Wednesday, 22 December 2010

An Evolutionist Video on Net Neutrality

We can find here an evolutionist approach to Net Neutrality. I think it resembles what Hayek could have said about the subject.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Institutions & Evolution

Although Hayek is an advocate of evolutionist rationalism, his works do not provide us with a conclusive statement about “what does evolve”. Concerning himself with not being mistaken for a Social Darwinist, he emphasizes that cultural evolution operates at the level of group selection, but he fails to draw up any further specification and too many questions remain unanswered.

From our point of view, the subjects of cultural evolution are the patterns of conduct –expressed in a complex of norms, i.e.: social and legal institutions. As Hayek pointed out in “Rules and Order”, the membership of a certain group depends on obeying the set of rules of conduct that are ascribed to it. Since social and legal institutions rule the expected behaviour of individuals and organizations, who continually adjust their plans to the changes of the others, we can regard institutions as a sort of “genetic code” of the society, which enable it to automatic responses to changes in the environment, correcting any maladjustment and preserving its stability.

Nevertheless, an inherited institution could become obsolete and then work as a positive feedback system, increasing each disturbance and risking the stability of the given order. The later works of Hayek cited the cases of some notions of justice coming from our tribal past as an example of that –but this is another story…

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Patterns & Archetypes

In “The Constitution of Liberty” Hayek enrolled his own philosophy in the anti-rationalism. Afterwards, in “Law, Legislation, and Liberty”, he tried to amend some misunderstandings by introducing his thought as “critical rationalism”. In any case, he rejected Cartesian dualism and any attempt to found justice values exclusively on reason. He argued that reason is built on a combination of patterns of conduct and perception that the individual acquires from his environment. Since those patterns are also the source of the sense of justice, reason cannot have a complete command of it –but what does not mean that it cannot at all. It is in this sense that Hayek regards himself as a “critical rationalist”. Since the different patterns of conduct and perception are incorporated into the “sensory order” each one as a whole, we might bring the Jungian term of “archetype” to the Hayekian thought.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Boundedly Rational Agents

To regard a social order compounded by boundedly rational agents as unstable is an assertion that is very close to be a case of fallacy of composition. The Hayek’s essay “Economics and Knowledge” (1937) shows how the coordination of the individual plans of agents possessing just bits of information can provide of a system satisfactorily responsive to the changes in the environment. Resembling Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees, boundedly rational agents may bring a rational order –or moreover, the rationality of that order rests on the bounded rationality of its agents.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Robert Nozick on Reason and Evolution

                        “Reason and Evolution” is the title of the first chapter of Hayek’s “Law, Legislation and Liberty” (1973). It could also be the name of a whole new discipline. Here I found a citation from “The Nature of Rationality” (1993), by Robert Nozick, that would fit under that label: “Principles help you to discover the truth by transmitting evidential support or probability from some cases to others. Principles also help you to overcome temptation by transmitting utility from some actions to others. Principles are transmission devices for probability and for utility. / Principles have various functions and effects: intellectual, intrapersonal, personal, and interpersonal. This is not to say that they have these effects in every possible situation. A temperature regulatory mechanism will work only within a certain range of temperature; beyond that range it will not be able to bring temperature back, and, depending upon its material, it may even melt or freeze. Why didn’t evolution give us better regulatory mechanism for body temperature? Given the small probability that such extreme cases will arise, that would be too costly in terms of energy and attendant sacrifice in other functions. A mechanism can perform its function pretty well, well enough, even if it will not work for some of the situations that might arise. Similarly for principles” (Princeton University Press, pages 35-36). 

Thursday, 19 August 2010

On Resilient Social Institutions

According to Hayek´s thought, we might state that the price system is a sort of perception device which enables the spontaneous –or abstract- order to get knowledge of changes in the relative scarcities of economic goods and to proceed to an automatic and purposeless reallocation of them, working as a negative feedback system. But, in Hayek’s theory, the price system is not enough to fulfill the function of providing the spontaneous order with the necessary adaptation to the changes in the environment. Normative systems –both legal and social- and traditions are some of the many behavioral patterns that give a framework to the maximizing activity of the decision making agents, who have to cope with the fragmentation of information and the resultant costs of transaction. As we mentioned in a previous post, those systems are forces emerging from a natural selection process and fitted to the changes in the environment. Now, it is high time to acknowledge that, besides an expected time lag between the changes in the environment and the subsequent adaptations to them, it is very likely to be found that each sub-system responses to those changes at a different pace. Moreover, we can find a complex of resilient social institutions that remain unfitted to the new conditions the spontaneous order has to deal with.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Patterns of Perception and Behaviour

Friedrich A. Hayek states that reason is conditioned by patterns of perception and behaviour. Those patterns are grown, not designed. They evolved as a result of a process of natural selection. This idea was present in Adam Smith’s works. Rotten food is both forbidden and distasteful not because of having anyone decreed so or of any quality of the rotten food concerning taste, but due to people who found it tasty or felt allowed to eat it did not survive. The population of those who avoided rotten food spread, while of those who did not diminished to extinction. The interrelation of those patterns of perception and behaviour which human reason is built of necessarily implies an order of a higher degree of complexity than human reason itself. That is why Hayek speaks of a complex order.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Orders & Forces

Economic central planning supporters usually accuse market economy of being a chaotic system, or at least intrinsically unstable. In this confrontation, cultural evolutionary approach plays a major role. Evolutionism depicts different types of orders, defined by the characteristics of the forces prevailing among them. An unstable order is mostly conditioned by random forces. We also can find an order compounded with forces arranged by a decision making agent –that is the case of the firm or the government. In terms of Hayek’s social thought, the latter is a created or simple order. On the other side, a complex or spontaneous order –like the market- is made of forces emerging from a natural selection process, not random forces but fitted to the changes in the environment.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Law & Nature

To ascertain whether Hayek is a natural law advocate or belongs to the legal positivism is an intricate task to perform. In the third volume of Law, Legislation and Liberty, he criticized Hans Kelsen for separating law from morals. Nevertheless, Hayek’s whole works reject neither the possibility of founding any legal system on a speculative construction of reason nor on a revealed code of conduct. Legal realism is not an option either, since he regarded it as too simplistic. In fact, the particular issue to address concerning Hayek’s jurisprudence is not law, but his idea of nature.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

At the beginning...

For Hayek, the law is logically and chronologically previous to the government. That is the meaning of the rule of law: a political order founded on the law. Since the political powers receive their legitimacy from the law, the latter is exogenous to the political subsystem. That is why Hayek regards the law as a spontaneous phenomenon. This is not a description of the political reality, but a theory on a political system based on the rule of law which the social scientist can derive normative statements from.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Impossibility Theorem

It is amazing to reread “The Road to Serfdom” (1944) and to recall the paper “A Difficulty in the Concept of Social Welfare” (1950) by Kenneth J. Arrow. Specifically, Chapters 5 and 6 of Hayek’s book seem to be a philosophical statement about the consequences of Arrow’s impossibility theorem. Nonetheless, being both works close in time, the complexity of the ideas contained in them prevents us from suspecting any mutual influence, and we must conclude that the parallelism is mostly due to the zeitgeist.

Monday, 8 February 2010


Spontaneity, being understood as the automatic response of the social order to a change in the environment, is closely related to the concept of negative liberty, for coercion implies an arbitrary command or a lack of information. Since the individual is enabled to infer the spontaneous changes given in a social order from the knowledge of a fragment of it, he can adjust his plans to his own expectancies, not being coerced his will in such cases. This consideration is a bridge to be built between “The Constitution of Liberty” and “Law, Legislation and Liberty”.-