I'm used to seeing Friedrich Hayek as a foil to John Maynard Keynes these days, but after turning some thoughts in my head lately about science and value judgments, I think he belongs in the arena with Sam Harris.
I have heard Harris argue that science can help us choose what we ought to value, a position dangerously close to saying science can rank any and all values - and Steven Novella has recently stated that Harris indeed holds that view.
I've added emphasis to what Hayek wrote on page 99 of The Road to Serfdom on why specialist intellectuals are making a mistake when they support central planning:
In our predilections and interests we are all in some measure specialists. And we all think that our personal order of values is not merely personal but that in a free discussion among rational people we would convince the others that ours is the right one. The lover of the countryside who wants above all that its traditional appearance should be preserved and that the blots already made by industry on its fair face should be removed, no less than the health enthusiast who wants all the picturesque but unsanitary old cottages cleared away, or the motorist who wishes the country cut up by big motor roads, the efficiency fanatic who desires the maximum of specialization and mechanization no less than the idealist who for development of personality wants to preserve as many independent craftsmen as possible, all know that their aim can be fully achieved only by planning – and they all want planning for that reason. But, of course, the adoption of the social planning for which they clamor can only bring out the concealed conflict between their aims.Hayek's case against the objective truth of values leads me to two conclusions:
First, assuming Novella's summary of Harris's perspective is accurate and he believes that science can determine what values are universally superior, than Harris is committing scientism - using the trappings of science to make claims which are not scientific in nature.
As Hayek said in The Pretense of Knowledge:
There is as much reason to be apprehensive about the long run dangers created in a much wider field by the uncritical acceptance of assertions which have the appearance of being scientific as there is with regard to the problems I have just discussed. What I mainly wanted to bring out by the topical illustration is that certainly in my field, but I believe also generally in the sciences of man, what looks superficially like the most scientific procedure is often the most unscientific, and, beyond this, that in these fields there are definite limits to what we can expect science to achieve. This means that to entrust to science - or to deliberate control according to scientific principles - more than scientific method can achieve may have deplorable effects.So not only is Harris wrong, but he is playing with fire.
Second, the illusion that values can be objectively quantified and ranked is mandatory for anyone who believes in central planning. An individual who wants to march under a red banner with modern day Marxists must take Harris's side in the issue, for how could a central planner decide which elements of society to prioritize without a concrete, indisputable list of values?