F. Hayek, Research needs individuality and diversity

However greatly progress in a known direction may be accelerated by the deliberate organization of work aiming at some known goal, the decisive and unforeseeable steps in the general advance usually occur not in the pursuit of specific ends but in the exploitation of those opportunities which the accidental combination of particular knowledge and gifts and special circumstances and contacts have placed in the way of some individual.

Though the specialized research institution may be the most efficient for all tasks that are of an “applied” character, such institutional research is always in some measure directed research, the aim of which is determined by the specialized equipment, the particular team assembled, and the concrete purpose to which the institution is dedicated. But in “fundamental” research on the outskirts of knowledge there are often no fixed subjects or fields, and the decisive advances will frequently be due to the disregard of the conventional division of disciplines. The problem of supporting the advance of knowledge in the most effective manner is therefore closely connected with the issue of “academic freedom.”…

Academic freedom cannot mean, of course, that every scientist should do what seems most desirable to him. Nor does it mean self- government of science as a whole. It means rather that there should be as many independent centers of work as possible, in which at least those men who have proved their capacity to advance knowledge and their devotion to their task can themselves determine the problems on which they are to spend their energies and where they can expound the conclusions they have reached, whether or not these conclusions are palatable to their employer or the public at large…

There is perhaps no more important application of our main theses than that the advance of knowledge is likely to be fastest where scientific pursuits are not determined by some unified conception of their social utility, and where each proved man can devote himself to the tasks in which he sees the best chance of making a contribution. Where, as is increasingly the case in all the experimental fields, this opportunity can no longer be given by assuring to every qualified student the possibility of deciding how to use his own time, but where large material means are required for most kinds of work, the prospects of advance would be most favorable if, instead of the control of funds being in the hands of a single authority proceeding according to a unitary plan, there were a multiplicity of independent sources so that even the unorthodox thinker would have a chance of finding a sympathetic ear…

Nowhere is freedom more important than where our ignorance is greatest— at the boundaries of knowledge, in other words, where nobody can predict what lies a step ahead… It is wherever man reaches beyond his present self, where the new emerges and assessment lies in the future, that liberty ultimately shows its value… And we cannot think of better words to conclude than those of Wilhelm von Humboldt which a hundred years ago John Stuart Mill put in front of his essay On Liberty: “The grand, leading principle, towards which every argument hitherto unfolded in these pages directly converges, is the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity.”

Related

Facebook Comments