Ayn Rand on Individual Rights

In response to statements referring to rights being based on “magic” or having something to do with faith – this article will try to explain how exactly rights come into fruition.

In Ayn Rand’s book, The Virtue of Selfishness, she explains how we epistemologically acquire rights – individual rights. She claims that:

‘Rights’ are a moral concept—the concept that provides a logical transition from the principles guiding an individual’s actions to the principles guiding his relationship with others—the concept that preserves and protects individual morality in a social context—the link between the moral code of a man and the legal code of a society, between ethics and politics. Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law.

Throughout history, political systems have always been based on an ethical code. Often times, this code was centered on the collective, and not on the individual. But in the case of the United States, for example, it was a nation built on individual rights. This means that a set of principles were put in place for how to preserve and protect individual morality and the actions that accompanied it.

Individual rights arise as a logical way to bridge society together with a moral code. This moral code that Rand believed should be followed was one where coercion was not used against another man. She saw a world in which the courts, military, and police were the only systems needed in a government to protect an individual’s rights (usually pertaining to property).

Those are the only moral offices needed, because they protect and preserve “a man’s right to his own life”. This is the only fundamental right that he holds. It allows man the ability to use his mind, and work toward happiness, leisure, fulfillment, wealth, etcetera. Yet, the “rights” that are listed in the United Nation’s “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” are not rights at all to Rand – they are a list of things that man must earn.

But in order to earn those things, man must be given the space to think. “A is A—and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival”.

To say that rights appear “magically” is to say that man is irrational and does not follow any kind of ethical system – that all our laws are chaotic and nonsensical. This statement may reflect the United States’ current mixed economy with its several baseless laws, but in a free market society rights are established in a logical way. By following man’s nature, we can create rights that allow society to live in accordance with a moral system – one that gives man freedom over his own life.

This freedom is absolute. It cannot be violated or changed by any “new rights.” The core of individual rights is not to be abrogated. So, something like wealth redistribution  constitutes an infringement on other people’s right to their own property – their money. As the product of his labor, one man’s money is not to be taken from him to give to another man who has not earned it. Certain laws may change, but they must always be in accordance with the absolute “Rights of Man” in order to allow for a truly free market society to exist.


  1. But… said a cute little devil… what relationship do your beliefs have with the facts? Is there some set of facts that, if they changed or were not as expected, would falsify your ethical theory? Can you name those facts? If not, if your theory is not falsifiable, then isn’t it just pseudo-scientific babble?



    1. Karl Popper himself, the arch empirical “falsification” person, admitted that some things are true without being “scientific” in the sense of the method of the physical sciences – indeed the most important truths are NOT “scientific” in the sense of the physical sciences. Karl Popper agree with Ayn Rand? Yes it is possible – just sometimes. For Popper was not (as is commonly supposed) a Logical Positivist.

      As for Ayn Rand’s position – it is not brute survival the lady was interested in, it was life as a HUMAN BEING (or no life at all).

      Some claim to “not understand” that. It is best not to be any dangerous situation with such people.

      As for taking stuff at the expense of others (as the U.N. and so on think of “rights”) – there is no right to rob.



  2. @ Simon: From the Craig Biddle essay that you sent me (“Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights: The Moral Foundation of a Free Society”) he responds to your concern nicely:

    “The moral law that Rand speaks of here is the principle of egoism—the observation based moral truth that each individual should act to promote his own life and is the proper beneficiary of his own actions. Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to the truth of egoism. […] Note Rand’s reference to the observable fact that life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. Again, this is a metaphysically given fact; it’s the way the world is, regardless of what anyone hopes, feels, prays, or does. Life depends on such action—and human life depends on rational action, action in accordance with one’s own judgment. […] Rather, it is derived from observation and logic. It is discovered and formulated by looking at reality—focusing on relevant facts about the nature of values, the requirements of life, the nature of man, the propriety of egoism, the value of reason, man’s need to act on his judgment, and the antilife nature of physical force—all the while integrating one’s observations into concepts, generalizations, and moral principles. […] Rand’s theory holds not that rights are “inherent,” but that they are objective—not that they are “inborn,” but that they are conceptual identifications of the factual requirements of human life in a social context.”

    I apologize for the enormous block quote, but each of those pieces were important for explaining exactly why these rights are absolute. These rights are based on the “principle of egoism” – man’s nature based in objective reality. Rights ensure that he can act on his own mind and enables him to attain “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These rights are a “metaphysically given fact” – this ethical theory cannot be “just pseudo-scientific babble” if it is demonstrably in our nature as living organisms.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s