Hayek on Free Software


Last month I gave a lecture on Free and Open Source Software to a computer science ethics class at the University of NSW (one day I may break it into parts and make separate articles out of them).  One of the themes I developed was the importance of an ethical stance on freedom in deriving substantive economic benefits.  In support of this I quoted the following from economist Friedrich Hayek:

“The enemies of liberty have always based their arguments on the contention that order in human affairs requires that some should give orders and others obey.  Much of the opposition to a system of freedom under general law arises from the inability to conceive of an effective co-ordination of human activities without deliberate organization by a commanding intelligence. …
“[The orderliness of social activity] cannot be the result of a unified direction if we want individuals to adjust their actions to the particular circumstances largely known only to them and never known in their totality to any one mind.  Order with reference to society thus means essentially that individual action is guided by successful forethought, that people not only make effective use of their knowledge but can also foresee with a high degree of confidence what collaboration they can expect from others.”

F. A Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, Routledge Classics, 2006 @ 140.

This quote, and the arguments that Hayek made in support of it, contains within it most, if not all, of the elements of a complete answer to most criticisms of free and open source software.  Feel free to fling it at cynics and the peddlers of false doctrine.

1 Response to “Hayek on Free Software”


  1. 1 George Michaelson 12 June 2008 at 12:29 pm

    I am always tempted to point to this comment by Marx, about the relationship of law and society. I included it in a paper I wrote many years ago on the nature of the end-to-end principle and its implications for copyright.

    (see weblink http://algebras.org/~ggm/Marx/speech.html)


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