Philosophy, Social Theory and Emergent Order

* Berger, Peter and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise on the Sociology of Knowledge, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967.

Building on the previous work of Alfred Schutz, the authors demonstrate how, in their words, “Society is a human product. Society is an objective reality. Man is a social product. . .” The work is important for the study of spontaneous order because it demonstrates the importance of feedback within systems of social action, demonstrating that, on the one hand, methodological individualism is a basic element in any viable social theory, but on the other, that by itself it is inadequate to understand societies and their institutions as systems.

* Gray, John. Hayek on Liberty, chapter 2: The Idea of a Spontaneous Social Order, chapter 6: Assessment and Criticism, Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1984. 27-55, 116-140, esp. 118-125.

These two chapters from Gray’s book are particularly important. The first gives a detailed description of Hayek’s conception of spontaneous order and its similarity with biological processes in particular. Also of interest is his discussion of its similarities and differences with the economic (rational choice) approach to social behavior. Contrasting Hayek with Gary Becker, Gray argues for the ultimate superiority of Hayek’s approach. He also argues that it differs from the tradition of methodological individualism as it has traditionally been interpreted in the Austrian School of Economics, with which Hayek is associated. Inn his final evaluation, Gray describes some criticisms of spontaneous order theory, and, by accepting the libertarian critique of democracy, accepts that such processes can diminish as well as strengthen liberty. Nonetheless it remains a vital concept with respect to liberty because, under appropriate rules, it ends the zero sum character of social competition.

Habermas, Jürgen . Towards a Theory of Universal Pragmatics, Communication and the Evolution of Society, Boston: Beacon Press, 1979. 1-68.

In a very difficult essay, Habermas argues that the basic logic of communicative action is to reach understanding. As such, speech has a normative content focusing on validity claims of comprehensibility, truth, truthfulness, and rightness. This essay is of interest to the study of emergent order because first, language is itself such an order, second, human spontaneous orders arise from formally voluntary initiatives on the part of actors, and so can be said to have the same underlying normative foundations that Habermas explicates at the most fundamental level.

Hayek, F. A. The Use of Knowledge in Society, Individualism and Economic Order, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948. 77-91.

Any complex society is characterized by widely dispersed knowledge. In economic terms, but easily applicable to other social spontaneous orders, Hayek argues the basic problem is securing “the best use of resources known to any of the members of society, for ends whose relative importance only these individuals know.”(78) Central is knowledge of particular circumstances which is local, cannot be entered into statistics, and which somehow needs to be communicated between members often ignorant of one another.

* Hayek, F. A. Competition as a Discovery Procedure, New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. 179-190.

Competition can be rationally justified only when we do not know the outcome to which it would lead. Since competition exists to discover facts otherwise unknowable, it can not be tested empirically, only conceptually. Market competition is therefore similar to research in the scientific community. It is primarily a discovery procedure. While Hayek focuses on the market his arguments can be easily extended to any social spontaneous order.

This argument is also found in * Hayek, F. A. Government Policy and the Market, The Political Order of a Free People, vol. 3 of Law, Legislation and Liberty, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1979. 65-97.

* Horowitz, Steven. Of Human Action But Not of Human Design, 1999 Frank P. Piskor Lecture, Canton, NY: St Lawrence University, 1999. 33 pp.

Perhaps the best brief overview of spontaneous order theory, beginning with its roots in the Scottish Enlightenment , especially Adam Ferguson and Adam Smith, through Karl Menger and Hayek to contemporary applications not only in economics, but also law, linguistics, evolutionary psychology, high technology, and the biological sciences. Horowitz also applies its implications to how we understand other cultures and links it with work in the Weberian sociological tradition.

Lachmann, Ludwig M. The Legacy of Max Weber, Berkeley: The Glendessary Press, 1971. 144 pp.

Lachmann builds on Weber’s work to develop a theory of social institutions distinguishing between those which are designed and those undersigned institutions growing from continual social practice. These latter are, of course, emergent orders. Weber himself never developed such a general theory, but Lachmann argues there are the seeds of such a theory present there. Also of interest is his discussion of Weber’s relationship to Karl Menger. The books second chapter is perhaps the most important in terms of emergent orders.

Laszlo, Ervin. The Systems View of the World. New York: George Braziller, 1972. 120 pp.

One of the principle theorists of general systems theory, Laszlo offers an introductory outline of systems theory as it was conceived in 1972. Interesting for the purposes of this bibliography in the indistinct recognition of the importance of self-organization, or what Laszlo terms “self-creativity. He explicitly recognizes it in the natural world and in a general way in the social world, but conflates hierarchies among natural systems, which have nothing to do with deliberate control, with hierarchies in social systems, where the examples he uses are from business and government, and are organized as control hierarchies. Compare pp. 46-8 with pp. 72-4.

Macy, Joanna. Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991. 220 pp.

Macy uses general systems theory and Buddhist philosophy to illuminate the concept of mutual causality. Briefly, causality is best conceived not linearly, but in terms of dynamic interdependence. In Buddhist terms this is called “dependent co-arising.” In covering systems theory, Macy relies on the work of von Bertalanffy and Laszlo and their concept of “cybernetics II” in developing her analysis of systems theory. “Cybernetics II” allows for internal change within the system via its reaction to feedback, and so is self-organizing and emergent, whereas the original concept of cybernetics did not. Chapters 10 and 11 are perhaps most central to the concerns of this bibliography.

Petsoulas, Christina. Hayek’s Liberalism and its Origins, His idea of spontaneous order and the Scottish Enlightenment. Routledge, 2001. 208 pp.

Petsoulas contrasts Hayek’s evolutionary theory, based upon the unconscious adoption of successful traditions, with a model of conscious and rational adaptation based on trial and error, found in Mandeville, Hume and Smith. The author is particularly critical of Hayek’s evolutionary theory which appears to require the existence of certain rules in order to generate a spontaneous order. Unlike the price system, rules of just conduct are ‘neither generated nor maintained spontaneously’. The argument running through it is strong though dependant on too strict a reading of Hayek’s theory in my opinion.

– Contributed by Mark Koyama

Polanyi, Michael. The Logic of Liberty, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998. 277 pp.

A classic study of spontaneous order by a chemist who increasingly studied social and political issues. Polanyi focuses on intellectual spontaneous orders such as science and common law, which are sustained by “public liberty.” Public liberty is characterized by involvement within public institutions capable of generating spontaneous orders. His argument includes demonstrating the logic superiority of polycentric compared to centralized problem solving in complex conditions and exploring the values underlying systems of spontaneous order.

Polanyi, Michael. Personal Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958. 405 pp.

Polanyi develops his concept of “tacit knowledge” which is particularly important for deeper understandings of why emergent social orders can make use of knowledge that is unavailable to centralized direction. Using a variety of examples, Polanyi shows that all skills and other knowledge depend on underlying levels of knowledge which themselves are not consciously known. Such knowledge can be consciously known, but only by relying on still deeper levels which are not.

Resnick, Mitchel. Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams: Explorations in Massively Parallel Microworlds, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999. 156 pp.

Resnick’s book as a whole focuses on the use of the self-organizing computer program, StarLogo, in education, an interesting subject but removed from the focus of this list. However, several chapters are relevant, particularly 4, and 5, which explore why people have a difficult time comprehending self-organizing processes, tending instead towards thinking of order as the result of some central authority or command, or perhaps a “seed” which initiates change. Resnick suggests that the StarLogo programs are an effective way for students and others to grasp how sometimes self-organizing processes are more effective than central control.

Schelling, Thomas. Micromotives and Macrobehavior, New York: W. W. Norton, 1978. 243 pp.

Schelling does not for the most part describe spontaneous or emergent orders in the sense used by this bibliography. His book is useful in part because he does describe how unexpected patterns can arise from individuals pursuing their own ends. The differences between Schelling’s examples and the subjects covered by the rest of this bibliography are interesting and important. (Schelling himself differentiates his examples from the market, though he seems to lump them together under the category of macrobehavior arising from micromotives.) First, the patterns arising from Schelling’s examples, such as how a neighborhood becomes segregated or how on coming traffic slows down into a traffic jam when a collision occurs in opposite lanes, generally become less complex over time. Emergent orders as defined in this bibliography become more so. Hence, Schelling’s cases are at least arguably better handled through central control whereas the opposite can be assumed to be the case with those analyzed in the other sources on this bibliography. Second, the results are largely negative from the standpoint of participants in the sense that the larger pattern interferes with their intentions, whereas in emergent orders the opposite is true. Third systemic communication is very rudimentary. Fourth, there is no entrepreneurial process. Thus, an understanding of Schelling’s cases will deepen understanding of genuinely emergent complex orders.

Titles not yet annotated:

von Bertlanaffy, Ludwig. Perspectives on General Systems Theory, New York: George Braziller, 1975.

Bianchi, Marina. Hayek’s Spontaneous Order: The “Corerect” versus the “Corrigable” Society, in Jack Birner and Rudy van Zijp, (eds) Hayek, Co-ordination and Evolution: His Legacy in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas. London: Routledge, 1994. 232-51.

Dyke, C. The Evolutionary Dynamics of Complex Systems: A Study in Biosocial Complexity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. 151 pp.

Fehl, Ulrich. Spontaneous Order in Peter J. Boettke (ed.) The Elgar Companion to Austrian Economics, Aldershot, UK: Elgar, 1994. 197-205.

Fleetwood, S. Order Without Equilibrium: A Critical Realist Interpretation of Hayek’s Notion of Spontaneous Order, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 20:6. 729-747.

Foss, Nicolai Juul. Spontaneous Social Order: Economics and Schutzian Sociology, American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 55:1, January, 1996. 73-86.

Haller, Markus. “Carl Menger’s theory of invisible-hand explanations” Social Science Information 39(4), 2000, pp. 529-565

Howard, Ron. Agoric, (unable to locate so far)

Jewkes, John. The Sources of Invention, New York: W. W. Norton, 1971

Keegan, John. The Face of Battle, New York: Viking Press, 1995.

Kley, Roland. Hayek’s Social and Political Thought, Oxford: Oxford Univeristy Press, 1994. 248 pp.

Kley, Roland. Hayek’s Idea of a Spontaneous Social Order – A Critical Analysis, Kölner Zeitschrift fur Sociologie und Sozialpsyclogie, 44:1, 1992. 12-34.

Luhmann, Nicolas. Social Systems. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995. 627 pp.

Menger, Karl. Investigations into the Method of the Social Sciences with Special Reference to Economics, New York: New York University Press, 1985. 237 pp.

Morson, Gary Saul and Caryl Emerson. Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991. 530 pp.

Zimmerman, Carl. Successful American Families, (unable to find so far)

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