Madness of Choice

26 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2013

See all articles by Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor

Department of Religion, Columbia University

Date Written: December 6, 2013


This paper is divided into two parts. The first part traces the genesis of the modern interpretation of individual selfhood back to the Protestant Reformation. By privatizing, deregulating, and decentralizing religion, Luther prepared the way for what would eventually become the modern notion of the market. Educated in the Calvinist atmosphere of Scotland, Adam Smith translates Calvin’s notion of divine providence and the fortunate fall into the notion of the invisible hand and machinations of the market through which pursuit of personal ends serve the good of the whole.

The second part of the paper presents an analysis of the dynamics of individual decision through a consideration of theories of emergent complex adaptive systems. In this model, individuals function as something like nodes in intersecting social, cultural, technological and natural webs. The economy as a whole is a complex network that functions as a self-regulating, non-equilibrium system in which individuals must be understood as integral members of all-encompassing wholes. In this way, complexity theory counterbalances the excessive individualism of much recent economic theory. The Protestant interpretation of the individual subject informs the understanding of individual choice and decision that lies at the heart of contemporary capitalism.

Suggested Citation

Taylor, Mark, Madness of Choice (December 6, 2013). Capitalism and Society, Vol. 8, Issue 2, Article 3, 2013, Available at SSRN:

Mark Taylor (Contact Author)

Department of Religion, Columbia University ( email )

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New York, NY 10027
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