Was Ayn Rand a philosopher? That is the question now being taken to the important mediation committee of Wikipedia. There is currently a disagreement about whether the article about her should qualify her as a 'popular' or 'commercially successful' philosopher, or an 'amateur philosopher' (as Anthony Quinton did in his article on popular philosophy in the Oxford Companion to philosophy), or whether she is a philosopher without qualification.
This involves many difficulties, the main one being that Wikipedia has no concept of 'expert opinion'. We simply cannot ask Anthony Quinton or Ted Honderich or any of the philosophical establishment to weigh in on this important question. The question must be settled by whoever of the anonymous and mostly unqualified editors who turn up at the article talk page to thrash out a consensus. Which is not as bad as it sounds. Wikipedia has strict rules about 'reliable sources' and an entire manual devoted to citation. The rules are orientated towards mainstream academic consensus, and against 'original research' and using duff sources. This means you should use primary sources, however good, to support a claim. You should avoid using a blog or other self-published sources. Reliable and authoritative secondary sources are the preferred method of citation. Thus articles like Wittgenstein can be pretty good. The prose is often awkward and amateurish, and you have to put up the usual slavish political correctness of Wikipedia. But the results are not nearly as bad as you might have expected.
The difficulty is to assess writers like Rand, who have been so marginalised by the academic establishment that it is hard to find any reliable sources dealing with her, or her work. Who was Rand? That is the first question that non-American readers are likely to ask. I had not read any of her work until last week, and had only heard of her through Quinton's passing reference in the Oxford Companion. Well, read the article linked to above, which gives you a flavour of her work. There is a helpful lexicon on a pro-Rand website here, which contains samples of her writing. Otherwise there a few reliable sources which give a critical assessment of her work. Try these posts by the philosopher William Vallicella, who has a good explanation here of how Rand fails to understand Kant, and here where he points out some elementary - really elementary - logical errors in her work.
My view, based on a cursory reading of her actual writing, was that she lacked even a basic understanding of the essentials of the subject. I was particularly intrigued by her views on existence. But that is a personal view which, despite my qualifications, counts for nothing in Wikipedia. More about this later.
Meanwhile, let the excellent Brandon have the last word. He shows well how it is possible to combine sympathy with frankness (something the Wikipedia article should aim at, in my view). "Is she a bit of a hack when it comes to philosophy? Definitely. But I think what we see in Rand is someone of considerable native talent and ability whose reason never underwent the sort of discipline that would have made that talent genuinely shine."