Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s Morality of Egoism - The Objective Standard

Note: This essay is included in the anthology Rational Egoism: The Morality for Human Flourishing, which makes an excellent gift and is available at

Author's note: This is an expanded version of a talk I've delivered on various college campuses over the past several years.

Because of its seemingly prophetic nature with respect to current events, Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged is receiving more attention and selling at greater volume today than it did when it was first published fifty-five years ago. That’s a good thing, because the ideas set forth in Atlas are crucial to personal happiness, social harmony, and political freedom.

Atlas Shrugged is first and foremost a brilliant suspense story about a man who said he would stop the motor of the world and did. But the book is much more than a great novel. Integrated into the story is a revolutionary philosophy—a philosophy not for pie-in-the-sky debates or academic word games or preparing for an “afterlife,” but for understanding reality, achieving values, and living on earth.

Rand’s philosophy, which she named Objectivism, includes a view of the nature of reality, of man’s means of knowledge, of man’s nature and means of survival, of a proper morality, of a proper social system, and of the nature and value of art. It is a comprehensive philosophy, which, after writing Atlas Shrugged, Rand elaborated in several nonfiction books. But it all came together initially in Atlas, in which Rand dramatized her philosophy—along with the ideas that oppose it.

While writing Atlas, Rand made a journal entry in which she said, “My most important job is the formulation of a rational morality of and for man, of and for his life, of and for this earth.”1 She proceeded to formulate just such a morality, and to show what it means in practice. . . .


1 Ayn Rand, Journals of Ayn Rand, edited by David Harriman (New York: Dutton, 1997), p. 610.

2 W. G. Maclagan, “Self and Others: A Defense of Altruism,” The Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 4, no. 15 (April 1954): p. 122. Maclagan was an early 20th-century Scottish philosopher who taught at the University of Glasgow and was an ardent advocate of altruism.

3 Maclagan, “Self and Others,” pp. 109–11.

4 Ayn Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It (New York: Penguin, 1984), p. 61.

5 John Hospers, Philosophical Analysis (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1997), p. 259.

6 Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: Signet, 1962), p. 50.

7 Peter Singer, A Darwinian Left (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), p. 56.

8 Thomas Nagel, The Possibility of Altruism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978), p. 79.

9 Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It, pp. 61–62.

10 Rand, Virtue of Selfishness, p. 27.

11 Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual (New York: Signet, 1963), p. 129.

12 Rand, Virtue of Selfishness, pp. 82–83.

13 Rand, Virtue of Selfishness, pp. 126.

14 Rand, Virtue of Selfishness, pp. 108–10.

15 Rand, Virtue of Selfishness, pp. 110–13.

16 Ayn Rand, The Voice of Reason (New York: Meridian, 1989), p. 4.

17 Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (New York: Signet, 1967), p. 19.

18 Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 19.

19 Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 136

20 Rand, For the New Intellectual, p. 142.

21 Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 99.

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