F.A. Hayek on Values and Morality

“Some readers will perhaps be disturbed by the impression that I do not take the value of individual liberty as an indisputable ethical presupposition and that, in trying to demonstrate its value, I am possibly making the argument in its support a matter of expediency. This would be a misunderstanding” – F.A. Hayek – The Constitution of Liberty p. 6

“We must show that liberty is not merely one particular value but that it is the source and condition of most moral values.”

In the struggle for moral support of the people of the world, the lack of firm beliefs puts the West at a great disadvantage (…) If we are to succeed in the great struggle of ideas that is under way, we must first of all know what we believe.” – F.A Hayek – The Constitution og Liberty

“What, then, are the essential characteristics of true individualism? The first thing that should be said is that it is primarily a theory of society, an attempt to understand the forces which determine the social life of man, and only in the second instance a set of political maxims derived from this view of society. This fact should by itself be sufficient to refute the silliest of the common misunderstandings: the belief that individualism postulates (or bases its arguments on the assumption of) the existence of isolated or self-contained individuals, instead of starting from men whose whole nature and character is determined by their existence in society.” – F.A Hayek – Individualism True and False p. 6

“Moreover, if civilization has resulted from unwanted graduale changes in morality ,then, reluctant as we may be to accept this, no universally valid system of ethics can ever be known to us.” – F.A. Hayek – The Fatal Conceit p. 20

“The important point is that every man growing up in a given culture Will find in himself rules, or may discover that he acts in accordance with rules — and will similarly recognize the actions of others as conforming or not conforming to various rules. This is, of course, not proof that they are a permanent or unalterable part of ‘human nature’, or that they are innate, but proof only that they are part of a cultural heritage which is likely to be fairly constant, especially so long as they are not articulated in words and therefore also are not discussed or consciously examined.” – F.A. Hayek  – Law, Legislation and Liberty p. 19

“But it is a far cry from this general insight to the claims of the ethical, cultural or historical relativists or of evolutionary ethics. To put it crudely, while we know that all these values are relative to something, we do not know to what they are relative. We may be able to indicate the general class of circumstances which have made them what they are, but we do not know the particular conditions to which the values we hold are due, or what our values would be if those circumstances had been different. Most of the illegitimate conclusions are the result of erroneous interpretation of the theory of evolution as the empirical establishment of a trend. Once we recognize that it gives us no more than a scheme of explanation which might be sufficient to explain particular phenomena if we knew all the facts which have operated in the course of history, it becomes evident that the claims of the various kinds of relativists (and of evolutionary ethics) are unfounded” – F. A. Hayek, Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics

“It is a fact which we must recognize that even what we regard as good or beautiful is changeable—if not in any recognizable manner that would entitle us to take a relativistic position, then in the sense that in many respects we do not know what will appear as good or beautiful to another generation. .. It is not only in his knowledge, but also in his aims and values, that man is the creature of his civilization; in the last resort, it is the relevance of these individual wishes to the perpetuation of the group or the species that will determine whether they persist or change. It is, of course, a mistake to believe that we can draw conclusions about what our values ought to be simply because we realize that they are a product of evolution. But we cannot reasonably doubt that these values are created and altered by the same evolutionary forces that have produced our intelligence.” – F.A. Hayek