Saturday, July 10, 2010

Hayek on Liberty, Values and Altruism

Another good quote from Hayek's Constitution of Liberty. (Warning: I am cherry picking quotes. There is much to disagree with in Hayek.)

Hayek's appreciation of the importance of liberty both allows him to tumble upon some key ideas, while at the same time distracts him from looking for the even more fundamental principles upon which liberty is properly grounded. I am discovering his propensity for empiricism as manifested in his view that the "wisdom of social progress" (a sort of "wisdom of the crowd" through time) is superior to the individual rational mind for identifying the proper rules and institutions for human interaction. Also, he views the foremost purpose of liberty not as the means for man to live his individual life free from the aggressive acts of other men, but rather as the best way to guarantee the progress of civilization. In the quotes below, however, he drifts close to comprehending one of the problems with altruism, and stumbles into the importance of being free to act upon one's own values.

Coercion is evil precisely because it thus eliminates an individual as a thinking and valuing person and makes him a bare tool in the achievement of the ends of another. --pg 21

To extol the value of intellectual liberty at the expense of the value of the liberty of doing things would be like treating the crowning part of an edifice as the whole.
--pg 33

General altruism, however, is a meaningless conception. Nobody can effectively care for other people as such; the responsibilities we can assume must always be particular, can concern only those about whom we know concrete facts and to whom either choice or special conditions have attached us. It is one of the fundamental rights and duties of a free man to decide what and whose needs appear to him most important.

The recognition that each person has his own scale of values which we ought to respect, even if we do not approve of it, is part of the conception of the value of the individual personality. How we value another person will necessarily depend on what his values are. But believing in freedom means...that we do not feel entitled to prevent him from pursuing ends which we disapprove so long as he does not infringe on the equally protected sphere of others.

A society that does not recognize that each individual has values of his own which he is entitled to follow can have no respect for the dignity of the individual and cannot really know freedom. --pg 79


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