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Encyclopedia > Spontaneous order

Spontaneous order is a term that describes the spontaneous emergence of order out of seeming chaos. It is also a social theory that describes the emergence of various kinds of social order from a combination of self-interested individuals who are not intentionally trying to create order. Supporters of the theory tend to believe that spontaneous order is superior to any kind of order that can be created by a plan or design. Self-interest can refer to any of the following concepts: Egoism Selfishness Ethical egoism Psychological egoism Individualism Objectivist ethics Hedonism Epicureanism Enlightened self-interest This is a disambiguation page: a list of articles associated with the same title. ...

The evolution of life on Earth, human language, rules of the road, and a free market economy have all been proposed as examples of systems which evolved through spontaneous order. Atheists and naturalists often point to the inherent "watch-like" precision of uncultivated ecosystems and to the universe itself as ultimate examples of this phenomenon, while creationists such as William Paley and deists believe that these intricate arrangements could not have arisen accidentally and must have been devised by a divine consciousness or "watchmaker". This article is about evolution in biology. ... A free market is an idealized market, where all economic decisions and actions by individuals regarding transfer of money, goods, and services are voluntary, and are therefore devoid of coercion and theft (some definitions of coercion are inclusive of theft). Colloquially and loosely, a free market economy is an economy... “Atheist” redirects here. ... This article is about methodological naturalism. ... A coral reef near the Hawaiian islands is an example of a complex marine ecosystem. ... For other uses, see Universe (disambiguation). ... Creationism is a religious belief that humanity, life, the Earth, and the universe were created in their original form by a deity or deities (often the Abrahamic God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam), whose existence is presupposed. ... William Paley William Paley (July 1743 – May 25, 1805) was an English divine, Christian apologist, utilitarian, and philosopher. ... For other uses, see Ceremonial Deism. ... Consciousness is a quality of the mind generally regarded to comprise qualities such as subjectivity, self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the relationship between oneself and ones environment. ... The watchmaker analogy, or watchmaker argument, is a teleological argument for the existence of God. ...

Spontaneous order is also used as a synonym for any emergent behavior of which self-interested spontaneous order is just an instance. A termite cathedral mound produced by a termite colony: a classic example of emergence in nature. ...


History of the theory

According to Murray Rothbard, Chuang-tzu (369-c. 286 B.c.) was the first to work out the idea of spontaneous order, before Proudhon and Hayek. Chuang-tzu said, "Good order results spontaneously when things are let alone." .[1] Proudhon said, "The notion of anarchy in politics is just as rational and positive as any other. It means that once industrial functions have taken over from political functions, then business transactions alone produce the social order."[2] Proudhon's position was that freedom is prerequisite for spontaneous order to take place. Hence his statement, liberty "is not the daughter but the mother of order."[3] Murray Newton Rothbard (March 2, 1926 – January 7, 1995) was an influential American economist, historian and natural law theorist belonging to the Austrian School of Economics who helped define modern libertarianism. ... thumb|Zhuang Zi by Japan Zhuāng Zǐ (pinyin), Chuang Tzu (W-G), or Chuang Tse (Chinese 莊子, literally meaning Master Zhuang) was a famous philosopher in ancient China who lived around the 4th century BC during the Warring States Period, corresponding to the Hundred Schools of... Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (pronounced Pruood-on, not prowd-hon) (January 15, 1809 - January 19, 1865) was a French anarchist of the 19th century. ... Friedrich August von Hayek, CH (May 8, 1899 in Vienna – March 23, 1992 in Freiburg) was an Austrian-born British economist and political philosopher known for his defense of liberal democracy and free-market capitalism against socialist and collectivist thought in the mid-20th century. ...

The thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment were the first to seriously develop and inquire into the idea of the market as a 'spontaneous order' (the "result of human action, but not the execution of any human design", as Adam Ferguson put it first [1]). The Scottish Enlightenment was a period of intellectual ferment in Scotland, running from approximately 1740 to 1800. ... Adam Ferguson, also known as Ferguson of Raith (June 20, 1723 (O.S.) - February 22, 1816) was a philosopher and historian of the Scottish Enlightenment. ...

The Austrian School of Economics, lead by Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, would later refine the concept and use it as a centerpiece in its social and economic thought. The Austrian School is a school of economic thought which rejects opposing economists reliance on methods used in natural science for the study of human action, and instead bases its formalism of economics on relationships through logic or introspection called praxeology. ... Austrian School economist Carl Menger Carl Menger Carl Menger (February 28, 1840 – February 26, 1921) was the founder of the Austrian School of economics. ... Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises (September 29, 1881 – October 10, 1973) (IPA: ) was a notable economist and a major influence on the modern libertarian movement. ... Friedrich August von Hayek, CH (May 8, 1899 in Vienna – March 23, 1992 in Freiburg) was an Austrian-born British economist and political philosopher known for his defense of liberal democracy and free-market capitalism against socialist and collectivist thought in the mid-20th century. ...

Most Austrian School thinkers and other libertarian figures such as Milton Friedman concurred with Proudhon's position mentioned above, although they supported the existence of a minimal state as essential to the maintenance of such an order [2]. For other uses, see Libertarianism (disambiguation). ... Milton Friedman (July 31, 1912 – November 16, 2006) was an American Nobel Laureate economist and public intellectual. ... In civics, minarchism, sometimes called minimal statism or small government, is the view that the size, role and influence of government in a free society should be minimal — only large enough to protect the liberty and property of each individual. ...



Many advocates of laissez-faire economics, such as Friedrich von Hayek, have argued that market economies are creative of a spontaneous order - "a more efficient allocation of societal resources than any design could achieve."[4] They further claim that this spontaneous order is superior to any order that can be designed by the human mind, due to the number and complexity of the factors involved. Thus, in capitalist economies sophisticated business networks are formed which produce and distribute goods and services throughout the economy. Their argument holds that the forces of supply and demand, the aggregated results of millions of individual decisions, are far too complex for any planning process to master, and that an apparently chaotic unregulated economy actually manages itself better than any human manager could. Supporters of the idea of spontaneous order hold that central planning results in more disorder, or a less efficient production and distribution of goods and services. This last point is illustrated in the concept of the invisible hand proposed by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations. Laissez-faire is short for laissez faire, laissez passer, a French phrase meaning to let things alone, let them pass. First used by the eighteenth century Physiocrats as an injunction against government interference with trade, it is now used as a synonym for strict free market economics. ... Friedrich von Hayek Friedrich August von Hayek (May 8, 1899 in Vienna – March 23, 1992 in Freiburg) was an economist and social scientist of the Austrian School, noted for his defense of liberal democracy and free-market capitalism against a rising tide of socialist and collectivist thought in the mid... A market economy (aka free market economy and free enterprise economy) is an economic system in which the production and distribution of goods and services takes place through the mechanism of free markets guided by a free price system rather than by the state in a planned economy. ... For other uses, see Invisible hand (disambiguation). ... For other persons named Adam Smith, see Adam Smith (disambiguation). ... Adam Smith An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations is the magnum opus of the Scottish economist Adam Smith, published on March 9, 1776 during the Scottish Enlightenment. ...

Advocates of planned economics, on the other hand, tend to be critical of the concept of spontaneous order. They argue for the creation of intentional economic plans as the end result of a long process that involves the input of millions of ordinary people, both producers and consumers. This data would then be processed by the planners, who form a network with the same degree of complexity as any market system, and, advocates argue, with the added benefit of self-awareness. Thus, the key advantage of a planned economy - according to its supporters - is that it is directed by human beings, rather than merely being constituted by human beings and their decentralized decisions, left undirected. Whether this economic self-awareness is truly a benefit, and whether, if it is, the market can also be said to be self-aware, are sources of further debate. This article refers to an economy controlled by the state. ...

Keynesian economics, on the third hand, seeks a balance between the two previously mentioned tendencies. Keynesians argue that limited government intervention in the economy can improve upon the spontaneous order of the market by mitigating the negative externalities of the business cycle. They aim to achieve this limited intervention by, in a sense, having the state play the role of one more "self-interested" participant, spending money on things that will be categorized as public goods. Keynesian economics (pronounced kainzian, IPA ), also called Keynesianism, or Keynesian Theory, is an economic theory based on the ideas of the 20th-century British economist John Maynard Keynes. ... In economics, an externality is an impact (positive or negative) on anyone not party to a given economic transaction. ... // [edit] Introduction [edit] Definition If we were to take snapshots of an economy at different points in time, no two photos would look alike. ... In economics, a public good is one that cannot or will not be produced for individual profit, since it is difficult to get people to pay for its large beneficial externalities. ...

Game theory

The concept of spontaneous order is closely related with modern game theory. As early as in the 40's, historian Joahn Huizinga wrote that "in myth and ritual the great instinctive forces of civilized life have their origin: law and order, commerce and profit, craft and art, poetry, wisdom and science. All are rooted in the primeval soil of play". Following on this in his book The Fatal Conceit, Hayek notably wrote that "A game is indeed a clear instance of a process wherein obedience to common rules by elements pursuing different and even conflicting purposes results in overall order". Game theory is a branch of applied mathematics that is often used in the context of economics. ...


The bubble in dotcom and telecom stock prices in the late 1990s, which led to a flurry of corporate scandals in the United States in 2001-2003, led many observers to stress the importance of "transparency" as a condition of the efficient development of spontaneous order in the financial world. The idea is that a corporation cannot be a black box into which investors pour money in the hope of returns -- they have to be able to see through the box, into the books and records of their company. The dot-com bubble was a speculative bubble covering roughly 1995–2001 during which stock markets in Western nations saw their value increase rapidly from growth in the new Internet sector and related fields. ...

Advocates of broad application for the concept of spontaneous order have argued that the aforementioned corporate scandals could have been avoided through the alleged self-correcting tendencies of the private sector. This argument is centered on the actions of a private sector agency, the Financial Accounting Standards Board, who warned against certain practices that were distorting balance sheets and enabling a stock price bubble. As early as 1993, the FASB issued a rule that would have required corporations to count the value of employee stock options on their books as an expense – a rule that might by itself have done a good deal to moderate the still-then-forming bubble, according to its advocates. However, when the U.S. Congress held hearings and called the more conscientious accountants to the carpet, the FASB backed down from its initiative.

According to the advocates of spontaneous order, the FASB initiative could have been a successful example of spontaneous order in practice, leading to self-regulation in the private sector. They criticize the actions of Congress for ensuring an unregulated period of easy money in some industries, while also ensuring an eventual bursting of the bubble and consequent scandal.


Anarchists argue that the state is in fact an artificial creation of the ruling elite, and that true spontaneous order would arise if it was eliminated. In the anarchist view, such spontaneous order would involve the voluntary cooperation of individuals. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, "the work of many symbolic interactionists is largely compatible with the anarchist vision, since it harbours a view of society as spontaneous order." [5] Anarchist redirects here. ... For other uses, see State (disambiguation). ... Symbolic interactionism is a sociological perspective which examines how individuals and groups interact, focusing on the creation of personal identity through interaction with others. ...

Critics of anarchism essentially argue that the chaos created by the abolition of the state would not give rise to any spontaneous order, and/or would lead to a highly undesirable order, and/or that the spontaneity would lead in time back to a system of government.


  1. ^ Rothbard, Murray. Concepts of the Role of Intellectuals in Social Change Toward Laissez Faire, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol IX No. 2 (Fall 1990)
  2. ^ Proudon, Pierre-Joseph. The Federal Principle.
  3. ^ Proudhon, P. J. Proudhon's Solution to the Social Problem. New York: Vanguard, 1927, p. 45
  4. ^ Hayek cited. Petsoulas, Christian. Hayek's Liberalism and Its Origins: His Idea of Spontaneous Order and the Scottish Enlightenment. Routledge. 2001. p. 2
  5. ^ Marshall, Gordon; Diane Barthel, Ted Benton, David Bouchler, Joan Busfield, Tony Coxon, Ian Craib, Fiona Devine, Judith Ennew, Diana Gittins, Roger Goodman, George Kolankiewicz, Catherine Hakim, Michael Harloe, David Lee, Maggy Lee, Mary McIntosh, Dennis Marsden, Maxine Molyneux, Lydia Morris, Sean Nixon, Judith Okely, Ken Plummer, Kate Reynolds, David Rose, Colin Samson, Alison Scott, Jacqueline Scott, Nigel South, Oriel Sullivan, Bryan Turner, Richard Wilson, Anthony Woodiwiss [1994] (1998). in Gordon Marshall: Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, 2 (in English language), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 19-20. ISBN 0-19-280081-7. 

Gordon Marshall is a sociologist and the current Vice chancellor of the University of Reading. ... Maxine Molyneux (born May 24, 1948 in Karachi, Pakistan) is a sociologist whose work focuses on the womens movement. ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... This article is about the city of Oxford in England. ... Oxford University Press (OUP) is a highly-respected publishing house and a department of the University of Oxford in England. ...

See also

The Austrian School, also known as the Vienna School or the Psychological School, is a school of economic thought that advocates adherence to strict methodological individualism. ... Deregulation is the process by which governments remove, reduce, or simplify restrictions on business and individuals in order to (in theory) encourage the efficient operation of markets. ... A termite cathedral mound produced by a termite colony: a classic example of emergence in nature. ... A free price system or free price mechanism (informally called the price system or the price mechanism) is an economic system where prices are not set by government or a central planning board but by the interchange of supply and demand, with the resulting prices being understood as signals that... I, Pencil by Leonard Read I, Pencil is Leonard Reads most famous essay. ... Leonard E. Read (1898 - 1983) was the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, which was the first modern libertarian think tank in the United States. ... Mutual aid is a term in political economy used to signify the economic concept of voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit. ... Self-organization refers to a process in which the internal organization of a system, normally an open system, increases automatically without being guided or managed by an outside source. ... Taoism (Daoism) is the English name referring to a variety of related Chinese philosophical and religious traditions and concepts. ...

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Order in Spontaneous Behavior. Or: Do Fruit Flies Have Free Will? (1702 words)
Note that the sources of noise have been omitted in B merely because their contribution is judged to be small, compared to that of the initiator, not because they are thought to be non-existent.
Torque spikes have been classified as "fixed-action-patterns" or single units of behavior and are thus well-suited to study the temporal structure of their initiation.
The biological implementation of this mechanism is currently unknown, but there is evidence from a previous study that a brain area called the ellipsoid body (sometimes called the "fly motor cortex") might be involved.
Human Ecology, Spontaneous Order, and Autocatakinetics (3383 words)
Spontaneous order arises when the field potential is above a minimum critical threshold, and stochastic microscopic fluctuations are amplified to macroscopic levels as hundreds of millions of molecules begin moving in an orderly fashion together.
Here, spontaneous ordering occurs at symmetry breaking events as minimal critical thresholds of atmospheric oxygen are reached with the system, as a consequence, progressively filling new dimensions of space-time, and moving, contrary to the Boltzmann interpretation of the second law, increasingly further from thermodynamic equilibrium.
Autocatakinesis, self-organization, or spontaneous ordering, however, is a universal property that is not dependent on, and therefore not explained by replicating components, or, in different terms, by biology, or culture.
  More results at FactBites »



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