Wednesday, November 28, 2007

the beginning of social theory

The achievement of human purposes is possible only because we recognise the world we live in as orderly. This order manifests itself in our ability to learn, from the (spatial or temporal) parts of the world we know, rules which enable us to form expectations about other parts. And we anticipate that these rules stand a good chance of being borne out by events. Without the knowledge of such an order of the world in which we live, purposive action would be impossible.

This applies as much to the social as to the physical environment. But while the order of the physical environment is given to us independently of human will, the order of our social environment is partly, but only partly, the result of human design. The temptation to regard it all as the intended product of human action is one of the main sources of error. The insight that not all order that results from the interplay of human actions is the result of design is indeed the beginning of social theory. Yet the anthropomorphic connotations of the term 'order' are apt to conceal the fundamental truth that all deliberate efforts to bring about a social order by arrangement or organisation (i.e. by assigning to particular elements specified functions or tasks) take place within a more comprehensive spontaneous order which is not the result of such design.

F. A. Hayek, "The Confusion of Language in Political Thought," 1967

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