Hayek on Moral Values & Altruism


Now I wonder if one couldn’t make a critisism of some Liberals some classical liberals of a different but related kind and arising almost from your relationship with von Mises is it not the case that some liberals are so anxious to allow society to develop freely and spontaneously that they wish to remove virtually all habits, customs all pre existing inherited moral traditions
they want a very radical criticism of society and you yourself wouldn’t go along with that I think It’s fair to say Well I don’t know that I wouldn’t
I think it needs a much more careful definition our basic problem is that we have three levels I would say of moral beliefs we have in the first instance our intuitive moral feelings which are adapted to the small person to person society where we act for people whom we know and are served by people whom we know Then we have a society governed by moral traditions which unlike what the modern rationalists believe
are not intellectual discoveries of men who designed them but that is a result of a process which I now prefer to describe as a biological term of ‘group selection’ Those groups who had quite accidentally developed favourable habits such as the tradition of private property and the family who did succeed but who never understood this so we owe our present extended order of human cooperation very largely to a moral tradition which the intellectual does not approve of
because they have never been intellectually designed and it has to compete with a third level of moral beliefs Those…. morals which the intellectuals design in the hope that they can better satisfy mans instincts then the traditional rules do And we live in a world where three moral traditions
are in constant conflict The innate ones the traditional ones and the intellectually designed ones and ultimately all our political conflicts of this time can be reduced as effected by a conflict between three moral traditions of a different
nature not only of different content one being innate and spontaneous the other traditions we have learned and the third imagined designs of our intellect I think you can explain the whole of the social conflicts of the last two hundred years
by the conflict of the three moral traditions now i’d like to approach the question of the future society
from a different standpoint one of the principal criticisms that one gets of a liberal individualist
society is that it is selfish that it is not an altruistic society whereas socialism whatever flaws it has in terms of efficiency is a society in which we all look after the weakest, the sick the old and so on now what role do you see for altruism in a liberal individualist society.
The Altruism is an instinct we’ve inherited from
the small society where we know for whom we work for whom we serve When you pass from this as I like to call it concrete society where we are guided by what we see to the abstract society which far transcends our range of vision it becomes necessary that we are guided
not by the knowledge of the effect of what we do but through some abstract symbols now the only symbol that
tells us where we can make the best contribution is profit and in fact by pursuing profit we are as altruistic as we can possibly be because we extend our concern to people who are beyond our range of personal conception this is the condition which makes it possible even to produce what I call an extended order an order which is not determined by our aims, by our knowing what are
the most urgent needs but by impersonal mechanism who by a system of communication puts a label on certain things which
are wholly impersonal now it is exactly this where the conflict between the traditional moral which is not altruistic which emphasises private property and the instinctive moral which is altruistic come in constant conflict the very tradtion from a concrete society where each serves the needs of other people whom he knows to an extended abstract society
where most people serve the needs of others whom they do not know who’s existence they are not even aware was only made possible by the abandonment of altruism and solidarity
as the main guiding factors which I admit are still the factors dominating our instincts and what restrains our instincts in this respect is the tradition of private property and the family, the two traditional rules of morals which are in conflict with instinct

Maurice Vega

49 Responses

  1. Absolutely brilliant. Thank you malthus.

    Markets incentivize altruism. I serve the needs of those I don't even know because of the market mechanism–because of the extended order. "It's a miracle that Paris gets fed."

  2. the point that is often missed, I think, is that morality is not something that can be dictated through law as the proponents of socialism, and altruistic society would like to believe, and the current economic crisis proves this. People in general have to take the charge for their lives because what is given to you by one entity can also be taken away.

  3. Hayek as always brilliantly rational.

    I yearn for the days when television comprised interviews with men of his calibre.

  4. @FAHayek89 I do not think that Hayek would disagree with you, as for Hayek conflict & competition were what defined the evolutionary selection of moral traditions. What he calls in the video group selection. Also Hayek might point out that even intra rational level conflict is also in a way between sources. As at base the 'supposed designs of our intellect' are only really rationalisations of existing moral ideas that come ether from an evolved traditional or primitive & atavistic source.

  5. @zzsharka
    Where did you find this claim that the gap between rich and the poor is increasing? Remarkable statement, fortunately false. China is catching up with USA, India comes next, inspite the fact most so-called "international aid" goes to Africa (ruining the people in there in effect…)
    Should people pay the workers as much as possible? That is nonsense, that would mean the workers would exploit their employers now… And what is worse: cheating tax system, or taxing?

  6. @zzsharka
    Employers do not make their employees work longer and harder, in fact over the last centuries, we have seen exactly the opposite. And it was even before it was enforced by politicians, the employers did that themselves. Lastly, the motives of the capitalists are not so important, whether they do something for themselves or not, the outcome is much more important.

  7. His "by pursuing profit, we are as altruistic as we can possibly be" is every bit as utopian, divorced from reality, and ideologically naive as the silly arguments that communists make.
    I think his theory about conflict arising from 3 different moral types is interesting.

  8. @zzsharka
    can you deny India is catching up with West? No. Indians can be poor but they are at least DEVELOPING. In spite the fact they have a system which is far from capitalism…, they are developing faster than the dying Europe anyway.

  9. @VeryEvilPettingZoo ''naive as the silly arguments that communists make''

    Really what he is saying is just an extension of the idea that at the level of society(as opposed to acting on a personal level) man is too ignorant to make choices based on altruism work as intended. He is not denying the usefullness of charitable giving or the goodness of altrusim just its applicability as an overarching 'goal' in the context of a spontaneous social order held together by abstract signals.

  10. @Malthus0
    When we have social programs like, say, food stamps or health care for the poor, we're (on the societal level) not pursuing profit, but collectively giving aid others. Altruism is a tricky word (you can always argue self-interest is a factor), but it's prima facie correct to call that altruistic. Does it work as intended? No – not *completely*. There's fraud, abuse, and all manner of unintended consequences. But does it do, overall, what it's intended to? Yes.

  11. (cont)
    There's a saying in my field that applies to virtually all human endeavors: "The perfect is the enemy of the good."
    So dismissing "altruism" at the socialal level, because it's not perfect, is a mistake. It's, as I said, "every bit as utopian, divorced from reality, and ideologically naive as the silly arguments that communists make."

  12. (cont)
    On the flip side, while I completely agree that the moral argument for the free market has much merit, it's likewise utopian and divorced from reality to say that "by pursuing profit, we are as altruistic as we can possibly be". A simple review of what's actually happens establishes that the pursuit of profit is not uncommonly associated with exploitation, harm, or death to others – often with full fore-knowledge of this consequence. That's not exactly "altruism".

  13. (cont)
    Ideology – whether communist or capitalist – is a terrible thing to indulge. The consequence of ignoring how reality demonstrably *is*, in favor of acting according to one's pet theory about how reality *should be*, is a mistake measured in corpses.

  14. @zzsharka
    To you if a country is not communist, it must be capitalistic.
    Capitalistic is country in which there is private ownership of means of production.
    The gap between rich and a poor is totally irrelevant for this definition.
    The gap between Stalin and rest of soviet society was large, but it was not capitalism.

  15. @VeryEvilPettingZoo We are talking at cross purposes I think. All Hayek is suggesting is that Altruisms role can not take the place of trade/markets in organising society. Community =/= society They have different natures. The rules that apply to one do not apply to another so transplanting them is impossible. It is in this context that profit is mentioned. As against the kind of socialist who thinks that the solidarity(altrusim) of the small group should be the model for modern society.

  16. @Malthus0
    Re: "All Hayek is suggesting is that Altruisms role can not take the place of trade/markets in organising society."
    With that, I completely agree. I also hold that trade/markets can not take the place of Altruism's in organising society. In other words, it's not an either/or situation. The world is too complex to be managed by policy from on high – I completely agree. But it doesn't follow that top-level policy isn't needed, or that marklet forces should be left alone to run amuck.

  17. (cont)
    What he's arguing has much merit – I agree in general sense. But it's just one half of the story. If it's taken to be the whole story, then it becomes a utopian unrealisitist naive ideology no different from communism in the degree of its divorce from reality (and so, if implemented in policy, brings all the damage that comes with that divorce).

  18. Hayek talk's as if free market capitalism is invented by nature as a moral tradition and that man should follow his natural path instead of trying to fight his innate tendencies. There he forgets that these moral traditions are invented just as well by intellectuals as any other form of sociëty. Falsely assuming that your theories are right about the values men hold is not the firmest base to support your theories on human societal planning.

  19. @BrutusAlbion ''and that man should follow his natural path instead of trying to fight his innate tendencies''
    No Hayek is saying that we should NOT follow our innate or 'natural' tendencies.
    ''he forgets that these moral traditions are invented'' No he does not. He is fully aware of the 'inventors' of morality from Moses to Marx. Who assumed that what felt natural was right.
    He is saying that culture is neither natural nor artificial. It is the third intermediate source of human values.

  20. @Malthus0 I think he clearly said that the 2nd level of morals were traditions, the 3rd level are the intellectual imaginations and ideals we thrust upon the world such as marx.

  21. Example: I make iPhone apps. I haven't got a clue who most of the people are who download them. The advertisers who use iAd through my apps and others, I don't know who all of them are.

    All I know is that a few of the apps make me money so I must be providing value to certain people.

  22. @Malthus0: Hayak is not talking about morality but about market mechanisms. Any market will automaticly follow these tendancies. It´s like the law of gravity.

  23. @MortenDanPedersen ''Hayak is not talking about morality but about market mechanisms'' I don't understand what you mean. Hayek is talking about his theory of group selection, where competition between social groups leads to the evolution of moral values. This process is not a market process.

  24. @BrutusAlbion Non-intellectual moral traditions are not invented. They are evolved. That is Hayek's key point.

    He makes a big point about fighting natural tendencies. A key thesis of Hayek is that civilisation requires that we fight against our natural instincts, which was why he didn't like Freudians. Our instincts are partial and inconsistent, whereas an advanced civilisation needs rules that are impartial and consistent.

  25. Why be altruistic for the sake of satisfying that innate desire to be so when you can serve the interests of others more efficiently by looking out for yours?

  26. @BrutusAlbion According to natural law you have the right to do anything it is within your power to do. To a classical liberal the only caveat you make to this is the non-aggression principal, and that principal provides the pacifism most consistent with prosperity. Free market capitalism isn't designed the way we try to design socialism. We create Adam Smith's invisible hand through our free actions not by assuming the right to force.

  27. Hayek's idea that morality follows self interest is nothing new. His legacy lies in his assertion that morality is adapted as a mechanism for economic order. However, his view that economic law is as immutable as physics ignores the fact that markets are a human invention, and as such, capable of adaptation and change.The dark side of Hayek lurks in his contention that human progress through the markets is happenstance. If true, his model is seriously flawed.

  28. ''morality follows self interest'' No Hayek thinks morality develops from group competition.'law is as immutable' economic law does not change, but institutions do. ''markets are a human invention'' He is saying markets are NOT a human invention i.e. human designed.But rather are the result of human action. ''capable of adaptation & change'' Yes markets adapt to changes in rules & circumstance. ''happenstance'' Progress evolves so is not consciously controllable or foreseeable but is not random

  29. Agreed. That's where I differ from Hayek. I think that markets are a human creation and therefore the rules of economics are not fixed. Smith's ":invisible hand" makes it appear as though supernatural forces are at work in the market, as if God himself is the inventor of capital. That raises capital to the status of a religion. All religions are human inventions. Also, altruism occurs without conscience or consciousness in Hayek's model. I believe free will has a place..

  30. ''human creation'' Of course humans 'create' markets but that does not mean that they are created like when you build a bridge or launch a satellite. No one sat down & draws up plans & organises them. It is an ordered pattern without conscious ordering. If that were not the case they would not be markets but something else. You will have to explain what you mean by 'capital' (it has many meanings) & why it supposedly has the status of religion.

  31. ''altruism occurs without conscience or consciousness in Hayek's model'' He was talking about instinct. He is quite aware that the people have to exercise will to do altruistic acts. He is making the point that altruism, solidarity, love fellow feeling can never replace markets & several(as in many different different people) property as the economic ordering mechanism of society but only work with & through that mechanism.

  32. Once again I agree with you. The problem is that the Hayek model has been used as a pretext for social Darwinism. I find it troubling that the same reactionary ideas, discredited by the Great Depression and WWII, are finding new life. The "new" fascism attempts to justify its ruthless vision by citing from context thinkers such as Hayek. While alive, he didn't do much to stop it, though. While his writings contain much truth, they are not an economic bible.

  33. I'm actually not, this is the basis capitalism, you create a buisness for profit, but in the meantime you actually have to hire people and create things people like to make a profit, it's a wonderful system yet it's so natural.

  34. If instituted amongst individuals, of their own will and their own volition, separate from the entity of The State and without the use of coercive measures, altruism can indeed be a truly wonderful thing. I myself am religious and have grown up in such a community where tithes are given and provided when needed. I can see the wonderful changes it has on families and brings happiness not only to them but to me. However, I firmly believe it has NO place in government, it's not a tool for power.

  35. Thus the battle between the Planned economy and the free-market; of the Collectivist and the Individualists. Keeping my wealth or having it stolen for the sake of a total stranger, whose needs I ostensibly lessen?

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