Hayek on the evolution of society and mind

Gerald F. Gaus

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

45 Scopus citations


INTRODUCTION 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, most misunderstand him. THE COMPLEX ORDER OF ACTIONS Complex phenomena Hayek repeatedly refers to “the twin ideas of evolution and spontaneous order.” Although some commentators question whether these ideas are related, Hayek’s insistence on the link between evolutionary analysis and spontaneous orders in writings spanning a number of years indicates that we need to make sense of the “twin ideas thesis” if we are to grasp what he has in mind.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Hayek
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9781139001267
ISBN (Print)0521849772, 9780521849777
StatePublished - Jan 1 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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