Ayn Rand Delivers Her Lecture: “Philosophy Who Needs It” at West Point in 1974

Ayn Rand, one of the most significant novelist of the 20th century (and the person from whom this website takes its name), was also one of the 20th century’s most significant philosophers. Those who have only read her fiction works are missing out on a wealth of nonfiction writings and recordings that form the base for her philosophy of Objectivism.

In this recording of her address to the (1974) graduating class of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Ayn Rand delivers one of her most important lectures on the philosophy of philosophy. Unlike most philosophers before and after her, Ayn Rand offers a clear definition of philosophy and a compelling case for it’s profound importance to every person who cares to live on earth as a man. Philosophy, according to Rand, is not a game or a discipline relegated to ivory tower academics. It’s not a luxury, or as one Facebook “friend” told me recently, a “privilege,” but an existential necessity for man. Man’s choice is not whether he will use philosophy, but whether he will determine that philosophy for himself or let others do it for him.

This lecture is found in a book titled by the same name, one of the most significant books in my own intellectual development, Philosophy: Who Needs It, and while it should be read as well, the audio recording is significant because it captures the generally positive reception of Rand by the audience. Note the philosophical literacy, the laughter, and the good naturedness of these men in comparison to our day. 

“Philosophy would not tell you, for instance, whether you are in New York City or in Zanzibar (though it would give you the means to find out). But here is what it would tell you: 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?” — Ayn Rand

“You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational conviction — or a grab-bag of notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, context and consequences you do not know, notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot potato if you knew.” — Ayn Rand

“The best way to study philosophy is to approach it as one approaches a detective story: follow every trail, clue and implication, in order to discover who is a murderer and who is a hero. The criterion of detection is two questions: Why? and How? If a given tenet seems to be true — why? If another tenet seems to be false — why? and how is it being put over? You will not find all the answers immediately, but you will acquire an invaluable characteristic: the ability to think in terms of essentials.” — Ayn Rand

Philosophy: Who Needs It is an excellent introduction to Ayn Rand’s nonfiction. Readers who are looking for where to go next should refer to The Virtue of Selfishness by Rand or Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff.

About Derek Magill

Derek Magill  is the cofounder of Howard Laughed, a college dropout, and a strategist and business consultant for companies in the ecommerce, manufacturing, education, tech and real estate space. He is the Director of Digital Strategy and Marketing for Praxis. Find him on YouTube or Twitter.

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