The idea of spontaneous order in liberal political thought
The aim of this thesis is to examine the idea of spontaneous order as it appears in the classical liberal tradition of political thought. It will be argued that spontaneous order thought represents a distinctive approach to social theory; and the aim of the study will be to identify its core principles and to develop a conceptual model of the approach based upon them. To this end the study will examine a series of thematically linked topics in the work of the two groups of major exponents of the approach: the Scottish Enlightenment and the Twentieth Century Classical Liberal Revival. The examination of these topics - science, morality, law and government, and the market - will enable us to identify the common elements that characterise a spontaneous order approach. It will be argued that the spontaneous order approach operates with a particular notion of human nature: that men are classificatory beings who seek order and stability of expectations, and yet who are capable of only limited knowledge of the complex world in which they exist. Habitual and non-deliberative behaviour play a central role in this model of human behaviour, as does the assertion that men are naturally sociable and socialised within traditions of behaviour. Such traditions of behaviour exemplify the non-deliberative imitation of conventionally generated practices: in this sense 'objective' social values are in reality inter-subjectively generated conventions. Such conventions are neither deliberately nor intentionally created, but rather arise as the unintended consequences of man's adaptation to his circumstances. This leads the exponents of spontaneous order to adopt conjectural history and functionalist analyses as a means of understanding the development of social conventions. The study will trace their conjectural histories of morality, language, law and government, demonstrating the application of spontaneous order as a neutral descriptive approach to the examination of social phenomena. Similarly the process of social change and development will be examined as an evolutionary process. The role of adaptive change will be discussed in the light of a notion of immanent criticism that is itself drawn from the conjectural history of the evolution of human knowledge. Throughout this analysis a particular stress will be laid on the significance of the distinctive view of epistemology that underlies the spontaneous order approach.