Front Page Titles (by Subject) Spontaneous Order in Human Action - Literature of Liberty, April/June 1979, vol. 2, No. 2
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Spontaneous Order in Human Action - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, April/June 1979, vol. 2, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Spontaneous Order in Human Action
“Invisible-Hand Explanations.” Synthèse 39 (1978): 263–291.
Both natural and artificial phenomena invite explanation, but a middle realm, “the result of human action but not of human design,” needs a distinctive kind of explanation. Some phenomena of human (social) life are “structured in some interesting sense,” which suggests that they may have been designed. But invisible-hand explanations (IHE) dispel this idea by the contention that an “invisible-hand process”—that is, “the aggregate mechanism which takes as ‘input’ the dispersed actions of the participating individuals and produces as ‘output’ the overall social pattern”—accounts for the patterned structure.
First of all, such an explanation requires “the description of the initial stage from which the process is supposed to take off” [and] “is to consist of nothing but the private intentions, beliefs, goals, and actions of the participating individuals, in a specified setup of circumstances,” and, “that these individuals do not have the overall pattern that is ultimately produced in mind, neither on the level of intentions nor even on the level of foresight or awareness.” Secondly, an invisible-hand explanation requires “that, given the circumstances specified at the outset, the story by means of which the invisible-hand process is conveyed has got to sound like a description of the ordinary and normal course of events.”
IHEs may be true and cogent or simply cogent, which alone could make them good. A cogent IHE alone could suffice to indicate “how [something] is maintained.” Moreover, the “even though its own probability cannot be determined a priori, the mere availability of a cogent invisible-hand explanation does indeed undercut the probability of the intentional-design account it purports to displace.”
Now, it is argued, that IHEs are the counterpart (in the social domain) of the biological-evolution explanations found in the realm of living organisms, namely, of functional-evolutionary explanations. But caution is warranted. Confusion has been created by some, (e.g., F. A. Hayek and Malinowski) since “for both of them to explain the manner of functioning of a social institution is at the same time to answer the question of its origin or formation.” But there are two molds of IHE: one concerned with “how did it-or how could it have-come about?”; the other with “given that a certain social pattern or institution exists, why is it in existence?” or “Why is the social item under study existent rather than non-existent, or, again, why does it exist rather than some alternative?” If some social pattern needs explaining, we might employ the first mold and thus may obtain “an invisible-hand account of how it (could have) emerged” but once it is pointed out that the item in question is functional, the second mold of IHE comes in handy, “yielding an invisible-hand account of its durability and prevalence.”
It is important, the author argues, to keep these two molds of IHE “distinct and to conceptually isolate them from each other.”