- Editorial Staff
- Readers’ Forum: Order Defined In the Process of Its Emergence. a Note Stimulated By Reading Norman Barry, “the Tradition of Spontaneous Order”
- Bibliographical Essay: John Gray, F. A. Hayek and the Rebirth of Classical Liberalism
- Introduction: the Revival of Interest In Hayek—a Unified Research Program In Hayek's Writings?
- The Unity and Coherence of Hayek's Writings: Conception of Mind & Unity of Knowledge
- Overview of Topics Covered In This Essay
- Hayek's General Philosophy—the Kantian Heritage
- Hayek As a Skeptical Kantian
- Three Influences On Hayek's Skeptical Kantianism: Mach, Popper, and Wittgenstein
- 1. Ernst Mach and Metaphysical Neutrality
- 2. Karl Popper: the Growth of Knowledge
- 3. Wittgenstein & Hayek
- Hayek On Knowledge and Mind: Implications For Social Theory
- Hayek's Kantian Philosophy of Mind
- Hayek's Philosophy of Mind & His Social Theory: Beyond Kantianism
- The Idea of a Spontaneous Social Order
- The Application of Spontaneous Order In Economic Life: the Catallaxy
- The Catallactic Order, Practical Knowledge, and the Calculation Debate
- Hayek's Refinements of the Misesian Calculation Debate
- Theory and Method In Economic Science
- Prediction Vs. ‘complex Phenomena’
- Hayek's Opposition to Apriori Science
- Popperian ‘conjectures & Refutations’
- Some Applications of Hayek's Methodological Views: Keynes, Friedman, and Shackle On Economic Policy
- Hayek Contra Constructivism & Social Engineering
- Hayek Contra Keynes
- Hayek Contra Friedman
- Hayek and Shackle
- Hayek's Constitution of Liberty: Ethical Basis of the Juridical Framework of Individual Liberty
- Clarifying Hayek's Moral Theory
- Hume's Influence On Hayek's Social Philosophy
- Hayek's Utilitarianism & Liberty
- Justice, Liberty, and the Rule of Law In Hayek's Constitution of Liberty
- Criticisms of Hayek's Universalizable ‘rule of Law’
- Meeting Objections to the Universalizability Test
- Kantian Universalizability & Liberal Justice
- Some Criticism of Hayek's System of Ideas: Buchanan and Oakeshott
- James Buchanan On Hayek
- Michael Oakeshott On Hayek
- Hayek's Variant of Classical Liberalism: a Fusing of Libertarian & Traditionalistic Ideals?
- Hayek's Voluntaristic Traditionalism: a Market In Traditions
- Conclusion: Hayek's Research Program & Classical Liberalism
- Bibliography of Friedrich A. Hayek
- Books Edited Or Introduced
- Articles In Journals, Newspapers, Or Collections of Essays
- Works About Or Relevant to Friedrich A. Hayek
Hayek on Knowledge and Mind:
Implications for Social Theory
Hayek's Kantian Philosophy of Mind
I began by nothing the striking Kantian attributes of Hayek's epistemology and philosophy of mind—aspects which Hayek himself does not stress, perhaps because he conceives the formative influence of Kantian philosophy on his thought to be self-evident. As he puts it himself in a footnote to his discussion in a recent volume of the government of conscious intellectual life by super-conscious abstract rules: “I did not mention...the obvious relation of all this to Kant's conception of the categories that govern our thinking—which I took rather for granted.”26
Hayek's Kantianism is seen, first in his repudiation of the empiricist view that knowledge may be constructed from a basis of raw sensory data and, second, in his uncompromising assertion of the view that the order we find in the world is a product of the creative activity of the human mind (rather than a recognition of natural necessity). His Kantian view is distinctive in that it anticipates Popper in affirming that our mental frameworks by which we categorize the world are neither universal nor invariant, but alterable in an evolutionary fashion; his Kantian view also follows Wittgenstein in grasping the role of social rules in the transmission of practical knowledge. Hayek's Kantian view is original, finally, in recognizing a hierarchy in the rules that govern our perceptions and actions, and in insisting that the most fundamental of these rules are “super-conscious” and beyond any possibility of specification or articulation.
Hayek's Philosophy of Mind & His Social Theory: Beyond Kantianism
Hayek himself is emphatic that these insights in the theories of mind and knowledge have the largest consequences for social theory. The inaccessability to reflexive inquiry of the rules that govern conscious thought entails the bankruptcy of the Cartesian rationalist project and implies that the human mind can never fully understand itself, still less can it ever be governed by any process of conscious thought. The considerations adduced earlier, then, establish the autonomy of the mind, without ever endorsing any mentalistic thesis of mind's independence of the material order. Where Hayek deviates from Descartes’ conception of mind, however, is not primarily in his denying ontological independence to mind, but in his demonstration that complete intellectual self-understanding is an impossibility.
Hayek's conception of mind is a notion whose implications for social theory are even more radical than are those of Hayek's Kantianism. It is the chief burden of the latter, let us recall, that no external or transcendental standpoint on human thought is achievable, in terms of which it may be supported or reformed. In social theory, this Kantian perspective implies the impossibility of any Archimedean point from which a synoptic view can be gained of society as a whole and in terms of of which social life may be understood and, it may be, redesigned. As Hayek puts it trenchantly: “Particular aspects of a culture can be critically examined only within the context of that culture. We can never reduce a system of rules or all values as a whole to a purposive construction, but must always stop with our criticism of something that has no better grounds for existence than that it is the accepted basis of the particular tradition.”27 This is a useful statement, since it brings out the Kantian implication for social theory: that all criticism of social life must be immanent criticism, just as in all philosophy inquiry can only be reflexive and never transcendental.
Hayek goes beyond Kantianism, however, in his recognition that, just as in the theory of mind we must break off when we come to the region of unknowable ultimate rules, so in social theory we come to a stop with the basic constitutive traditions of social life. These latter, like Wittgenstein's forms of life, cannot be the objects of further criticism, since they are at the terminus of criticism and justification: they are simply given to us, and must be accepted by us. But this is not to say that these traditions are unchanging, nor that we cannot understand how it is that they do change.
In social theory, Hayek's devastating critique of Cartesian rationalism entails that, whatever else it might be, social order cannot be the product of a directing intelligence. It is not just that too many concrete details of social life would always escape such an intelligence, which could never, therefore, know enough. Nor (though we are nearer the nub of the matter here) is it that society is not a static object of knowledge which could survive unchanged the investigations of such an intelligence. No, the impossibility of total social planning does not rest for Hayek on such Popperian considerations,28 or, at any rate, not primarily on them.
Such an impossibility of central social planning rests, firstly, on the primordially practical character of most of the knowledge on which social life depends. Such knowledge cannot be concentrated in a single brain, natural or mechanical, not because it is very complicated, but rather because it is embodied in habits and dispositions and governs our conduct via rules which are often inarticulable. But, secondly, the impossibility of total social planning arises from the fact that, since we are all of us governed by rules of which we have no knowledge, even the directing intelligence itself would be subject to such government. It is naive and almost incoherent29 to suppose that a society could lift itself up by its bootstraps and reconstruct itself, in part at least because the idea that any individual mind—or any collectivity of selected minds—could do that, is no less absurd.