Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Aug. 2016 (58): 49-55
Published online first in December 2015
Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the idea of a spontaneous order share a fundamental feature: the claim that apparent design or order do not necessarily imply a designer or rational planning. But they also present important differences, which touch upon central questions such as the evolution of morality, the role of human agency in social evolution, the existence (or not) of directionality in undersigned processes, and the presence (nor not) of a providential element in evolutionary accounts. In this article, I explore these themes and probe the relationship between the notion of a spontaneous order and the theory of evolution by natural selection. The reflections of Nobel laureate in economics, F.A. von Hayek, provide the beginning and endpoint in this voyage, for they constitute the most pronounced effort to develop a full-fledged theory combining evolution and economics in recent times. But along the way, I also investigate the influence of classical political economy on Darwin’s thought, primarily that of Adam Smith, and consider the reasons for which Darwin did not refer to Smith when discussing the principle of natural selection in The Origin of Species. I conclude that the spontaneous order, as understood by Hayek, and evolution by natural selection constitute two disparate concepts.