Hayek and Rand on reason — APEE panelists

In addition to the session on Ethics and the Financial Crisis, I am chairing a session on the theme of “Reason in Hayek and Rand” for the Association for Private Enterprise Education conference to be held April 11-13, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

hayekrand_50x66The rationale for the session: Two giants of twentieth-century thought — but few comparative studies have been done. The following panelists will discuss how Friedrich Hayek’s account of reason compares to Ayn Rand’s.

Reason in Hayek and Rand
Chair: Stephen Hicks, Rockford College

Jennifer Baker, College of Charleston
Title: “Buying and Value”
Abstract: F. A. Hayek and Ayn Rand have very distinct descriptions of consumer behavior. Rand describes consumers purchasing what they do as an acknowledgement of the value of the product. Hayek reprimands economists who make a similar description, as it is a clear “mistake.” What causes one account to differ from another on this matter? What is at stake when it comes to the rationality ascribed to consumer choice? In this paper I lay out the Randian and Hayekian alternatives and assess them against each other.

David Kelley, Atlas Society
Title: “Rand vs. Hayek on Abstraction”
Abstract: Both Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek understood that the political institutions of freedom rest on cultural foundations. Both thinkers held that individuals are influenced by the beliefs, values, and practice of their culture. Both believed that civilization has progressed from the tribalism of primitive societies toward the greater individualism of modern liberal society. At a deeper level, however, Rand and Hayek differ profoundly about the nature of culture and cultural change. Rand holds that cultural practices rest on ideas that are the product of reason and open to rational assessment. Hayek offers an evolutionary account in which ideas as well as practices are acquired by imitation and spread by a kind of natural selection.
This difference is in large part the result of more fundamental differences in their respective epistemological views. In this paper, I will discuss one central issue that I believe underlies many of the others. That issue concerns the nature of abstractions—our concepts for general kinds of their and their common attributes, and the abstract principles and rules that we form with our concepts. Rand held that we form abstractions from the observation of particular, concrete things. Hayek held the opposite view that abstractions are primary; some are innate, some acquired from our cultural environment, but neither can be independently supported by observation of concretes. Though Hayek’s view is in some ways more in tune with current theories of cognition, I will argue that it is both false and inconsistent with a fully individualist moral and political theory.

Tibor Machan, Chapman University
Title: “Hayek and Rand on Constructive Rationalism”
Abstract: F. A. Hayek was suspicious of constructive rationalism and this has sometimes been taken to amount to a diminution of human reason in Hayek’s eyes. Ayn Rand, in contrast, has embraced human reason as the primary means for people to grasp reality and to guide themselves as they conduct their lives.
Do Hayek and Rand disagree? Yes, Ayn Rand has been very harshly critical of Hayek, judging by her marginalia of The Road to Serfdom (see Robert Mayhew, ed., Ayn Rand’s Marginalia). But her focus in these comments was Hayek’s allegedly infelicitous writing and thus sloppy thinking, not so much his positions on various issues and even less his ideas concerning human reason. In other contexts Rand has been identified as a critic of rationalism, which could be taken as paralleling Hayek’s objection to constructive rationalism. I plan to explore these matters.

Alexei Marcoux, Loyola University Chicago
Title: “Hayek’s Epistemic Case for Entrepreneurial Capitalism”
Abstract: One case for entrepreneurial capitalism is straightforwardly philosophical. A handful of fundamental principles are announced and argued for. Then it is shown that an entrepreneurial capitalist social order follows from the principles announced and defended. Roughly, this is the approach of libertarian defenders of the market like Murray Rothbard, Robert Nozick, and Ayn Rand. Another case for entrepreneurial capitalism proceeds differently. It is based on an account of the epistemic limitations of human beings and what works to their advantage given those limitations. This is the approach of F. A. Hayek. In a long and prolific career that saw him make significant contributions to economics, psychology, and social and political philosophy, the common thread in Hayek’s thought is the limits of human cognition. Those limits undermine the prospects of socialist calculation and of the technocratic, managerial capitalism taught in university-based business schools and championed by thinkers like Alfred Chandler and J. K. Galbraith. The case based on epistemic limitations is contingent rather than necessary. For that reason (among others), it draws fire from other defenders of entrepreneurial capitalism for being insufficiently definite. Parallels in the thought of Michael Oakeshott will also be discussed.

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