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Why Ayn Rand Wrote Philosophical Fiction

Ayn Rand explains the complex relationship between philosophy and her distinctive approach to literature.

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Ayn Rand was a rare combination: a phenomenally successful fiction writer and a profoundly original philosopher. She wrote bestselling novels, plays that appeared on and off Broadway, screenplays for Hollywood movies, but also nonfiction works offering new perspectives on the nature of consciousness, concept formation, free will, morality, government, art, and other philosophical topics.

It’s unsurprising, then, that Rand was frequently asked: “Are you primarily a novelist or a philosopher?” In her essay “The Goal of My Writing,” Rand answers this question, and explains why she rejects the assumption that often motivates it. Rand writes:

I feel a very mixed emotion—part patience, part amusement and, at times, an empty kind of weariness—when I am asked whether I am primarily a novelist or a philosopher (as if these two were antonyms), whether my stories are propaganda vehicles for ideas, whether politics or the advocacy of capitalism is my chief purpose. All such questions are so enormously irrelevant, so far beside the point, so much not my way of coming at things. My way is much simpler and, simultaneously, much more complex than that . . . 

So, what was Rand’s way of thinking about this question? What motivated her as a fiction writer? What kinds of characters and stories did she want to create, and why? Why is philosophy — and, ultimately, the creation of a new philosophy — bound up with her literary aims?

To learn Rand’s answers to these questions, you can read “The Goal of My Writing” in her book The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature, or here on our website.


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Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith, PhD in philosophy, is a fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute where he lectures and develops educational content for the Institute’s intellectual training and outreach programs. He is a member of the Ayn Rand University faculty.

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