Skip to main content

Hayek contra Pangloss on Evolutionary Systems

Abstract

Some analysts have criticized Friedrich Hayek's theory of cultural evolution for implying that the rules, customs, norms, and institutions that emerge from the evolutionary process are necessarily efficient or desirable in all cases. This charge is unfounded. The present article defends Hayek versus his critics in two ways: First, it restates Hayek's own objections to the idea that cultural evolution produces optimal outcomes. Second, it shows, through an analogy with biological evolution, that Hayek's theory need not imply any such conclusion. Contrary to a widely held misconception, biological evolution does not produce organisms that are perfectly adapted to their habitats; insofar as cultural evolution shares common features with biological evolution, cultural evolution may be expected to display similar types of suboptimality or mal-adaptation. Insights from the theory of biological evolution also help to illuminate some areas of controversy with regard to Hayek's theory of cultural evolution, including: Hayek's advocacy of gradual change; the question of what selective forces drive the process of cultural evolution; and the alleged conflict between group selectionism and methodological individualism.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Bradie, M. (1994) “Epistemology from an Evolutionary Point of View.” In: Sober, E. (ed.) Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology, 2nd ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Buchanan, J. M. (1975) The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Cavalli-Sforza, L., and Feldman, M. (1981) Cultural Transmission and Evolution: A Quantitative Approach. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. De Vlieghere, M. (1994) “A Reappraisal of Friedrich A. Hayek's Cultural Evolutionism.” Economics and Philosophy10(2): 285-304.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Dillon, L. S. (1978) Evolution: Concepts and Consequences, 2nd ed. St. Louis: The C.V. Mosby Company.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Dodson, E. O., and Dodson, P. (1985) Evolution: Process and Product. Boston: Prindle, Weber & Schmidt.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Eldredge, N. (1985) Unfinished Synthesis: Biological Hierarchies and Modern Evolutionary Thought. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Gould, S. J., and Lewontin, R. C. (1994) “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme.” In: Sober, E. (ed.) Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology.

  10. Gray, J. (1989) Liberalisms. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Hallerod, B. (1992) “Friedrich August von Hayek-Apostle for Freedom?” Sociologisk Forskning29(3): 12-34.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Hayek, F. A. (1960) The Constitution of Liberty. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Hayek, F. A. (1988) The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Hayek, F. A. (1973) Law, Legislation and Liberty, vol. 1: Rules and Order. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Hayek, F. A. (1976) Law, Legislation and Liberty, vol. 2: The Mirage of Social Justice. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Hayek, F. A. (1979) Law, Legislation and Liberty, vol. 3: The Political Order of a Free People. Chicago, Ill. University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Heath, E. (1992) “Rules, Function, and the Invisible Hand: An Interpretation of Hayek's Social Theory.” Philosophy of the Social Sciences22(1): 28-45.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Hodgson, G. M. (1991) “Hayek's Theory of Cultural Evolution: An Evaluation in the Light of Vanberg's Critique.” Economics and Philosophy7: 67-82.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Kitcher, P. (1994) “Four Ways of ‘Biologizing' Ethics.” In: Sober, E. (ed.) Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology.

  20. Kley, R. (1994) Hayek's Social and Political Thought. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Liebowitz, S. J., and Margolis, S. E. (1991) “The Fable of the Keys.” Journal of Law and Economics33 (April): 1-25.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Rowland, B. M. (1987) Ordered Liberty and the Constitutional Framework: The Political Thought of Friedrich A. Hayek. New York: Greenwood Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Smith, J. M. (1994) “Optimization Theory in Evolution.” In: Sober, E. (ed.) Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology.

  24. Sober, E. (ed.) (1994) Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology, 2nd ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Sober, E. (1994) “Models of Cultural Evolution.” In: Sober, E. (ed.) Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology.

  26. Stebbins, G. L. (1977) Processes of Organic Evolution. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Stiglitz, J. (1991) Whither Socialism?Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Tomlinson, J. (1990) Hayek and the Market. London: Pluto Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Vanberg, V. (1986) “Spontaneous Market Order and Social Rules: A Critical Examination of F. A. Hayek's Theory of Cultural Evolution.” Economics and Philosophy2: 75-100.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Voigt, S. “On the Internal Consistency of Hayek's Evolutionary Oriented Constitutional Economics-Some General Remarks.” Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines3(4): 461-76.

  31. Voltaire (F.-M. Arouet) [1947 (1759)] Candide. Translated by John Butt. Penguin Books.

  32. Vromen, J. J. (1995) Economic Evolution: An Enquiry into the Foundations of New Institutional Economics. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Wesson, R. G. (1991) Beyond Natural Selection. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Whitman, D.G. Hayek contra Pangloss on Evolutionary Systems. Constitutional Political Economy 9, 45–66 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1009058615310

Download citation

Keywords

  • Evolutionary Process
  • Present Article
  • Evolutionary System
  • Optimal Outcome
  • Similar Type