Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hayek on Intelligibility vs. Rationality

Unlike the Youtube commenters, who focus on whether or not intellectuals really are arrogant/stupid/evil, I think it's interesting to focus on what Hayek says about rationality vs. intelligibility.

Go back to Descartes, he says. In other words, go back to the beginning of modern skepticism: if I can't understand it, I will reject it. If it's unintelligible, it must be irrational.

Hayek's epistemology is different from that. The behavior of the free market may very well be unintelligible, but that doesn't make it irrational. We can see the general principles by which a good outcome is achieved, but it's difficult to see how particular actions in the private sector can possibly contribute to a good outcome.

Hayek therefore argues that intellectuals have a problem of epistemology, not a moral problem. They can't see the good in individual actions in the private sector, and therefore they reject the idea that those actions can contribute to the public good. Unintelligibility equals irrationality.

Just a thought: perhaps this explains something about why the Left has tended to be more secular, while the Right has retained a stronger religious backing. Those who take up modern skepticism tend to reject religion, and by Hayek's argument they will also tend to be skeptical of the free market. Perhaps it is not so much that Christianity has tended to promote free market economics as it is that the secular Left has philosophically alienated both Christians and classical liberals.

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