempts to integrate Objectivist methodology and insights with both Classical and Austrian economics. In psychology, Professor Edwin A. Locke and Ellen Kenner have explored Rand's ideas in The Selfish Path to Romance: How to Love with Passion & Reason.[122] Other writers have explored the application of Objectivism to fields ranging from art, as in What Art Is by Louis Torres and Michelle Marder Kamhi (2000), to teleology, as in The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts by Harry Binswanger (1990).

Intellectual impact[edit]

According to one Rand biographer, most people first read Rand's works in their "formative years."[123] Rand's former protégé Nathaniel Branden referred to Rand's "especially powerful appeal to the young,"[124] while Onkar Ghate of the Ayn Rand Institute said Rand "appeals to the idealism of youth."[125] This appeal has alarmed a number of critics of the philosophy.[126] Many of these young people later abandon their positive view of Rand and are often said to have "outgrown" her ideas.[127] Supporters of Rand's work recognize the phenomenon, but attribute it to the loss of youthful idealism and inability to resist social pressures for intellectual conformity.[125][127] In contrast, historian Jennifer Burns, writing in Goddess of the Market (2009), says some critics "dismiss Rand as a shallow thinker appealing only to adolescents," although she thinks the critics "miss her significance" as a "gateway drug" to right-wing politics.[128]

Academic philosophers have generally dismissed Objectivism since Rand first presented it.[4] Objectivism has been called "fiercely anti-academic" because of Rand's criticism of contemporary intellectuals.[2] David Sidorsky, a professor of moral and political philosophy at Columbia University, says Rand's work is "outside the mainstream" and is more of an ideological movement than a well-grounded philosophy.[129] British philosopher Ted Honderich notes that he deliberately excluded an article on Rand from The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Rand is, however, mentioned in the article on popular philosophy by Anthony Quinton).[130] Rand is the subject of entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,[1]The Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers,[131] the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,[132]The Routledge Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Political Thinkers,[133] and The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy.[134] A listing of Rand also appears in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, featuring the assessment, "The influence of Rand's ideas was strongest among college students in the USA but attracted little attention from academic philosophers. Her outspoken defense of capitalism in works like Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1967), and her characterization of her position as a defence of the 'virtue of selfishness' in her essay collection of the same title published in 1964, also brought notoriety, but kept her out of the intellectual mainstream."[108]

In recent decades Rand's works are more likely to be encountered in the classroom.[2] The Ayn Rand Society, dedicated to fostering the scholarly study of Objectivism, is affiliated with the American Philosophical Association's Eastern Division.[135]Aristotle scholar and Objectivist Allan Gotthelf, late chairman of the Society, and his colleagues argued for more academic study of Objectivism, viewing the philosophy as a unique and intellectually interesting defense of classical liberalism that is worth debating.[136] In 1999, a refereed Journal of Ayn Rand Studies began.[137] In 2006, the University of Pittsburgh held a conference focusing on Objectivism.[138] Programs and fellowships for the study of Objectivism have been supported at the University of Pittsburgh, University of Texas at Austin and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.[139]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ abBadhwar & Long 2012
  2. ^ abcMcLemee, Scott (September 1999). "The Heirs Of Ayn Rand: Has Objectivism Gone Subjective?". Lingua Franca. 9 (6): 45–55. 
  3. ^Peikoff, Leonard (May 18, 1989). "Fact and Value". The Intellectual Activist. 5 (1). 
  4. ^ abSciabarra 2013, p. 1; Badhwar & Long 2012; Gotthelf 2000, p. 1; Machan 2000, p. 9; Gladstein 1999, p. 2; Heyl 1995, p. 223; Den Uyl & Rasmussen 1984, p. 36
  5. ^Burns 2009, p. 4; Gladstein 2009, pp. 107–08, 124
  6. ^Sciabarra 1995, pp. 1–2
  7. ^ abRubin, Harriet (September 15, 2007). "Ayn Rand's Literature of Capitalism". The New York Times. Retrieved September 18, 2007. 
  8. ^Rand 1967, p. 23
  9. ^Peikoff 1991, p. 36
  10. ^"About the Author" in Rand 1992, pp. 1170–71
  11. ^Peikoff 1991, pp. 4–11
  12. ^Rand 1992, p. 1040.
  13. ^Peikoff 1991, p. 11
  14. ^Rand 1992, p. 1016.
  15. ^Peikoff 1991, pp. 31–33
  16. ^Peikoff 1991, p. 5
  17. ^Gotthelf 2000
  18. ^Rand 1990
  19. ^Rand 1982, pp. 24–28
  20. ^Rand 1992, p. 1037
  21. ^Peikoff 1991, p. 14
  22. ^Peikoff 1991, pp. 116–21
  23. ^Rand 1961, p. 124
  24. ^Rand 1964, p. 22
  25. ^Rand 1990, p. 36
  26. ^Rand 1990, p. 5
  27. ^Branden, Nathaniel (January 1963). "The Stolen Concept". The Objectivist Newsletter. 2 (1): 2, 4. 
  28. ^Rand 1990, p. 3
  29. ^ abKelley 1986
  30. ^Kelley 1986; Peikoff 1991, pp. 44–48
  31. ^Rand 1990, p. 81
  32. ^Peikoff, Leonard. "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy." in Rand 1990, pp. 97–98. The quotes within this passage are of Rand's material elsewhere in the same book.
  33. ^Rand 1990, p. 12; for more on Rand's theory of concepts see also Kelley, David "A Theory of Abstraction" and "The Psychology of Abstraction", Cognition and Brain Theory vol. vii, no. 3 and 4 (Summer/Fall 1984), and Rasmussen, Douglas B., "Quine and Aristotelian Essentialism," The New Scholasticism 58 (Summer, 1984)
  34. ^Rand 1990, pp. 15–28
  35. ^Peikoff, Leonard. "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy," in Rand 1990, p. 94
  36. ^Peikoff, Leonard. "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy". in Rand 1990, pp. 116–18
  37. ^Rand 1961, p. 64
  38. ^Rand 1982, pp. 62–63
  39. ^Rand 1961, p. 223; Peikoff 1991, pp. 182–85
  40. ^Lecture by Leonard Peikoff, cited in Sciabarra 1995.
  41. ^Peikoff 1991, pp. 171–81
  42. ^Branden 1987, p. 323
  43. ^For example, Machan 2000, pp. 134–51
  44. ^Rand 1990, p. 289
  45. ^Campbell, R. L. (Fall 1999). "Ayn Rand and the Cognitive Revolution in Psychology". Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. 1 (1): 107–34. 
  46. ^Dipert, Randall R. (Spring 1987). "Review Essay: David Kelley's Evidence of the Senses: A Realist Theory of Perception"(PDF). Reason Papers (12): 57–70. 
  47. ^Long, Roderick T. (2000). Reason and Value: Rand versus Aristotle. Objectivist Studies Monographs. Poughkeepsie, New York: The Objectivist Center. ISBN 1-57724-045-6. OCLC 49875339. 
  48. ^Rand 1964, p. 13.
  49. ^Rand 1964, p. 18; for more on Rand's metaethics see Binswanger 1990, pp. 58–66, Smith 2000 and Gotthelf & Lennox 2010
  50. ^Rand 1964, p. 22; for more on Rand's theory of volition, see Binswanger, Harry (December 1991). "Volition as Cognitive Self-Regulation". Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 50 (2): 154–78. doi:10.1016/0749-5978(91)90019-P. ; Branden, Nathaniel (1969). "Man: A Being of Volitional Consciousness". The Psychology of Self-Esteem. Los Angeles: Nash Publishing. ISBN 0-8402-1109-0. ; and Peikoff 1991, pp. 55–72.
  51. ^Rand 1992, p. 1013
  52. ^

"Fountainhead" redirects here. For other uses, see Fountainhead (disambiguation).

The Fountainhead is a 1943 novel by Russian-American author Ayn Rand, her first major literary success. The novel's protagonist, Howard Roark, is an individualistic young architect who designs modernist buildings and refuses to compromise with an architectural establishment unwilling to accept innovation. Roark embodies what Rand believed to be the ideal man, and his struggle reflects Rand's belief that individualism is superior to collectivism.

Roark is opposed by what he calls "second-handers", who value conformity over independence and integrity. These include Roark's former classmate, Peter Keating, who succeeds by following popular styles, but turns to Roark for help with design problems. Ellsworth Toohey, a socialistarchitecture critic who uses his influence to promote his political and social agenda, tries to destroy Roark's career. Tabloid newspaper publisher Gail Wynand seeks to shape popular opinion; he befriends Roark, then betrays him when public opinion turns in a direction he cannot control. The novel's most controversial character is Roark's lover, Dominique Francon. She believes that non-conformity has no chance of winning, so she alternates between helping Roark and working to undermine him. Feminist critics have condemned Roark and Dominique's first sexual encounter, accusing Rand of endorsing rape.

Twelve publishers rejected the manuscript before an editor at the Bobbs-Merrill Company risked his job to get it published. Contemporary reviewers' opinions were mixed. Some praised the novel as a powerful paean to individualism, while others thought it overlong and lacking sympathetic characters. Initial sales were slow, but the book gained a following by word of mouth and became a bestseller. More than 6.5 million copies of The Fountainhead have been sold worldwide and it has been translated into more than 20 languages. The novel attracted a new following for Rand and has enjoyed a lasting influence, especially among architects and right-libertarians.

The novel has been adapted into other media several times. An illustrated version was syndicated in newspapers in 1945. Warner Bros. produced a film version in 1949; Rand wrote the screenplay, and Gary Cooper played Roark. Critics panned the film, which did not recoup its budget; several directors and writers have considered developing a new film adaptation. In 2014, Belgian theater director Ivo van Hove created a stage adaptation, which has received mostly positive reviews.


In the spring of 1922, Howard Roark is expelled from the architecture department of the Stanton Institute of Technology because he will not adhere to the school's preference for historical convention in building design. Roark goes to New York City and gets a job with Henry Cameron. Cameron was once a renowned architect, but now gets few commissions. In the meantime, Roark's popular, but vacuous, school roommate Peter Keating (whom Roark sometimes helped with projects) graduates with high honors. He too moves to New York, where he has been offered a position with the prestigious architecture firm, Francon & Heyer. Keating ingratiates himself with senior partner Guy Francon and works to remove rivals within his firm. Eventually, he is made a partner. Meanwhile, Roark and Cameron create inspired work, but struggle financially.

After Cameron retires, Keating hires Roark, whom Francon soon fires for refusing to design a building in the classical style. Roark works briefly at another firm, then opens his own office but has trouble finding clients and closes it down. He gets a job in a granite quarry owned by Francon. There he meets Francon's daughter Dominique, a columnist for The New York Banner, while she is staying at her family's estate nearby. They are immediately attracted to each other, leading to a rough sexual encounter that Dominique later calls a rape.[1] Shortly after, Roark is notified that a client is ready to start a new building, and he returns to New York. Dominique also returns to New York and learns Roark is an architect. She attacks his work in public, but visits him for secret sexual encounters.

Ellsworth M. Toohey, who writes a popular architecture column in the Banner, is an outspoken socialist who shapes public opinion through his column and a circle of influential associates. Toohey sets out to destroy Roark through a smear campaign. He recommends Roark to Hopton Stoddard, a wealthy acquaintance who wants to build a Temple of the Human Spirit. Roark's unusual design includes a nude statue modeled on Dominique; Toohey persuades Stoddard to sue Roark for malpractice. Toohey and several architects (including Keating) testify at the trial that Roark is incompetent as an architect due to his rejection of historical styles. Dominique speaks in Roark's defense, but he loses the case. Dominique decides that since she cannot have the world she wants, in which men like Roark are recognized for their greatness, she will live entirely in the world she has, which shuns Roark and praises Keating. She marries Keating and turns herself over to him, doing and saying whatever he wants, such as persuading potential clients to hire him instead of Roark.

To win Keating a prestigious commission offered by Gail Wynand, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Banner, Dominique agrees to sleep with Wynand. Wynand is so strongly attracted to Dominique that he pays Keating to divorce her, after which Wynand and Dominique are married. Wanting to build a home for himself and his new wife, Wynand discovers that Roark designed every building he likes and so hires him. Roark and Wynand become close friends; Wynand is unaware of Roark's past relationship with Dominique.

Washed up and out of the public eye, Keating pleads with Toohey to use his influence to get the commission for the much-sought-after Cortlandt housing project. Keating knows his most successful projects were aided by Roark, so he asks for Roark's help in designing Cortlandt. Roark agrees in exchange for complete anonymity and Keating's promise that it will be built exactly as designed. After taking a long vacation with Wynand, Roark returns to find that Keating was not able to prevent major changes from being made in Cortlandt's construction. Roark dynamites the project to prevent the subversion of his vision.

Roark is arrested and his action is widely condemned, but Wynand decides to use his papers to defend his friend. This unpopular stance hurts the circulation of his newspapers, and Wynand's employees go on strike after Wynand dismisses Toohey for disobeying him and criticizing Roark. Faced with the prospect of closing the paper, Wynand gives in and publishes a denunciation of Roark. At his trial, Roark makes a speech about the value of ego and integrity, and he is found not guilty. Dominique leaves Wynand for Roark. Wynand, who has betrayed his own values by attacking Roark, finally grasps the nature of the power he thought he held. He shuts down the Banner and commissions a final building from Roark, a skyscraper that will serve as a monument to human achievement. Eighteen months later, the Wynand Building is under construction. Dominique, now Roark's wife, enters the site to meet him atop its steel framework.

Major characters[edit]

Howard Roark[edit]

Rand's stated goal in writing fiction was to portray her vision of an ideal man.[2][3] The character of Howard Roark, the protagonist of The Fountainhead, was the first instance where she believed she had achieved this.[4] Roark embodies Rand's egoistic moral ideals,[5] especially the virtues of independence[6] and integrity.[7]

The character of Roark was at least partly inspired by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Rand described the inspiration as limited to specific ideas he had about architecture and "the pattern of his career".[8] She denied that Wright had anything to do with the philosophy expressed by Roark or the events of the plot.[9][10] Rand's denials have not stopped commentators from claiming stronger connections between Wright and Roark.[10][11] Wright equivocated about whether he thought Roark was based on him, sometimes implying that he did, at other times denying it.[12] Wright biographer Ada Louise Huxtable described significant differences between Wright's philosophy and Rand's, and quoted him declaring, "I deny the paternity and refuse to marry the mother."[13] Architecture critic Martin Filler said that Roark resembles the Swiss-French modernist architect Le Corbusier more closely than Wright.[14]

Peter Keating[edit]

In contrast to the individualistic Roark, Peter Keating is a conformist who bases his choices on what others want. Introduced to the reader as Roark's classmate in architecture school, Keating does not really want to be an architect. He loves painting, but his mother steers him toward architecture instead.[15] In this as in all his decisions, Keating does what others expect rather than follow his personal interests. He becomes a social climber, focused on improving his career and social standing using a combination of personal manipulation and conformity to popular styles.[15][16][17] He follows a similar path in his private life: He chooses a loveless marriage to Dominique instead of marrying the woman he loves—who lacks Dominique's beauty and social connections. By middle age, Keating's career is in decline and he is unhappy with his path, but it is too late for him to change.[18][19]

Rand did not use a specific architect as a model for Keating.[20] Her inspiration for the character came from a neighbor she knew while working in Hollywood in the early 1930s. Rand asked this young woman to explain her goals in life. The woman's response was focused on social comparisons: the neighbor wanted her material possessions and social standing to equal or exceed those of other people. Rand created Keating as an archetype of this motivation, which she saw as the opposite of self-interest.[21]

Dominique Francon[edit]

Dominique Francon is the heroine of The Fountainhead, described by Rand as "the woman for a man like Howard Roark".[22] Rand described Dominique as similar to herself "in a bad mood".[23] For most of the novel, the character operates from what Rand viewed as wrong ideas.[24] Believing that the values she admires cannot survive in the real world, she chooses to turn away from them so that the world cannot harm her. Only at the end of the novel does she accept that she can be happy and survive.[23][25][26]

The character has provoked varied reactions from commentators. Philosopher Chris Matthew Sciabarra called her "one of the more bizarre characters in the novel".[27] Literature scholar Mimi Reisel Gladstein called her "an interesting case study in perverseness".[17] Writer Tore Boeckmann described her as a character with conflicting beliefs and saw her actions as a logical representation of how those conflicts might play out.[28]

Gail Wynand[edit]

Gail Wynand is a wealthy newspaper mogul who rose from a destitute childhood in the ghettoes of New York to control much of the city's print media. While Wynand shares many of the character qualities of Roark, his success is dependent upon his ability to pander to public opinion. Rand presents this as a tragic flaw that eventually leads to his downfall. In her journals Rand described Wynand as "the man who could have been" a heroic individualist, contrasting him to Roark, "the man who can be and is".[29][30] Some elements of Wynand's character were inspired by real-life newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst,[29][31][32] including Hearst's yellow journalism and mixed success in attempts to gain political influence.[29] Wynand ultimately fails in his attempts to wield power, losing his newspaper, his wife, and his friendship with Roark.[33] The character has been interpreted as a representation of the master morality described by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche;[34] his tragic nature illustrates Rand's rejection of Nietzsche's philosophy.[30][35][36] In Rand's view, a person like Wynand, who seeks power over others, is as much a "second-hander" as a conformist such as Keating.[37][38][39]

Ellsworth Toohey[edit]

Ellsworth Monkton Toohey is Roark's antagonist. He is Rand's personification of evil—the most active and self-aware villain in any of her novels.[18][40][41] Toohey is a socialist, and represents the spirit of collectivism more generally. He styles himself as representative of the will of the masses, but his actual desire is for power over others.[18][42] He controls individual victims by destroying their sense of self-worth, and seeks broader power (over "the world", as he declares to Keating in a moment of candor) by promoting the ideals of ethical altruism and a rigorous egalitarianism that treats all people and achievements as equally valuable.[40][43] Rand used her memory of the British democratic socialistHarold Laski to help her imagine what Toohey would do in a given situation. She attended a New York lecture by Laski as part of gathering material for the novel, following which she changed the physical appearance of the character to be similar to that of Laski.[44] New York intellectuals Lewis Mumford and Clifton Fadiman also helped inspire the character.[31][32]


Background and development[edit]

When Rand first arrived in New York as an immigrant from the Soviet Union in 1926, she was greatly impressed by the Manhattan skyline's towering skyscrapers, which she saw as symbols of freedom, and resolved that she would write about them.[45][46] In 1927, Rand was working as a junior screenwriter for movie producer Cecil B. DeMille when he asked her to write a script for what would become the 1928 film Skyscraper. The original story by Dudley Murphy was about two construction workers working on a skyscraper who are rivals for a woman's love. Rand rewrote it, transforming the rivals into architects. One of them, Howard Kane, was an idealist dedicated to erecting the skyscraper despite enormous obstacles. The film would have ended with Kane standing atop the completed skyscraper. DeMille rejected Rand's script, and the completed film followed Murphy's original idea. Rand's version contained elements she would use in The Fountainhead.[47][48]

In 1928, Rand made notes for a proposed, but never written, novel titled The Little Street.[49] Rand's notes for it contain elements that carried over into her work on The Fountainhead.[50] David Harriman, who edited the notes for the posthumously published Journals of Ayn Rand (1997), described the story's villain as a preliminary version of the character Ellsworth Toohey, and this villain's assassination by the protagonist as prefiguring the attempted assassination of Toohey.[51]

Rand began The Fountainhead (originally titled Second-Hand Lives) following the completion of her first novel, We the Living, in 1934. That earlier novel was based in part on people and events familiar to Rand; the new novel, on the other hand, focused on the less-familiar world of architecture. She therefore conducted extensive research that included reading many biographies and other books about architecture.[52] She also worked as an unpaid typist in the office of architect Ely Jacques Kahn.[53] Rand began her notes for the new novel in December 1935.[54]

Rand wanted to write a novel that was less overtly political than We the Living, to avoid being viewed as "a 'one-theme' author".[55] As she developed the story, she began to see more political meaning in the novel's ideas about individualism.[56] Rand also planned to introduce the novel's four sections with quotes from Friedrich Nietzsche, whose ideas had influenced her own intellectual development, but she eventually decided that Nietzsche's ideas were too different from hers. She edited the final manuscript to remove the quotes and other allusions to him.[57][58]

Rand's work on The Fountainhead was repeatedly interrupted. In 1937, she took a break from it to write a novella called Anthem. She also completed a stage adaptation of We the Living that ran briefly in 1940.[59] That same year, she became active in politics. She first worked as a volunteer in Wendell Willkie's presidential campaign, and then attempted to form a group for conservative intellectuals.[60] As her royalties from earlier projects ran out, she began doing freelance work as a script reader for movie studios. When Rand finally found a publisher, the novel was only one-third complete.[61]

Publication history[edit]

Although she was a previously published novelist and had a successful Broadway play, Rand had difficulty finding a publisher for The Fountainhead. Macmillan Publishing, which had published We the Living, rejected the book after Rand insisted they provide more publicity for her new novel than they had done for the first one.[62] Rand's agent began submitting the book to other publishers; in 1938, Knopf signed a contract to publish the book. When Rand was only a quarter done with the manuscript by October 1940, Knopf canceled her contract.[63] Several other publishers rejected the book. When Rand's agent began to criticize the novel, Rand fired the agent and decided to handle submissions herself.[64] Twelve publishers (including Macmillan and Knopf) rejected the book.[61][65][66]

While Rand was working as a script reader for Paramount Pictures, her boss put her in touch with the Bobbs-Merrill Company. A recently hired editor, Archibald Ogden, liked the book, but two internal reviewers gave conflicting opinions. One said it was a great book that would never sell; the other said it was trash but would sell well. Ogden's boss, Bobbs-Merrill president D.L. Chambers, decided to reject the book. Ogden responded by wiring to the head office, "If this is not the book for you, then I am not the editor for you." His strong stand won Rand the contract on December 10, 1941. She also got a $1,000 advance so she could work full-time to complete the novel by January 1, 1943.[67][68]

Rand worked long hours through 1942 to complete the final two-thirds of her manuscript, which she delivered on December 31, 1942.[68][69] Rand's working title for the book was Second-Hand Lives, but Ogden pointed out that this emphasized the story's villains. Rand offered The Mainspring as an alternative, but this title had been recently used for another book. She then used a thesaurus and found 'fountainhead' as a synonym.[65]The Fountainhead was published on May 7, 1943, with 7,500 copies in the first printing. Initial sales were slow, but they began to rise in the fall of 1943, driven primarily by word of mouth.[70][71] The novel began appearing on bestseller lists in 1944.[72] It reached number six on The New York Times bestseller list in August 1945, over two years after its initial publication.[73] By 1956, the hardcover edition sold over 700,000 copies.[74] The first paperback edition was published by New American Library in 1952.[75]

A 25th anniversary edition was issued by New American Library in 1971, including a new introduction by Rand. In 1993, a 50th anniversary edition from Bobbs-Merrill added an afterword by Rand's heir, Leonard Peikoff.[76] The novel has been translated into more than 25 languages.[note 1]



Rand indicated that the primary theme of The Fountainhead was "individualism versus collectivism, not in politics but within a man's soul".[78] Philosopher Douglas Den Uyl identified the individualism presented in the novel as being specifically of an American kind, portrayed in the context of that country's society and institutions.[79] Apart from scenes such as Roark's courtroom defense of the American concept of individual rights, she avoided direct discussion of political issues. As historian James Baker described it, "The Fountainhead hardly mentions politics or economics, despite the fact that it was born in the 1930s. Nor does it deal with world affairs, although it was written during World War II. It is about one man against the system, and it does not permit other matters to intrude."[80] Early drafts of the novel included more explicit political references, but Rand removed them from the finished text.[81]


Rand chose the profession of architecture as the background for her novel, although she knew nothing about the field beforehand.[82] As a field that combines art, technology, and business, it allowed her to illustrate her primary themes in multiple areas.[83] Rand later wrote that architects provide "both art and a basic need of men's survival".[82] In a speech to a chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Rand drew a connection between architecture and individualism, saying time periods that had improvements in architecture were also those that had more freedom for the individual.[84]

Roark's modernist approach to architecture is contrasted with that of most of the other architects in the novel. In the opening chapter, the dean of his architecture school tells Roark that the best architecture must copy the past rather than innovate or improve.[85] Roark repeatedly loses jobs with architectural firms and commissions from clients because he is unwilling to copy conventional architectural styles. In contrast, Keating's mimicry of convention brings him top honors in school and an immediate job offer.[86] The same conflict between innovation and tradition is reflected in the career of Roark's mentor, Henry Cameron.[87]


Den Uyl calls The Fountainhead a "philosophical novel", meaning that it addresses philosophical ideas and offers a specific philosophical viewpoint about those ideas.[88] In the years following the publication of The Fountainhead, Rand developed a philosophical system that she called Objectivism. The Fountainhead does not contain this explicit philosophy,[89] and Rand did not write the novel primarily to convey philosophical ideas.[90] Nonetheless, Rand included three excerpts from the novel in For the New Intellectual, a 1961 collection of her writings that she described as an outline of Objectivism.[91] Peikoff used many quotes and examples from The Fountainhead in his 1991 book on Rand's philosophy, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.[92]

Reception and legacy[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

The Fountainhead polarized critics and received mixed reviews upon its release.[93] The reviewer for The New York Times praised Rand as writing "brilliantly, beautifully and bitterly", stating that she had "written a hymn in praise of the individual" that would force readers to rethink basic ideas.[94] Benjamin DeCasseres, a columnist for the New York Journal-American, described Roark as "one of the most inspiring characters in modern American literature". Rand sent DeCasseres a letter thanking him for explaining the book's themes about individualism when many other reviewers did not.[95] There were other positive reviews, although Rand dismissed many of them as either not understanding her message or as being from unimportant publications.[93] A number of negative reviews focused on the length of the novel,[96] such as one that called it "a whale of a book" and another that said "anyone who is taken in by it deserves a stern lecture on paper-rationing". Other negative reviews called the characters unsympathetic and Rand's style "offensively pedestrian".[93]

In the years following its initial publication, The Fountainhead has received relatively little attention from literary critics.[97][98] Assessing the novel's legacy, philosopher Douglas Den Uyl described The Fountainhead as relatively neglected compared to her later novel, Atlas Shrugged, and said, "our problem is to find those topics that arise clearly with The Fountainhead and yet do not force us to read it simply through the eyes of Atlas Shrugged."[97] Among critics who have addressed it, some consider The Fountainhead to be Rand's best novel,[99][100][101] although in some cases this assessment is tempered by an overall negative judgment of Rand's writings.[102][103] Purely negative evaluations have also continued; a 2011 overview of American literature said "mainstream literary culture dismissed [The Fountainhead] in the 1940s and continues to dismiss it".[104]

Feminist criticisms[edit]

One of the most controversial elements of the book is the first sexual encounter between Roark and Dominique.[105]Feminist critics have attacked the scene as representative of an antifeminist viewpoint in Rand's works that makes women subservient to men.[106]Susan Brownmiller, in her 1975 work Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, denounced what she called "Rand's philosophy of rape", for portraying women as wanting "humiliation at the hands of a superior man". She called Rand "a traitor to her own sex".[107] Susan Love Brown said the scene presents Rand's view of sex as sadomasochism involving "feminine subordination and passivity".[108]Barbara Grizzuti Harrison suggested women who enjoy such "masochistic fantasies" are "damaged" and have low self-esteem.[109] While Mimi Reisel Gladstein found elements to admire in Rand's female protagonists, she said that readers who have "a raised consciousness about the nature of rape" would disapprove of Rand's "romanticized rapes".[110]

Rand's posthumously published working notes for the novel indicate that when she started on the book in 1936, she conceived of Roark's character that "were it necessary, he could rape her and feel justified".[111] She denied that what happened in the finished novel was actually rape, referring to it as "rape by engraved invitation".[105] She said Dominique wanted and "all but invited" the act, citing, among other things, a passage where Dominique scratches a marble slab in her bedroom to invite Roark to repair it.[112] A true rape, Rand said, would be "a dreadful crime".[113] Defenders of the novel have agreed with this interpretation. In an essay specifically explaining this scene, Andrew Bernstein wrote that although much "confusion" exists about it, the descriptions in the novel provide "conclusive" evidence of Dominique's strong attraction to Roark and her desire to have sex with him.[114]Individualist feministWendy McElroy said that while Dominique is "thoroughly taken," there is nonetheless "clear indication" that Dominique both gave consent for and enjoyed the experience.[115] Both Bernstein and McElroy saw the interpretations of feminists such as Brownmiller as based in a false understanding of sexuality.[115][116]

Impact on Rand's career[edit]

Although Rand had some mainstream success previously with her play Night of January 16th and had two previously published novels, The Fountainhead was a major breakthrough in her career. It brought her lasting fame and financial success. She sold the movie rights to The Fountainhead and returned to Hollywood to write the screenplay for the adaptation.[117] In April 1944, she signed a multiyear contract with movie producer Hal Wallis to write original screenplays and adaptations of other writers' works.[118]

The success of the novel brought Rand new publishing opportunities. Bobbs-Merrill offered to publish a nonfiction book expanding on the ethical ideas presented in The Fountainhead. Though this book was never completed, a portion of the material was used for an article in the January 1944 issue of Reader's Digest.[119] Rand was also able to get an American publisher for Anthem, which previously had been published in England, but not in the United States.[120] When she was ready to submit Atlas Shrugged to publishers, over a dozen competed to acquire the new book.[121]

The Fountainhead also attracted a new group of fans who were attracted to its philosophical ideas. When she moved back to New York in 1951, she gathered a group of these admirers of whom she referred publicly as "the Class of '43" in reference to the year The Fountainhead was published. The group evolved into the core of the Objectivist movement that promoted the philosophical ideas from Rand's writing.[122][123]

Cultural influence[edit]

The Fountainhead has continued to have strong sales throughout the last century into the current one. By 2008, it had sold over 6.5 million copies in English. It has also been referenced in a variety of popular entertainments, including movies, television series, and other novels.[124][125]

The year 1943 also saw the publication of The God of the Machine by Isabel Paterson and The Discovery of Freedom by Rose Wilder Lane. Rand, Lane, and Paterson have been referred to as the founding mothers of the American libertarian movement with the publication of these works.[126] Journalist John Chamberlain, for example, credited these works with converting him from socialism to what he called "an older American philosophy" of libertarian and conservative ideas.[127] Literature professor Philip R. Yannella said the novel is "a central text of American conservative and libertarian political culture".[104]

The book has a particular appeal to young people, an appeal that led historian James Baker to describe it as "more important than its detractors think, although not as important as Rand fans imagine".[100] Philosopher Allan Bloom said the novel is "hardly literature", but when he asked his students which books mattered to them, someone always was influenced by The Fountainhead.[128] Journalist Nora Ephron wrote that she had loved the novel when she was 18, but admitted that she "missed the point", which she suggested is largely subliminal sexual metaphor. Ephron wrote that she decided upon rereading that "it is better read when one is young enough to miss the point. Otherwise, one cannot help thinking it is a very silly book."[129]

The Fountainhead has been cited by numerous architects as an inspiration for their work. Architect Fred Stitt, founder of the San Francisco Institute of Architecture, dedicated a book to his "first architectural mentor, Howard Roark".[130] According to architectural photographer Julius Shulman, Rand's work "brought architecture into the public's focus for the first time". He said The Fountainhead was not only influential among 20th century architects, but also it "was one, first, front and center in the life of every architect who was a modern architect".[131] The novel also had a significant impact on the public perception of architecture.[132][133][134] During his campaign for US President, real estate developer Donald Trump praised the novel, saying he identified with Roark.[135]



Main article: The Fountainhead (film)

In 1949, Warner Bros. released a film based on the book, starring Gary Cooper as Howard Roark, Patricia Neal as Dominique Francon, Raymond Massey as Gail Wynand, and Kent Smith as Peter Keating. Rand, who had previous experience as a screenwriter, was hired to adapt her own novel. The film was directed by King Vidor. It grossed $2.1 million, $400,000 less than its production budget.[136] Critics panned the movie. Negative reviews appeared in publications ranging from newspapers such as The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, to movie industry outlets such as Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, to magazines such as Time and Good Housekeeping.[136][137]

In letters written at the time, Rand's reaction to the film was positive. She said it was the most faithful adaptation of a novel ever made in Hollywood[138] and a "real triumph".[139] Sales of the novel increased as a result of interest spurred by the film.[140] She displayed a more negative attitude later, saying she disliked the entire movie and complaining about its editing, acting, and other elements.[141] Rand said she would never sell rights to another novel to a film company that did not allow her to pick the director and screenwriter, as well as edit the film.[142]

Various filmmakers have expressed interest in doing new adaptations of The Fountainhead, although none of these potential films has begun production. In the 1970s, writer-director Michael Cimino wanted to film his own script for United Artists. In 1992, producer James Hill optioned the rights and selected Phil Joanou to direct.[143] In the 2000s, Oliver Stone was interested in directing a new adaptation; Brad Pitt was reportedly under consideration to play Roark.[144] In a March 2016 interview, director Zack Snyder also expressed interest in doing a new film adaptation of The Fountainhead.[145]


Main article: The Fountainhead (play)

The Dutch theater company Toneelgroep Amsterdam presented an adaptation for the stage (in Dutch) at the Holland Festival in June 2014. The company's artistic director Ivo van Hove wrote and directed the adaptation. Ramsey Nasr starred as Howard Roark, with Halina Reijn as Dominique Francon.[146] The four-hour production used video projections to show close-ups of the actors and Roark's drawings, as well as backgrounds of the New York skyline.[147][148] After its debut the production went on tour, appearing in Barcelona, Spain, in early July 2014[149] and at the Festival d'Avignon in France later that month.[147] The play appeared at the Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe in Paris in November 2016,[150] and at the LG Arts Center in Seoul from March 31 to April 2, 2017.[151][152] The play had its first American production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival, where it ran from November 28 to December 2, 2017.[153]

The Festival d'Avignon production received several positive notices, including reviews from the French newspapers La Croix,[148]Les Échos,[154] and Le Monde,[155] as well as from the English newspaper The Guardian, whose reviewer described it as "electrifying theatre".[156] The French magazine Télérama gave the Avignon production a negative review, calling the source material inferior and complaining about the use of video screens on the set,[157] while another French magazine, La Terrasse, complimented the staging and acting of the Odéon production.[150] American critics gave mostly negative reviews of the Next Wave Festival production. Helen Shaw's review for The Village Voice said the adaptation was unwatchable because it portrayed Rand's characters and views seriously without undercutting them.[158] In a mixed review for The New York Times, critic Ben Brantley complimented Hove for capturing Rand's "sheer pulp appeal", but described the material as "hokum with a whole lot of ponderous speeches".[159] A review for The Huffington Post complimented van Hove's ability to portray Rand's message, but said the play was an hour too long.[160]

Other adaptations[edit]

In 1944, Omnibook Magazine produced an abridged edition of the novel that was sold to members of the United States Armed Forces. Rand was annoyed that Bobbs-Merrill allowed the edited version to be published without her approval of the text.[161]King Features Syndicate approached Rand the following year about creating a condensed, illustrated version of the novel for syndication in newspapers. Rand agreed, provided that she could oversee the editing and approve the proposed illustrations of her characters, which were provided by Frank Godwin. The 30-part series began on December 24, 1945, and ran in over 35 newspapers.[162] Rand biographer Anne Heller complimented the adaptation, calling it "handsomely illustrated".[161]

The novel was adapted in Urdu for the Pakistan Television Network in the 1970s, under the title Teesra Kinara. The serial starred Rahat Kazmi, who also wrote the adaptation.[163] Kazmi's wife, Sahira Kazmi, played Dominique.[164]

See also[edit]



  1. ^Rand 2005, p. 657: "He raped me. That's how it began."
  2. ^Gladstein 1999, p. 8
  3. ^Sciabarra 1995, p. 97
  4. ^Sciabarra 1995, p. 106
  5. ^Den Uyl 1999, p. 60
  6. ^Smith, Tara. "Unborrowed Vision: Independence and Egoism in The Fountainhead". In Mayhew 2006, pp. 287–289
  7. ^Schein, Dina. "Roark's Integrity". In Mayhew 2006, p. 305
  8. ^Rand 2005, p. 190
  9. ^Berliner, Michael S. "Howard Roark and Frank Lloyd Wright". In Mayhew 2006, pp. 48–50
  10. ^ abReidy 2010
  11. ^Berliner, Michael S. "Howard Roark and Frank Lloyd Wright". In Mayhew 2006, pp. 42–44
  12. ^Berliner, Michael S. "Howard Roark and Frank Lloyd Wright". In Mayhew 2006, pp. 47–48
  13. ^Huxtable 2008, p. 226
  14. ^Filler 2009, p. 33
  15. ^ abSmith, Tara. "Unborrowed Vision: Independence and Egoism in The Fountainhead". In Mayhew 2006, p. 290
  16. ^Sciabarra 1995, pp. 107, 109
  17. ^ abGladstein 1999, p. 41
  18. ^ abcGladstein 1999, p. 62
  19. ^Den Uyl 1999, p. 50
  20. ^Berliner, Michael S. "Howard Roark and Frank Lloyd Wright". In Mayhew 2006, p. 56
  21. ^Heller 2009, p. 109
  22. ^Rand 1997, p. 89
  23. ^ abGladstein 1999, p. 52
  24. ^Rand 1995, p. 341
  25. ^Branden 1986, p. 106
  26. ^Boeckmann, Tore. "Rand's Literary Romanticism". In Gotthelf & Salmieri 2016, pp. 440–441
  27. ^Sciabarra 1995, p. 107
  28. ^Boeckmann, Tore. "Aristotle's Poetics and The Fountainhead". In Mayhew 2006, pp. 158, 164
  29. ^ abcBurns 2009, pp. 44–45
  30. ^ abHeller 2009, pp. 117–118
  31. ^ abJohnson 2005, pp. 44–45
  32. ^ abBerliner, Michael S. "Howard Roark and Frank Lloyd Wright". In Mayhew 2006, p. 57
  33. ^Gladstein 1999, pp. 52–53
  34. ^Hicks 2009, p. 267
  35. ^Gotthelf 2000, p. 14
  36. ^Merrill 1991, pp. 47–50
  37. ^Smith, Tara. "Unborrowed Vision: Independence and Egoism in The Fountainhead". In Mayhew 2006, pp. 291–293
  38. ^Baker 1987, pp. 102–103
  39. ^Den Uyl 1999, pp. 58–59
  40. ^ abDen Uyl 1999, pp. 54–55
  41. ^Minsaas, Kirsti. "The Stylization of Mind in Ayn Rand's Fiction". In Thomas 2005, p. 187
  42. ^Baker 1987, p. 52
  43. ^Sciabarra 1995, pp. 109–110
  44. ^Rand 1997, p. 113
  45. ^Schleier 2009, p. 123
  46. ^Ralston, Richard E. "Publishing The Fountainhead". In Mayhew 2006, p. 70
  47. ^Heller 2009, pp. 65, 441
  48. ^Eyman 2010, p. 252
  49. ^Rand 1997, p. 20
  50. ^Burns 2009, p. 70
Ayn Rand began writing the novel in 1935.
In writing the character of Howard Roark, Rand was inspired by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Harold Laski was one of Rand's inspirations for the character of Ellsworth Toohey.
Rand's descriptions of Roark's buildings were inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, such as Fallingwater.
Gary Cooper played Howard Roark in the film adaptation.
  1. ^According to the Ayn Rand Institute, The Fountainhead has been translated into Bulgarian, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Marathi, Mongolian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese.[77]

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