Mar 012006

When Objectivists meet for the first time, they often inquire about each other’s early history with Ayn Rand, particularly how they discovered her fiction and philosophy. That’s a fine and dandy question, but here’s a somewhat different one: At what point in reading Ayn Rand did you realize that she had something really significant to contribute to your understanding of the world?

Perhaps I’m unusual in even experiencing such a moment, but Ayn Rand’s quick description of concepts in “The Objectivist Ethics” (in The Virtue of Selfishness) truly convinced me that she was worth seriously studying. That passage reads:

A “concept” is a mental integration of two or more perceptual concretes, which are isolated by a process of abstraction and united by means of a specific definition. Every word of man’s language, with the exception of proper names, denotes a concept, an abstraction that stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a specific kind. It is by organizing his perceptual material into concepts, and his concepts into wider and still wider concepts that man is able to grasp and retain, to identify and integrate an unlimited amount of knowledge, a knowledge extending beyond the immediate perceptions of any given, immediate moment. Man’s sense organs function automatically; man’s brain integrates his sense data into percepts automatically; but the process of integrating percepts into concepts–the process of abstraction and of concept-formation–is not automatic.

I was a freshman in college at the time, in the middle of a particularly difficult course on philosophy of language. (I’d already devoured both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged the previous year, in high school.) Just from the first few sentences of that paragraph, I realized that Ayn Rand had untangled the knots in the bewildering questions I was studying, albeit in outline form.

That’s the hook that inspired me to seriously consider Objectivism. Has anyone else had a similar experience? If so, what was the hook?

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