, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 335-358
Date: 02 Feb 2006

The Sensory Order and other Adaptive Classifying Systems

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Synopsis

Hayek’s cognitive theory, which seeks to describe the operation of a particular order, in fact provides a paradigmatic account of knowledge-generating orders in general. We claim that this paradigm provides a fertile conceptual framework for exploring a variety of problems in economics and social theory. In particular, we shall show that Hayek’s conception of the ‘map’ and the ‘model’, which he uses to explain the operation of the complex adaptive classifying system called ‘mind’, are promising analytical devices with applications extending to social structures of various kinds and complexity. We use Hayek’s notion of the map and model to analyze how different social structures – regarded as classifying systems – work in terms of their input, processing, and output capabilities. The adaptive characteristics of such systems, via communicative routines, multi-level classification, and feedback, form central motifs for our discussion of markets, science, and other social structures. We show that by analyzing the knowledge-generating characteristics of such structures we are also able to gain insights about the circumstances affecting their adaptive properties.