The Most Important Contemporary Work in Political Philosophy is Grounded in Hayekian Social Theory

The big news in political philosophy is Gerald Gaus’s important new work The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom and Morality in a Diverse and Bounded World. Will Wilkinson flags a noteworthy symposium on Gaus’s book which has taken place over at the Public Reason political philosophy blog. As Wilkinson notes, Kevin Vallier provides a useful summing up of the book and discussion. Worth quoting:

I suggest that if we take Jerry at his word, we can shed light on the deepest themes in the book. First, note that this claim in effect rejects the entire basis of the social contract tradition, a tradition one might easily think that Jerry is defending and extending rather than rejecting. In some sense, Jerry rejects the contract metaphor. The idea that our interest in social morality can ground our reasons to follow social-moral rules (the idea that arguably lies at the heart of the contractarian tradition) must be rejected; and Jerry has tried to show why at great length. Instead, we must adopt an entirely distinct philosophical anthropology, one that is at root deeply Hayekian, for as Jerry says, “Our reason did not produce social order – we did not reason ourselves into being followers of social rules. Rather, the requirements of social order shaped our reason.” This just is Hayek, who wrote:

Man is as much a rule-following animal as a purpose-seeking one. And he is successful not because he knows why he ought to observe the rules which he does observe, or is even capable of stating all these rules in words, but because his thinking and acting are governed by rules which have by a process of selection been evolved in a society in which he lives, and which are thus the product of the experience of generations (LLL, 11).

Many of you know Hayek the classical liberal, but Jerry is following Hayek the social theorist, who attempted to integrate the rationality of rule-following into his philosophical anthropology at the deepest level. Jerry has argued throughout the book that the conception of the person employed within public reason liberalism and liberalism broadly speaking must move in this Hayekian direction. If public reason liberals follow Jerry’s lead, the fundamental structure of public reason and even the nature of the social contract theorists’ project must substantially change. In short, political justification must not begin with deriving the rationality of rule-following from a teleological conception of practical reason. Instead, it must begin with an understanding of the nature of human beings who are already rule-followers and the nature of the moral emotions and cooperative activities that accompany such rule-following. He goes further by arguing that even the Kantian conception of the person he endorses cannot be constructed out of practical reason alone. Instead, human nature contains Kantian elements for thoroughly Humean-Hayekian-evolution reasons. Our rule-following nature is contingent on our social development (though no less contingent than our goal-seeking nature).

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