Systems, Structural Properties, and Levels of Organisation: The Influence of Ludwig Von Bertalanffy on the Work of F.A. Hayek.

Forthcoming in Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology

30 Pages Posted: 23 May 2015 Last revised: 18 Dec 2015

Date Written: December 18, 2015

Abstract

This paper examines the influence exerted on the thought of F.A. Hayek by the work of the biologist and founder of systems theory, Ludwig von Bertalanffy. 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 paper 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.

Keywords: Hayek, Bertalanffy, Austrian economics, theoretical psychology, system theory, emergence, evolution

JEL Classification: A00, B21, B29, B30, B31, B40, B41, A12

Suggested Citation

Lewis, Paul Andrew, Systems, Structural Properties, and Levels of Organisation: The Influence of Ludwig Von Bertalanffy on the Work of F.A. Hayek. (December 18, 2015). Forthcoming in Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2609349 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2609349

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