Methodological Individualism and Cultural Evolution: Ontogenetic and Phylogenetic Approaches to Social Order
Jan Willem Lindemans
University of Pennsylvania - School of Arts & Sciences
Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, Fall 2012
This paper is about the alleged tension between methodological individualism and evolutionary ideas in the work of Friedrich Hayek. This issue is much debated, but I focus my attention on a quite original incompatibility argument by Geoffrey Hodgson. Hodgson sympathizes with the evolutionary Hayek and aims his arrows especially at Hayek’s methodological individualism. He argues that the latter involves an “ontogenetic” approach to social science, while his evolutionary thinking suggests a “phylogenetic” approach. “Ontogenetic” and “phylogenetic” are terms from biology which Hodgson applies to the social sciences. “Ontogeny” then refers to the development not only of organisms but also of social systems on the basis of fixed developmental rules, while “phylogeny” refers to the evolution of such entities through selection upon variation. Hodgson believes that there is a “fatal conflict” in Hayek’s work between his “ontogenetic” methodological individualism and his evolutionary approach to culture. In this paper, I agree with Hodgson that methodological individualism can be seen as an ontogenetic approach to social science, but I give several arguments to show that ontogenetic and phylogenetic approaches are complementary rather than incompatible. Discussing the complexities of ontogeny and phylogeny in social theory, I show exactly how economics and evolution (can) relate to each other and apply these ideas to Hayek’s work.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 47
Keywords: Methodological individualism, spontaneous order, cultural evolution, Friedrich Hayek, Geoffrey Hodgson
JEL Classification: B25, B31, B40, B52
Date posted: October 4, 2012
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