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Home | Mises Library | Methodological Individualism and Cultural Evolution: Ontogenetic and Phylogenetic Approaches to Social Order

Methodological Individualism and Cultural Evolution: Ontogenetic and Phylogenetic Approaches to Social Order

  • The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics
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Tags Philosophy and Methodology

07/30/2014Jan Willem Lindemans

Volume 15, No. 3 (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, arguing that Hayek’s methodological individualism involves an “ontogenetic” approach to social science, while his evolutionary thinking suggests a “phylogenetic” approach. “Ontogeny” 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. I show exactly how economics and evolution (can) relate to each other and apply these ideas to Hayek’s work.

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Cite This Article

Lindemans, Jan Willem. "Methodological Individualism and Cultural Evolution: Ontogenetic and Phylogenetic Approaches to Social Order." The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 15, No. 3 (Fall 2012): 331–369.

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