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Ayn Rand Scholars Revisit The Fountainhead at the University of Texas

An in-depth discussion of the novel’s philosophical themes on the occasion of its 80th anniversary.

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The year 2023 marks the 80th anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand’s classic novel The Fountainhead.

In this seminal work, Rand explores the theme of independence through the career of architect Howard Roark.

On September 23, the Salem Center for Policy at the University of Texas at Austin hosted a series of lectures and panels by experts on Objectivism, including psychologist Gena Gorlin and philosophers Ben Bayer, Gregory Salmieri, Jason Rheins, and Tara Smith.

These experts highlighted different aspects of Rand’s novel and explored its rich philosophical themes.

Gena Gorlin relates The Fountainhead to her psychological work on entrepreneurship. Gorlin explained how Howard Roark embodies what she calls a “builder’s mindset,” a commitment to formulating practical, achievable ideals, and above all to learning to love one’s work. This mindset helps Roark to deal with setbacks and obstacles and to develop his own independent standards.

Ben Bayer explores the competing conceptions of independence adopted by the characters of Gail Wynand, Dominique Francon, and Howard Roark. Bayer illustrates how Wynand’s and Francon’s false conceptions of independence lead to conflicted values and suffering. By contrast, Roark’s conception of independence, understood as independent judgment of truth and value, offers both Francon and Wynand a chance to resolve their conflict.

Gregory Salmieri highlights three key philosophical themes from The Fountainhead: the idea of a central unifying idea as that which makes things one creates rational and purposeful; the view that the basic function of one’s soul is self-directed valuing, and finally that the meaning of one’s life is one’s own work and what one makes of it.

Jason Rheins details the methods and motives of The Fountainhead’s chief villain, Ellsworth Toohey, as an exemplification of Rand’s view of the nature of evil. Rheins argues that although Rand thought that Toohey’s self-awareness about his evil is not psychologically realistic, he does embody the basic nihilism and destruction of the good at the root of altruism and collectivism.

The video of the event is highly recommended for any fan of The Fountainhead interested in learning more about how the novel relates to Rand’s philosophical system and view of human nature.


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Tristan de Liege

Tristan de Liège, PhD in philosophy, is a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute.

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