Philosophy studies the fundamental nature of existence, of man, and of man’s relationship to existence. As against the special sciences, which deal only with particular aspects, philosophy deals with those aspects of the universe which pertain to everything that exists. In the realm of cognition, the special sciences are the trees, but philosophy is the soil which makes the forest possible.
~ Ayn Rand
As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation — or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind’s wings should have grown.
~ Ayn Rand
Are you in a universe which is ruled by natural laws and, therefore, is stable, firm, absolute — and knowable? Or are you in an incomprehensible chaos, a realm of inexplicable miracles, an unpredictable, unknowable flux, which your mind is impotent to grasp? Are the things you see around you real — or are they only an illusion? Do they exist independent of any observer — or are they created by the observer? Are they the object or the subject of man’s consciousness? Are they what they are — or can they be changed by a mere act of your consciousness, such as a wish?
The nature of your actions — and of your ambition — will be different, according to which set of answers you come to accept. These answers are the province of metaphysics — the study of existence as such or, in Aristotle’s words, of “being qua being” — the basic branch of philosophy.
~ Ayn Rand
Man is neither infallible nor omniscient; if he were, a discipline such as epistemology — the theory of knowledge — would not be necessary nor possible: his knowledge would be automatic, unquestionable and total. But such is not man’s nature. Man is a being of volitional consciousness: beyond the level of percepts — a level inadequate to the cognitive requirements of his survival — man has to acquire knowledge by his own effort, which he may exercise or not, and by a process of reason, which he may apply correctly or not. Nature gives him no automatic guarantee of his mental efficacy; he is capable of error, of evasion, of psychological distortion. He needs a method of cognition, which he himself has to discover: he must discover how to use his rational faculty, how to validate his conclusions, how to distinguish truth from falsehood, how to set the criteria of what he may accept as knowledge. Two questions are involved in his every conclusion, conviction, decision, choice or claim: What do I know? — and: How do I know it?
It is the task of epistemology to provide the answer to the “How?” — which then enables the special sciences to provide the answers to the “What?”
In the history of philosophy — with some very rare exceptions — epistemological theories have consisted of attempts to escape one or the other of the two fundamental questions which cannot be escaped. Men have been taught either that knowledge is impossible (skepticism) or that it is available without effort (mysticism). These two positions appear to be antagonists, but are, in fact, two variants on the same theme, two sides of the same fraudulent coin: the attempt to escape the responsibility of rational cognition and the absolutism of reality — the attempt to assert the primacy of consciousness over existence.
~ Ayn Rand
What is morality, or ethics? It is 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. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code.
The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values?
Let me stress this. The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all — and why?
~ Ayn Rand
Ethics is an objective, metaphysical necessity of man’s survival. . . .
I quote from Galt’s speech: “Man has been called a rational being, but rationality is a matter of choice—and the alternative his nature offers him is: rational being or suicidal animal. Man has to be man — by choice; he has to hold his life as a value—by choice; he has to learn to sustain it — by choice; he has to discover the values it requires and practice his virtues — by choice. A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality.”
The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics—the standard by which one judges what is good or evil — is man’s life, or: that which is required for man’s survival qua man.
Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil. Since everything man needs has to be discovered by his own mind and produced by his own effort, the two essentials of the method of survival proper to a rational being are: thinking and productive work.
~ Ayn Rand
The answers given by ethics determine how man should treat other men, and this determines the fourth branch of philosophy: politics, which defines the principles of a proper social system. As an example of philosophy’s function, political philosophy will not tell you how much rationed gas you should be given and on which day of the week — it will tell you whether the government has the right to impose any rationing on anything.
~ Ayn Rand
Is it ethical that man A has power over a life of man B, without the consent of B? No, that would be slavery. Can you give back something you do not have? No. Where does the (official) ethical legitimacy of the state for deciding about human lives come from? From the people. So, does the state have an ethical, moral legitimacy to decide about the life of even one man who does not give him that power?
When enough people understand reality, tyrants can literally be ignored out of existence. They can't ever be voted out of existence.
~ Larken Rose
Beauty is a sense of harmony. Whether it’s an image, a human face, a body, or a sunset, take the object which you call beautiful, as a unit [and ask yourself]: what parts is it made up of, what are its constituent elements, and are they all harmonious? If they are, the result is beautiful. If there are contradictions and clashes, the result is marred or positively ugly.
For instance, the simplest example would be a human face. You know what features belong in a human face. Well, if the face is lopsided, [with a] very indefinite jawline, very small eyes, beautiful mouth, and a long nose, you would have to say that’s not a beautiful face. But if all these features are harmoniously integrated, if they all fit your view of the importance of all these features on a human face, then that face is beautiful.
In this respect, a good example would be the beauty of different races of people. For instance, the black face, or an Oriental face, is built on a different standard, and therefore what would be beautiful on a white face will not be beautiful for them (or vice-versa), because there is a certain racial standard of features by which you judge which features, which face, in that classification is harmonious or distorted.
That’s in regard to human beauty. In regard to a sunset, for instance, or a landscape, you will regard it as beautiful if all the colors complement each other, or go well together, or are dramatic together. And you will call it ugly if it is a bad rainy afternoon, and the sky isn’t exactly pink nor exactly gray, but sort of “modern.”
Now since this is an objective definition of beauty, there of course can be universal standards of beauty — provided you define the terms of what objects you are going to classify as beautiful and what you take as the ideal harmonious relationship of the elements of that particular object. To say, “It’s in the eyes of the beholder” — that, of course, would be pure subjectivism, if taken literally. It isn’t [a matter of] what you, for unknown reasons, decide to regard as beautiful. It is true, of course, that if there were no valuers, then nothing could be valued as beautiful or ugly, because values are created by the observing consciousness — but they are created by a standard based on reality. So here the issue is: values, including beauty, have to be judged as objective, not subjective or intrinsic.
~ Ayn Rand