Friedrich Hayek’s work on spontaneous order suggests that the emergence of a spontaneous order requires the existence of abstract rules of conduct. But how much abstraction is required? Abstraction exists on a gradient, from the highest specificity (pertaining to particular persons and narrowly defined circumstances) to the highest generality (pertaining to all persons in all circumstances). If rules create order by coordinating expectations, either end of the spectrum is undesirable; the most specific and the most abstract rules fail to provide decision makers with useful guidance. This article argues that rules that foster coordination must be characterized by an intermediate degree of abstraction. This conclusion will be explained and applied to law, language, and etiquette in order to draw out the similar character of rules across various contexts. The article concludes by discussing four properties that rules of intermediate abstraction must also possess to foster spontaneous order.
KeywordsAbstraction Spontaneous order Rules Law Language Etiquette
JEL codesB53 K0 Z1
- Epstein, R. A. (1995). Simple rules for a complex world. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Hayek, F. A. (1960). The constitution of liberty. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Hayek, F. A. (1973). Law, legislation and liberty, vol. 1: Rules and order. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Heiner, R. A. (1983). The origin of predictable behavior. American Economic Review, 73, 560–595.Google Scholar
- Martin, J. (1993). A philosophy of etiquette. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 137, 350–356.Google Scholar
- O’Driscoll, G. P., & Rizzo, M. J. (1996, 1985). The economics of time and ignorance. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Overton, S. (2002). Rules, standards, and Bush v. Gore: Form and the law of democracy. Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, 37, 65–102.Google Scholar
- Pinker, S. (1999). Words and rules. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
- Post, P. (2008). Revolving doors. GoodHousekeeping.com. Retrieved Feb. 17, 2008 from http://magazines.ivillage.com/goodhousekeeping/etiquette/peggy/qas/0,,284571_431459,00.html.
- Rizzo, M. J. (1999). Which kind of legal order? Logical coherence and praxeological coherence. Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines, 9(4), 497–510.Google Scholar
- Schauer, F. (1991). Playing by the rules: A philosophical examination of rule-based decision-making in law and in life. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
- Schlag, P. (1985). Rules and standards. UCLA Law Review, 33, 379–430.Google Scholar
- Schutz, A. (1932). The phenomenology of the social world (translation by G. Walsh and F. Lehnert). Evanston, IL. Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar