Full-Length Friday Liberty Quotation: Hayek on Individualism and the Limits of Imagination

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95d39/huch/1889/09“[I]t is impossible for any man to survey more than a limited field, to be aware of the urgency of more than a limited number of needs.  Whether his interests center round his own physical needs, or whether he takes a warm interest in the welfare of every human being he knows, the ends about which he can be concerned will always be only an infinitesimal fraction of the needs of all men.

“This is the fundamental fact on which the whole philosophy of individualism is based.  It does not assume, as is often asserted, that man is egoistic or selfish or ought to be.  It merely starts from the indisputable fact that the limits of our powers of imagination make it impossible to include in our scale of values more than a sector of the needs of the whole society, and that, since, strictly speaking, scales of value can exist only in individual minds, nothing but partial scales of values exist—scales which are inevitably different and often inconsistent with each other.  From this the individualist concludes that individuals should be allowed, within defined limits, to follow their own values and preferences rather than somebody else’s; that within these spheres the individual’s system of ends should be supreme and not subject to dictation by others.  It is this recognition of the individual as the ultimate judge of his ends, the belief that as far as possible his own views ought to govern his actions, that forms the essence of the individualist position.”

F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom [1944]