Sunday, March 10, 2002

Two Kinds of Order

I've posted an essay by my father, written in 1985, entitled Two Kinds of Order which sums up Hayek's view of society very well. I think this explains a lot of the cluetrain 'market emergence' ideas without getting into economics too much. A brief excerpt:

Hayek distinguishes two kinds of rationalism; what he has called constructive rationalism and evolutionary rationalism. And he associates these with two kinds of order: designed or made orders and spontaneous orders. Constructive rationalism derives from Descartes with his twin emphases on logical or mathematical deduction from explicit premises, and on machines as appropriate models for explaining natural phenomena, however complex. According to constructive rationalism, rational actions are those which are determined entirely by known and demonstrable truths, and rational social institutions are those which are deliberately designed to achieve specific, defined purposes.
Constructive rationalism gives rise to designed or made orders, like cars, or silicon chips, buildings or factories, armies or planned economies. All of these have been designed for one or several definite purposes. It is the very success of constructive rationalism in some of these examples - particularly in the less complex situations - that leads to the assumption that all social institutions and all other human productions are, and ought to be, the product of deliberate design.
But such design is neither actual nor feasible. It is not possible for any individual or small group to know all the relevant facts needed to design complex social institutions. To think that this is possible is to suffer from what Hayek calls the synoptic delusion. And many of the social institutions which are indispensable in a modern industrial society have not been consciously designed.
Hence we need to recognise the importance of evolutionary rationalism and of self-generating or spontaneous orders to which the ideas of purpose and design do not apply. Organisms, languages, market economies, societies are orders which were not designed: they evolved. Evolutionary rationalists insist on the distinction between designed and spontaneous orders, especially in understanding man and society.

And a bit of Hayek himself, quoted in the piece:
An age of superstitions is a time when people imagine that they know more than they do. In this sense the twentieth century was certainly an outstanding age of superstition, and the cause of this is an over-estimation of what science has achieved - not in the field of the comparatively simple phenomena, where it has of course been extraordinarily successful, but in the field of complex phenomena, where the application of the techniques which proved so helpful with essentially simple phenomena has proved to be very misleading.
Ironically, these superstitions are largely an effect of our inheritance from the Age of Reason, that great enemy of all that it regarded as superstitions. If the enlightenment has discovered that the role assigned to human reason in intelligent construction had been too small in the past, we are discovering that the task which our age is assigning to the rational construction of new institutions is far too big. What the age of rationalism - and modern positivism - has taught us to regard as senseless and meaningless formations due to accident or human caprice, turn out in many instances to be the foundations on which our capacity for rational thought rests. Man is not and never will be the master of his fate: his very reason always progresses by leading him into the unknown and unforeseen where he learns new things.

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