Objectivism refers to a philosophy developed by the Russian-American author Ayn Rand. Literally, objectivism means "to be objective." Thus, Objectivists assert that truth exists in the external world and is not relative to each individual. Rationality is the tool by which individuals apprehend truth. In objectivist philosophy, then, there is always a "right" and "wrong" answer. When two people have conflicting perspectives, for example, objectivists do not dismiss the argument as a "difference of opinion." They insist either that only one is correct or that both are incorrect. There can only be one truth, and it is the person with a greater command of rationality who perceives truth.
The most controversial aspect of objectivism is its implications for ethics. Much of Rand's philosophy rebelled against the religious and communist institutions of her time. Rand felt that both these institutions wrongly stressed self-sacrifice and altruism over the needs of the individual. Doing so, she argued, promoted a "moral crisis" because a functioning society can only exist if its individuals take their own survival and vitality as their primary moral concern. However, for Rand, survival did not refer to just the bare essentials needed to exist. Survival also referred to the development of personal values and the achievement of personal goals. While communism and religion wished to subjugate personal values and goals under "greater" societal values and goals, Rand believed that societal goals and values are oppressive unless individuals make them their own. However, irrespective of whether they are societal or personal, from the objectivist perspective, goals and values must be rationally attained. Thus, if two people have conflicting personal values, one must have the correct values and the other incorrect values or both have incorrect values. While she agreed society cannot tell one what goals and values to adopt, Rand did believe that all rational people adopt the same values. Rand wrote not only about the attainment of values but also about the content of rational values themselves. In particular, Randian ethics distinguishes between the values by which one leads one's life and the virtues that allow one to preserve personal those values. Rand identified three cardinal values, reason, purpose, and self-esteem, and three corresponding virtues, rationality, productiveness, and pride. Selfesteem and pride give objectivism its egoistic tinge. Whereas in other ethical systems, pride is seen as corrosive, in objectivism self-pride and self-love are seen as central sources of meaning.
But does objectivism constitute a philosophy or a dogma with religious overtones? This is a highly debated question about objectivism. Rand, herself, vehemently opposed the idea that objectivism is a dogma or a religion. However, many in the objectivist community behave like they are in a religious group. For example, objectivists often treat Rand's writings as if they are sacred texts, and Leonard Peikoff, Rand's successor and head of the Ayn Rand Institute, now acts like an objectivist version of a religious leader who denounces "heretical" interpretations of Randian thought.
Today objectivism seems to have lost its critical edge that made it a popular philosophy during Rand's lifetime. Because objectivists do not believe rational thought can have several different conclusions, rational criticisms of Rand's work are dismissed. As a result, the beliefs of objectivists have become dogmas rather than sources of critical philosophical thought. For this reason, objectivism seems to have changed from a philosophy to a dogmatic form of thought not dissimilar to dogmatic religion.