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Normative judgments and spontaneous order: The contractarian element in Hayek's thought


  • Robert Sugden


This paper explores the apparent tension between Hayek's moral skepticism and his role as a defender of liberal institutions. It looks at Hayek's concept of spontaneous order, and asks whether there are any grounds for claiming that spontaneous orders have moral value. The argument from group selection is considered but rejected. Hayek is interpreted as putting most weight on arguments which show, for specific orders (such as the market and common law) that their rules assist each individual in the pursuit of his or her ends, whatever those ends may be. It is suggested that this form of argument is contractarian in character. However, Hayek's contractarianism is distinctive in that it looks for agreement among individuals within an ongoing social order, rather than among rational agents who stand outside any particular society. Copyright George Mason University 1993

Suggested Citation

  • Robert Sugden, 1993. "Normative judgments and spontaneous order: The contractarian element in Hayek's thought," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 4(3), pages 393-424, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:copoec:v:4:y:1993:i:3:p:393-424
    DOI: 10.1007/BF02393269

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. David, Paul A, 1985. "Clio and the Economics of QWERTY," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(2), pages 332-337, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:hal:journl:halshs-00346389 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Christian Schubert, 2014. "“Generalized Darwinism” and the quest for an evolutionary theory of policy-making," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 24(3), pages 479-513, July.
    3. Petrick, Martin, 2013. "Reversing the rural race to the bottom: an evolutionary model of neo-endogenous rural development," EconStor Open Access Articles, ZBW - German National Library of Economics, pages 707-735.
    4. Zintl, Reinhard, 1995. "Der Nutzen unvollständiger Erklärungen: Überlegungen zur sozialwissenschaftlichen Anwendung der Spieltheorie," MPIfG Discussion Paper 95/2, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
    5. repec:kap:revaec:v:30:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11138-016-0357-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Fiori Stefano, 2005. "The emergence of instructions : some open problems in Hayek's theory," CESMEP Working Papers 200504, University of Turin.
    7. repec:kap:revaec:v:30:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11138-016-0359-7 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Okruch Stefan, 2001. "Der Richter als Institution einer spontanen Ordnung: Einige kritische Bemerkungen zu einer Zentralfigur in Hayeks Theorie der kulturellen Evolution," ORDO. Jahrbuch für die Ordnung von Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, De Gruyter, vol. 52(1), pages 131-154, January.
    9. Shinji Teraji, 2014. "On cognition and cultural evolution," Mind & Society: Cognitive Studies in Economics and Social Sciences, Springer;Fondazione Rosselli, vol. 13(2), pages 167-182, November.

    More about this item


    B31; D63;

    JEL classification:

    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement


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