Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Spontaneous Order of Philosophies

I am reading Randall Collins' The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change. It's a massive tome, but I think well worth reading, particularly for spontaneous orders theorists. Given he is also the author of Max Weber: A Skeleton Key, the fact that spontaneous orders theorists (and other Austrian economists) should find his work of interest perhaps should not be that much of a surprise.

Collins is quite critical of both Marxism and postmodernism in sociology. He particularly objects to the reduction of everything to politics (as postmodernism does, in its reduction of everything to power):

The personal is political, but the politics of intellectual practice, within the inwardly focused network of specialists, is not the same thing as the politics of gaining power in the state, or the politics of men and women in their homes or sexual encounters. Winning the focus of attention within the contests among philosophers is done with specifically intellectual resources, which are social resources specific to intellectual networks. There is abundant historical evidence that when players in this arena try to win their way solely with the weapons of external politics, they win the battle at the cost of their intellectual reputations in the long-term historical community. These are not the same game; and at those times in history when one game reduces to another, the intellectual game does not so much give in as disappear, to reappear only when an inner space becomes available for it again. Without an internal structure of intellectual networks generating their own matrix of arguments, there are no ideological effects on philosophy; we find only lay ideologies, crude and simple." (12-13)

If the last statement does not sum up the current situation in philosophy -- and increasingly in the arts, literature, and even the sciences -- I don't know what does. Indeed, we can consider not just philosophy, but the intellectual networks of the arts and literature and of the sciences as well. Postmodernism reduces everything to power; power, in the master-slave interaction, is the social interaction of politics; therefore, postmodernism reduces everything to politics. Thus are we dominated by crude, simple lay ideologies.

Has philosophy disappeared from the scene, waiting for postmodernist reductionism to finally be replaced by a more complex world view that can include philosophy? Can we ask the same question of the arts? of literature? of some areas in science?

While The Sociology of Philosophies is on the spontaneous orders of the world's philosophies, a similar book on, say, literature could just as easily be written, with much the same structure as this book. He explains the canons of world philosophy; one on literature would explain those canons. One could probably do the same work on the sciences. I think doing so would really shore up spontaneous order theory as a sociological theory, and draw a connection between sociology and free market economics that desperately needs to be drawn.


  1. Hay, do you know if there's any connection between spontaneous orders and emergence as it is elabarated by the new-realist philosopher Manuel DeLanda?

    Here is a link to a page by him on the subject: http://lebbeuswoods.wordpress.com/2010/07/27/manuel-delanda-emergence/

  2. No question there is a connection. However, in the same way that two hydrogens and an oxygen chemically combined create water with the property of wetness and the same way that biomolecular processes give rise to cells with the property of life, human interactions give rise to processes that give rise to spontaneous orders with the property of . . . ? We have a distinct advantage in looking at less complex entities and being able to recognize the emergent qualities from the underlying processes involving even less complex entities. However, if we are the underlying less complex entities engaging in interactive processes, how can we identify the emergent qualities? Could a cell's amino acids understand they are part of a larger process that affects their behaviors? We can barely do that in regards to our spontaneous orders. But we know there are emergent qualities, because our actions are in fact guided in part by our emergent social processes.

    I will definitely be checking out DeLanda.