Friedrich Hayek


Friedrich Hayek : biography

8 May 1899 – 23 March 1992

Early life

Hayek was born in Vienna (then the capital of Austria-Hungary), and was the son of August von Hayek, a doctor in the municipal health service. Hayek’s grandfathers were prominent academics working in the fields of statistics and biology. His paternal line had been raised to the ranks of the Bohemian nobility for its services to the state. Similarly, a generation before his maternal forebears had also been raised to the lower noble rank. However, after 1919 titles of nobility were banned by law in Austria, and the "von Hayek" family became simply the Hayek family. Hence, after 1919, Hayek’s legal name became "Friedrich Hayek", not "Friedrich von Hayek". Hayek’s father turned his work on regional botany into a highly esteemed botanical treatise, continuing the family’s scholarly traditions.

On his mother’s side, Hayek was second cousin to the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. His mother often played with Wittgenstein’s sisters, and had known Ludwig well. As a result of their family relationship, Hayek became one of the first to read Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus when the book was published in its original German edition in 1921. Although Hayek only met Wittgenstein on a few occasions, Hayek said that Wittgenstein’s philosophy and methods of analysis had a profound influence on his own life and thought.Ebenstein, p. 245 In his later years, Hayek recalled a discussion of philosophy with Wittgenstein, when both were officers during World War I.Hayek on Hayek: an autobiographical dialogue, By Friedrich August Hayek, Routledge, 1994, page 51 After Wittgenstein’s death, Hayek had intended to write a biography of Wittgenstein and worked on collecting family materials, and he later assisted biographers of Wittgenstein.Young Ludwig: Wittgenstein’s life, 1889–1921, Brian McGuinness, Oxford University Press, 2005 Page xii

At his father’s suggestion as a teenager, Hayek read the genetic and evolutionary works of Hugo de Vries and the philosophical works of Ludwig Feuerbach. In school Hayek was much taken by one instructor’s lectures on Aristotle’s ethics.

In 1917, he joined an artillery regiment in the Austro-Hungarian Army and fought on the Italian front. Much of Hayek’s combat experience was spent as a spotter in an aeroplane. Hayek suffered damage to his hearing in his left ear during the war, and was decorated for bravery. During this time Hayek also survived the 1918 flu pandemic.Adam James Tebble, F.A. Hayek (Continuum, 2010), pp. 2, ISBN 978-0826435996

Hayek then decided to pursue an academic career, determined to help avoid the mistakes that had led to the war. Hayek said about his experience: "The decisive influence was really World War I. It’s bound to draw your attention to the problems of political organization." He vowed to work for a better world.

Education and career

At the University of Vienna, he earned doctorates in law and political science in 1921 and 1923 respectively, and he also studied philosophy, psychology, and economics. For a short time, when the University of Vienna closed, Hayek studied in Constantin von Monakow’s Institute of Brain Anatomy, where Hayek spent much of his time staining brain cells. Hayek’s time in Monakow’s lab, and his deep interest in the work of Ernst Mach, inspired Hayek’s first intellectual project, eventually published as The Sensory Order (1952). It located connective learning at the physical and neurological levels, rejecting the "sense data" associationism of the empiricists and logical positivists. Hayek presented his work to the private seminar he had created with Herbert Furth called the Geistkreis.

During his years at the University of Vienna, Carl Menger’s work on the explanatory strategy of social science and Friedrich von Wieser’s commanding presence in the classroom left a lasting influence on Hayek. Upon the completion of his examinations, Hayek was hired by Ludwig von Mises on the recommendation of Wieser as a specialist for the Austrian government working on the legal and economic details of the Treaty of Saint Germain. Between 1923 and 1924 Hayek worked as a research assistant to Prof. Jeremiah Jenks of New York University, compiling macroeconomic data on the American economy and the operations of the U.S. Federal Reserve.A. J. Tebble, F.A. Hayek, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010, p. 4-5