Science and 'The Sensory Order'

Advances in Austrian Economics, Volume 13 (2010), 23-56

34 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2015

Date Written: June 17, 2008


Purpose – First, to look closely and critically at Hayek’s treatment of science in "The Sensory Order." This provides hints as to the difficulties in maintaining a theory of scientific knowledge as a selective sum of the identifiable contributions of individual scientists. Second, to generalize from Hayek’s theory of how the brain generates an individual’s knowledge to a theory of how science generates scientific knowledge, knowledge that is not a simple sum of individual contributions. Third, to apply this picture of science to understanding developments in post-positivist philosophy and post-Mertonian sociology of science.

Approach – We provide a short survey of the conventional understanding of science and scientific knowledge, including that of Hayek in "The Sensory Order". We examine in more depth the ways in which developments in post-positivist philosophy and sociology have transformed our understanding of science. We describe how, by analogy with Hayek’s theory of the brain, science can be seen as an adaptive system that adjusts to its environment by classifying the phenomena in that environment to which it is sensitive, and we apply this systemic picture of science with a view to integrating much of the more moderate content of recent philosophy and sociology of science.

Keywords: philosophy of science, social epistemology, sociology of science, classification, knowledge, adaptive systems, Hayek

Suggested Citation

McQuade, Thomas, Science and 'The Sensory Order' (June 17, 2008). Advances in Austrian Economics, Volume 13 (2010), 23-56, Available at SSRN:

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