Monday, September 03, 2007

Kosmos and Taxis

Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
-- Proverbs 6:6
I continue my live-blogging of Law, Legislation, and Liberty here with an investigation into order and its sources.


Hayek defines social order in the following way:

“a state of affairs in which a multiplicity of events of various kinds are so related to each other that we may learn from our acquaintance with some spatial or temporal part of the whole to form correct expectations concerning the rest, or at least expectations which have a good chance of proving correct.”

The key word in that definition for me is expectation – order is expectation. Order is knowing that a cause will have an effect. Hayek expounds on his definition by saying that order manifests itself in the matching of intentions and expectations of different individuals who are members of a society and who are dependent upon cooperation with others.

Sources of Order

Now, having defined order we need to determine how it comes about. According to Hayek there are two sources of order – made order (taxis) and spontaneous order (kosmos).

Made orders require a “maker” from outside the system (exogenous) with a deliberate arrangement in mind. The “maker” is authoritarian and requires knowledge that is not possible to attain when dealing with complex systems. Simple organizations are made orders that have defined rules for the different roles. The operational details of those roles, however, are still left to the individual members.

Spontaneous orders, on the other hand, emerge based on rules not known by the individual elements. Nature teems with this kind of order (e.g., evolution, insect colonies, etc.), but we can also see it in human institutions. Language is a classic example, but what is more interesting is the order that emerges in basic human civilization. For a social order to exist individual members must follow certain rules, but how are those rules defined if a social order does not yet exist? The rules must evolve over time. Just like evolved traits that allow biological forms to survive and reproduce, social rules that allow individual members of a group to survive will be passed on and allow the group to survive. (We must be careful here and not equate social groups (i.e., society) with organisms. Organisms are concrete entities while social groups are mere abstractions that are constructed by the mind.)

Hayek says this about the rules that govern human society:

"Although man never existed without laws that he obeyed, he did, of course, exist for hundreds of thousands of years without laws he 'knew' in the sense that he was able to articulate them."

Could this be why murder seems so intuitively wrong to us? What about theft and property rights in general? Could we have evolved past a primitive state without these “laws”?


What is the purpose of defining order and its causes? Hayek is basically leading us to a differentiation between law and legislation - laws are naturally forming while legislation is man-made. Laws are what bring about a natural order. What does legislation bring? To be continued...

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