Tuesday, 12 June 2012

On the Epistemic Value of Liberty

We would not hesitate to endorse Fritz Machlup as one of the most accurate analyst of Hayek’s works. Here, writing about Hayek’s papers afterwards The Constitution of Liberty, he states: “This great work done, Hayek did not rest. He could not let go of a topic on which he found so much more to do. In an article in German (“Die Ursachen der ständigen Gefährdung der Freiheit”, Ordo, 12, 1961) he asks why it is that personal liberty is in continual jeopardy and why the trend is toward its being increasingly restricted. The cause of liberty, he finds, rests on our awareness that our knowledge is limited. The purpose of liberty is to afford us an opportunity to obtain something unforeseeable; since it cannot be known what use individuals will make of their freedom, it is all the more important to grant freedom to everybody (p. 103). Liberty can endure only if it is defended not just when it is recognized to be useful in particular instances but rather continuously as a fundamental principle which may not be breached for the sake of any definite advantages obtainable at the cost of its suspension (p. 105). It is not easy to convince the masses that they should sacrifice foreseeable benefits for unforeseeable ones.” (Machlup, Fritz, "Hayek's Contribution to Economics", edited in Essays on Hayek, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1977)
Machlup’s summary of Hayek’s statement on the value of individual liberty offers a reason that is neither substantialist nor instrumental. In this context, although the “instrumental reason” would lead us to a disregard of  the individual liberty in order to achieve a concrete end, his defense of liberty is not based on a substantial truth, but on an epistemic value.