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Birner Jack | Fellow Visitor
2013-01-07 - 2013-07-05 | Research area: Other
F. A. Hayek’s Evolutionary Research Programme
Right from the start of his scientific career in 1920 up till its very end in the late 1980s, F.A. Hayek, in each and every of the many fields of scientific endeavor in which he has been active, has followed a meticulously systematic approach. Whenever Hayek addresses a new problem, he starts with an extensive historical account of that problem and of the solutions that have been proposed for solving it – including the methodological constraints it has to satisfy. He then analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of previous theories. This allows him to identify the gaps between the desired theory of the future and the useful elements of theories of the past that remain to be filled. Filling these gaps constitutes Hayek´s research agenda. (Karl Popper has modeled part of this procedure – independently from Hayek – in the scheme P1 ⇒ T1 ⇒ EE ⇒ P2 ⇒ etc.) With hindsight, the development of this multitude of “partial research programmes” can be seen to be driven, or inspired, by a limited number of scientific ideas and methodological principles. Two central scientific ideas are that mental and social processes are evolutionary phenomena that are driven by variation and selective retention, and that cognitive aspects, and more specifically the fact that individual human knowledge is limited, are crucial elements of social mechanisms and processes. Even though Hayek has only been very partially aware of this systematic and methodological coherency (and to the extent that he was, only late in his life; he became, however, fully aware of his “associative” style of thought) and his system of ideas is not fully coherent, it is nevertheless justified and fruitful because it allows a better understanding of how the various aspects of Hayek´s thought are related, and hence guards against mistakes – also very fundamental ones – that have been made in interpreting it. The justification forms the core of the research project here proposed. Building on my own earlier work and that of authors such as Viktor Vanberg, Ulrich Witt, and Bruce Caldwell, I intend to analyze the extent to which evolutionary ideas together with the central role attributed to cognitive aspects have driven the development of Hayek´s various partial research programmes, and hence his “grand research programme”.