Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hayek and Ecclesiastes

From "The Common Sense of Progress" in The Constitution of Liberty:
Even in the field where the search for new knowledge is most deliberate, i.e., in science, no man can predict what will be the consequences of his work.... Progress by its very nature cannot be planned. We may perhaps legitimately speak of planning progress in a particular field where we aim at the solution of a specific problem and are already on the track of the answer. But we should soon be at the end of our endeavors if we were to confine ourselves to striving for goals now visible and if new problems did not spring up all the time. It is knowing what we have not known before that makes us wiser men.

But often it also makes us sadder men. Though progress consists in part in achieving things we have been striving for, this does not mean that we shall like all its results or that all will be gainers. And since our wishes and aims are also subject to change in the course of the process, it is questionable whether the statement has a clear meaning that the new state of affairs that progress creates is a better one. Progress is the sense of the cumulative growth of knowledge and power over nature is a term that says little about whether the new state will give us more satisfaction than the old. The pleasure may be solely in achieving what we have been striving for, and the assured possession may give us little satisfaction. The question whether, if we had to stop at our present stage of development, we would in any significant sense be better off or happier than if we had stopped a hundred or a thousand years ago is probably unanswerable.

The answer, however, does not matter. What matters is the successful striving for what at each moment seems attainable.

Cf. Ecclesiastes 1:17-18, 2:14, 2:24-26, 6:7-9, 11:6,8
And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.

The wise have eyes in their head, but fools walk in darkness. Yet I perceived that the same fate befalls all of them.

There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.

All human toil is for the mouth, yet the appetite is not satisfied. For what advantage have the wise over fools? And what do the poor have who know how to conduct themselves before the living? Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire; this also is vanity and a chasing after wind.

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hands be idle; for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

Even those who live many years should rejoice in them all; yet let them remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity.

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