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Ignorance and Liberty


  • Ignorance and Liberty

    Running from antiquity to the present day, there is a single premiseuniting all those who believe in an open society: that the demand forliberty rests on the recognition of human ignorancewe need to be freebecause we are ignorant and fallible. Free social cooperation permits usto mobilize our knowledge and develop methods of discovery throughwhich we can explore the unknown and continually correct our errors.To assent to free cooperation is to accept critical discussion anddemocracy, and in this way we are able to increase our rationality andfurther political and economic development.

    Improvement in the conditions of our lives, therefore, does not comefrom the omniscience attributed to some enlightened legislator orplanner. Ignorance and Liberty examines how the market liberates usfrom this idea of a privileged source of knowledge, by presenting themarket as a place not only where goods are exchanged, but also wheredifferent philosophical ideas and religious beliefs must cohabit. In thisway, new horizons are opened up and the sense of an absolute thatprevails in a closed world is undermined. Topics addressed include: The liberty of the ancients compared with that of the moderns The failure of psychologism and the question of private property Mandeville and the Scottish moralists Austrian marginalism The destruction of liberty

    This book will be of interest to the research community and advancedstudents in the fields of political theory, political philosophy and thehistory of ideas and social theory. It follows Infantinos Individualismin Modern Thought (Routledge, 1998).

    Lorenzo Infantino is Professor of Philosophy and Social Sciences atLibera Universit Internationale degli Studi Sociali, Rome.

  • Routledge Studies in Social and Political Thought

    1 Hayek and AfterHayekian liberalism as a research programmeJeremy Shearmur2 Conflicts in Social ScienceEdited by Anton van Harskamp3 Political Thought of Andr GorzAdrian Little4 Corruption, Capitalism and DemocracyJohn Girling5 Freedom and Culture in Western SocietyHans Blokland6 Freedom in EconomicsNew perspectives in normative analysisEdited by Jean-Franois Laslier, Marc Fleurbaey,Nicolas Gravel and Alain Trannoy7 Against PoliticsOn government, anarchy and orderAnthony de Jasay8 Max Weber and Michel FoucaultParallel life worksArpad Szakolczai9 The Political Economy of Civil Society and HumanRightsG.B.Madison10 On Durkheims Elementary Forms of Religious LifeEdited by W.S.F.Pickering, W.Watts Miller and N.J.Allen11 Classical IndividualismThe supreme importance of each human beingTibor R.Machan12 The Age of ReasonsQuixotism, sentimentalism and political economy ineighteenth-century BritainWendy Motooka13 Individualism in Modern ThoughtFrom Adam Smith to HayekLorenzo Infantino14 Property and Power in Social TheoryA study in intellectual rivalryDick Pels15 Wittgenstein and the Idea of a Critical SocialTheoryA Critique of Giddens, Habermas and BhaskarNigel Pleasants16 Marxism and Human NatureSean Sayers17 Goffman and Social OrganizationStudies in a sociological legacyEdited by Greg Smith18 Situating HayekPhenomenology and the neo-liberal projectMark J.Smith

    19 The Reading of Theoretical TextsPeter Ekegren20 The Nature of CapitalMarx and FoucaultRichard Marsden21 The Age of ChanceGambling in Western CultureGerda Reith22 Reflexive Historical SocietyArpad Szakolczai23 Durkheim and RepresentationsEdited by W.S.F.Pickering24 The Social and Political Thought of NoamChomskyAlison Edgley25 Hayeks Liberalism and Its OriginsHis idea of Spontaneous Order and the ScottishEnlightenmentChristina Petsoulas26 Metaphor and the Dynamics of KnowledgeSabine Maasen and Peter Weingart27 Living with MarketsJeremy Shearmur28 Durkheims SuicideA Century of Research and DebateEdited by W.S.F.Pickering and Geoffrey Walford29 Post-MarxismAn intellectual historyStuart Sim30 The Intellectual as StrangerStudies in spokespersonshipDick Pels31 Hermeneutic Dialogue and Social ScienceA critique of Gadamer and HabermasAustin Harrington32 Methodological IndividualismBackground, history and meaningLars Udehn33 John Stuart Mill and Freedom of ExpressionThe genesis of a theoryK.C.ORourke34 The Politics of Atrocity and ReconciliationFrom terror to traumaMichael Humphrey35 Marx and WittgensteinKnowledge, morality, politicsEdited by Gavin Kitchmg and Nigel Pleasants36 The Genesis of ModernityArpad Szakolczai37 Ignorance and LibertyLorenzo Infantino

  • Ignorance and Liberty

    Lorenzo Infantino

    RoutledgeTaylor & Francis Group


  • First published 2003by Routledge11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE Simultaneously published in the USA and Canadaby Routledge29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2003. 2003 Lorenzo Infantino

    All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted orreproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic,mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented,including photocopying and recording, or in any informationstorage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from thepublishers. British Library Cataloguing in Publication DataA catalogue record for this book is available from the BritishLibrary Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication DataA catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN 0-203-52232-X Master e-book ISBN ISBN 0-203-54796-9 (Adobe eReader Format)ISBN 0-415-28573-9 (Print Edition)

  • To my parents

  • vii


    Acknowledgments ix

    1 Introduction 1

    True individualism and the market 1The harmful heredity of Platonic philosophy 2From the state of ignorance to the idea of society as a

    spontaneous order 4Spontaneous orders and the birth of social sciences 7

    2 The liberty of the ancients compared with that ofmoderns 8

    Aspects of liberty: the market, critical discussion anddemocracy 8

    Pericles: the market and an open society 11The market in the plays of Aristophanes 13The habitat of liberty 16Solon and the struggle for law 19Athens and Sparta: liberty and tribalism 25Contractual freedom in Athens and Rome 29

    3 The gnoseological roots of liberty and tribalism 32

    Athens: ignorance and liberty 32Plato: re-establishment of the privileged point of view on

    the world 37The socio-economic characteristics of the Platonic city 41Aristotle: between tribalism and the market 48Cicero: between liberty and Platonism 56

  • viii Contents

    4 The failure of psychologism and the question of privateproperty 62

    Conversion versus critical discussion 62The doctrine of manifest truth 66Harrington and Bernier: private property and freedom 69

    5 Mandeville and the Scottish moralists: the discovery ofsociety as a spontaneous order 77

    A science of Good and Evil is impossible: moral rules are aproduct of the social process 77

    The question of economic value 82Ignorance, fallibility and the study of latent functions 85Liberty as the habitat of development 89The origins of modern capitalism 94

    6 Austrian marginalism: the limits of knowledge andsociety as a spontaneous order 99

    Carl Menger and Adam Smith 99Menger and the subjectivist theory of value 101Against the German Historical School of Economics 103The conflict between the Austrian and Walrasian

    approaches 108Ignorance and disequilibrium 113Hayek: unification of the Austrian and Scottish

    traditions 115Abstract order and mobilization of knowledge 120Property and freedom 126

    7 The intellectualistic hubris and the destruction of liberty 128

    There are no privileged sources of knowledge 128Historicism, gnosis and utopia 133The myth of Sparta and the two French revolutions 137The socialist roots of Nazism 144Liberty and change 147

    Notes 151References 193Index 206

  • ix


    I would like to thank Professor Giovanni Reale, who kindly respondedto my request to read the second and third chapters. I would also liketo thank Massimo Baldini, who read the entire manuscript. Over theyears, I have discussed the basic topics treated here with Dario Antiseriand Luciano Pellicani. My debt to both of them goes far beyond whatis indicated in the footnotes. Special thanks are due to Sergio Ricossa,who for me has always been a scientific and moral point of reference.Finally, many thanks to Mrs Gwyneth Weston, who translated myprevious book on Individualism in Modern Thought and to Mrs CoraHahn, who worked with me on this one. As usual, the responsibilityfor what remains is completely mine.

  • 11 Introduction

    True individualism and the market

    Very often, when there is a demand for liberty, a high level ofknowledge and wisdom is attributed to mankind. And yet the mostauthentic liberal tradition takes the completely opposite point of view.Liberal institutions are advocated as a defense against human error.Ignorance and fallibility are our anthropologic traits.

    During the twentieth century, Friedrich A.von Hayek spoke of trueindividualism and false individualism.1 The former refers to thosewho believe that mobilization of knowledge and individual energies is anecessity caused by our ignorance. The latter refers to those whoattribute to all individuals knowledge of so-called relevant data andnegate, in this way, the problematic situations that foster the need forliberty: a factual assumption [] which is never satisfied in real lifeand which, if it were ever true, would make the existence of thosebodies of rules which we call morals and law not only superfluous, butunaccountable and contrary to the assumption.2

    The tradition that bases demand for liberty on the limits of humanknowledge is much more widespread than is commonly believed. It h


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