Sunday, November 04, 2012

Hayek on Individualism, Social Causes



"...within these spheres the individual’s system of ends should be supreme and not subject to any dictation by others. It is this recognition of the individual as the ultimate judge of his ends, the belief that as far as possible his own views ought to govern his actions, that forms the essence of the individualist position." -- F.A. Hayek
In the following passage, F.A. Hayek first touches on why centralized planning will never work--no central body could ever hope to truly understand the economic situation enough to effectively control it.  (In the current age it is thought possible with the help of information technology.  However, it still falls far short.)  Hayek then explains why individualism is a better approach to the economic relations between the people of a nation, and how it does not completely dismiss those pursuits for social ends.

"...it would be impossible for any mind to comprehend the infinite variety of different needs of different people which compete for the available resources and to attach a definite weight to each.

...it is impossible for any man to survey more than a limited field, to be aware of the urgency of more than a limited number of needs.

This is the fundamental fact on which the whole philosophy of individualism is based. It does not assume, as is often asserted, that man is egoistic or selfish or ought to be. It merely starts from the indisputable fact that the limits of our powers of imagination make it impossible to include in our scale of values more than a sector of the needs of the whole society, and that, since, strictly speaking, scales of value can exist only in individual minds, nothing but partial scales of values exist—scales which are inevitably different and often inconsistent with each other. From this the individualist concludes that the individuals should be allowed, within defined limits, to follow their own values and preferences rather than somebody else’s; that within these spheres the individual’s system of ends should be supreme and not subject to any dictation by others. It is this recognition of the individual as the ultimate judge of his ends, the belief that as far as possible his own views ought to govern his actions, that forms the essence of the individualist position.

This view does not, of course, exclude the recognition of social ends, or rather of a coincidence of individual ends which makes it advisable for men to combine for their pursuit. But it limits such common action to the instances where individual views coincide..."

Hayek, F. A. (2010-10-22). The Road to Serfdom (p. 102). University of Chicago Press - A. Kindle Edition.

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