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  > > e-Bulletin: 08/02/02

Hayek's other interests

Essentially I agree with Allen Sanderson's response to Jay R. Baker ('Letters," February/02) suggesting that Friedrich Hayek's appointment in the Committee on Social Thought, rather than economics, had more to do with the type of work that he was doing at the time than it did with his particular views on economics and politics. But perhaps this explanation leaves out too many of the interesting details.

Hayek sought a position in America for a number of reasons, and it turned out that the Committee on Social Thought could provide one, despite whatever disagreements may have existed elsewhere in the faculty of the social sciences. And, when John U. Nef was able to arrange the appointment, Hayek became a colleague of another Committee founder, Frank H. Knight, certainly a figure central to economics at Chicago but also the person who had recommended American publication of The Road to Serfdom to the University of Chicago Press. While in the Committee, Hayek taught a faculty seminar on the philosophy of science that was attended by Milton Friedman. This all suggests that doctrinal differences with members of the Department of Economics must not have been entirely, or universally, insurmountable.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Hayek's appointment concerned the nature of the work he pursued in his initial years, which was not mentioned by Mr. Sanderson: he was completing work begun 30 years earlier on a problem outside of economics, stemming from an early interest in psychology. The result was his The Sensory Order, An Inquiry into the Foundations of Theoretical Psychology (Chicago, 1952). In it he acknowledged his "deep gratitude" to the London School of Economics and the Committee on Social Thought "for giving me the leisure to devote so much time to problems which lie outside the field where my main duties lie." Despite his status as an amateur in the field, his work received high praise at the time it was published, and it has continued to get very favorable mention almost 50 years later by such contemporary neuroscientists as Gerald Edelman and Joaquin Fuster. Needless to say, the view he proposed of the complexity of the mental order also turned out to have important implications for his views on human action.

That the University of Chicago can provide a place for such work is indeed one of its glories. And this is true whether one agrees or disagrees with the political and economic views of the scholar in question.

Richard Henry Schmitt, X'66, AB'73, PhD'00
Oak Park, Illinois


  AUGUST 2002

  > > Volume 94, Number 6

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Teachable moments
  > > Off-key smash
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Great men of Great Books
  > >
Business of Reflection

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