The Evolution of Society and Mind: Hayek's System of Ideas

As a rule, Hayek has not been treated kindly by scholars. One would expect that a political theorist and economist of his stature would be charitably, if not sympathetically, read by commentators; instead, Hayek often elicits harsh dismissals. This is especially true of his fundamental ideas about the evolution of society and reason. A reader will find influential discussions in which his analysis is described as “dogmatic,” “unsophisticated,” and “crude.” In this chapter I propose to take a fresh start, sketching a sympathetic interpretation of Hayek’s accounts of social evolution and mind as fundamental to his thinking. My basic claim is that Hayek’s views on social evolution and reason are not only intimately bound together, but they also depend on his analyses of complex orders, scientific explanations of such orders, and the place of rules in complex orders. Because so few commentators recognize that his claims about evolution are embedded in a system of ideas,1 most misunderstand him
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