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HAYEK: I think the basic thing is Hume’s general interpretation of society and human life. Hume has come closer to a critique of rationalism than any other author I knew. Again and again I‘ve found in Hume statements of ideas which I had already independently arrived at. I am impressed especially with Hume‘s account of the formation of social institutions of all kinds.
REASON: I was wondering whether in your interpretation of Hume‘s critique of rationalism you find it necessary to then take up his own analysis of human knowledge? Don’t you find yourself in the grips of radical empiricism and skepticism?
HAYEK: No. I think one can readily start with Hume and accept in the purely epistemological side the Kantian developments based on it. On the issue of the theory of knowledge, I am probably a Kantian more than anything else.
REASON: You would not believe that ultimately Kant‘s analysis still leads to a kind of subjectivism that is philosophically unacceptable? I realize these are complex issues. Since you have entered into philosophy very vigorously, our readers might be interested in how you would treat these more general problems.
HAYEK: I haven’t really formed fully developed views so as to articulate them. I have impressions on these issues but nothing I could readily state.
REASON: I should explain what brings on the worry about Kant. He turns out extremely formalistic, for instance, in his view of logic. Reality sort of "drops out" as inaccessible to human understanding. A variety of skepticism is left which, in the political realm, can undermine the self-confidence of the individual to deal with problems. It can lead to a call for collective undertakings and the entrusting of authority to some "important figure" as opposed to leaving the individual autonomous in a society. That's a large jump, but it should explain the worry.
HAYEK: Yes. I agree. It can do so and has done so in some instances. After all the later German idealists have become victims of exactly that, but I don't think that was a necessary development.
REASON: I would like to turn now to a particular issue of your own thought which has emerged in several contexts. Based on your essay "Not of Human Design but of Human Action," do you think the ideal of spontaneous order can be applied to all types of social problems?
HAYEK: It depends on what is meant here. Of course not all kinds of social phenomena are of spontaneous growth. A great many are deliberate constructions. All I would claim is that society rests to a large extent on structures which have not been deliberately designed, but which have grown up spontaneously, yet are indispensable for civilization, and on which much of our deliberate constructing rests or which is presupposed by what we deliberately do.
REASON: There appears to be a normative point to your analysis here, not just a historical one, to the effect that the spontaneous development of solutions to problems is a better, more successful, and more natural one to human life than those planned deliberately, in the organizational/collectivist sense. Is this on the right track?
HAYEK: I wouldn't deny that I believe it very often is true. Not always. To give you the most obvious example, I am still convinced that natural language as we use it contains a great many features which are most important to enable us to think and to communicate and which an artificial language would never contain. I mean by the difference, that as a result of long development there has been embodied in it more experience than any single man possesses and therefore could put into his constructions.
REASON: One of the questions that arises in connection with your idea of the spontaneous order, is whether diseconomies (as they are called) concerning pollution or land use could be left to that type of handling alone or do they require some more deliberate state action?
HAYEK: Oh, a very great many of them will require deliberate state action–you know after all this is a problem which has concerned economists for a long time. It has now been discovered by the public but this whole question takes one back to the old Cambridge tradition of Pigou and his successors who for fifty years have been dealing with exactly this problem. It's a question to what extent we can make the market system take account of these effects and to what extent this is impossible and we have therefore to find some substitute for it. It's still very largely an open question which probably has to be decided case by case–for which there's no general answer.
REASON: You wouldn't think, then, that those who maintain that everything from education to the roads and parks and even ocean beds can be handled in terms of the private property market system have really gotten a full case for their own conclusions?
HAYEK: I think they have made a very good case that we ought to leave the possibility open that the market may find solutions–I mean government should never claim a monopoly for this sort of thing because it may always be possible that somebody else may find a better method, but you can't be certain.