The purpose of this chapter is to examine the influence exerted on the thought of F.A. Hayek by the work of the biologist and founder of system theory, Ludwig von Bertalanffy. The author’s methodology includes textual analysis and archival work. It is argued first of all that Bertalanffy provided Hayek with a conceptual framework in terms of which he could articulate the philosophical significance of his theoretical psychology. In particular, Bertalanffy’s work afforded Hayek a set of concepts that helped him to articulate the relationship between mental and physical events – that is, between mind and body – implied by his theory. The second part of the chapter builds on the first by exploring how Hayek subsequently applied the abstract conceptual framework or ontology set out by Bertalanffy to the economy. In this way, Bertalanffy’s ideas helped Hayek to articulate and shape his emerging view of the economy as a complex adaptive system, which consists of different ‘levels of organisation’, which displays ‘structural’ or ‘emergent properties’, and which evolves over time on the basis of those group-level properties.
I am very grateful to Virgil Storr, Gabriel Oliva, two anonymous referees, and participants in the NYU Colloquium on Market Institutions and Economic Processes, the 15th Summer Institute for the Study of the History of Economic Thought, held at the University of Richmond, the Philosophy, Politics and Economy Workshop at George Mason University, and the Southern Economic Association annual conference (New Orleans), for very helpful comments on an earlier version of the chapter. I am grateful also to Bruce Caldwell for providing access to unpublished material from the Hayek archives and to the Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (Vienna) for granting me access to Hayek’s letters to Bertalanffy. I am indebted to Eva Peters for translating those letters. The early stages of the research for this chapter were carried out whilst the author was a Visiting Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge. I am grateful to the Master and Fellows of Peterhouse for their support and hospitality. Financial support from the Earhart Foundation is also thankfully acknowledged. None of the above should be held responsible for any errors and infelicities remaining in the chapter.
Lewis, P. (2016), "Systems, Structural Properties and Levels of Organisation: The Influence of Ludwig Von Bertalanffy on the Work of F.A. Hayek", Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology (Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, Vol. 34A), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 125-159. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0743-41542016000034A005Download as .RIS
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