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   Moral Functionalism

Hayek and Durkheim in Perspective

Jack Birner

1. Introduction

The abandonment of the idea that rules of behaviour and morality are something that is given for all

time by some supreme divine or human being or in the more neutral sense of being unalterable

owes much to the philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment. I will discuss the theories of the

emergence and function of morality of two authors who, each in his own way, place themselves in

this tradition: Friedrich Hayek and Emile Durkheim. Durkheim challenges a part of the intellectual

tradition that Hayek strongly identifies with, and Hayek takes up the challenge. A discussion of

their different approaches will lead us to some fundamental issues concerning the role of moral

rules in society.

Durkheim’s challenge consists in his attempt to create sociology as a social science in its own right,

independent from economics. He does so in his first book, De la division du travail social (DTS,

1893)1. Durkheim’s strategy relies on a comparison of the two pillars of the thought of the father of

the then dominant political economy, Smith. The message of The Wealth of Nations is that the

pursuit of self-interest together with the division of labour lead to increased efficiency and

economic growth. The Theory of Moral Sentiments argues that what makes a civil society possible

is sympathy, the human capability of imagining the others’ position. So, sympathy is based on the

similarity of human beings. The division of labour, on the other hand, presupposes that humans are

different. The new science of sociology will have justified itself if it succeeds in resolving this

contradiction. This is what Durkheim sets out to do. He seeks an open confrontation with classical

political economy by declaring that the most important consequence of the division of labour is not

efficiency, but solidarity: “les services économiques qu'elle peut rendre sont peu de chose à côté de

l'effet moral qu'elle produit, et sa véritable fonction est de créer entre deux ou plusiers personnes un

sentiment de solidarité.” (DTS, p. 19) [“the economic services that it can render are picayune

compared to the moral effect that ir produces, and its true function is to create in two or more

persons a feeling of solidarity.”, p. 56].2

Half a century later, Hayek responds to the challenge, putting knowledge and its limits forward as

the principal explanatory factors: “All the possible differences in men’s moral attitudes amount to

little, so far as their significance for social organization is concerned, compared with the fact that all

man’s mind can effectively comprehend are the facts of the narrow circle of which he is the center;

that, whether he is completely selfish or the most perfect altruist, the human needs for which he can

effectively care are an almost negligible fraction of the needs of all members of society.” (ITF, p.

1 Except when stated otherwise, in the case of Durkheim page references are to Durkheim 1893 (1994). The translation

is taken from Durkheim 1933 and is given in []. References to Hayek’s three volumes of Law, Legislation and Liberty

(1973-79) will be given as LLLI, II, or III.

2 Because the doctrine that specialization leads to more efficient production derives from The Wealth of Nations,

Durkheim’s project is also a provocation of economists in that it implyies they “did not know their Smith” in the sense

that they neglected The Theory of Moral Sentiments.


14).3 Still later, he goes a step further by denying that sociology has a right to exist as a scientific

discipline: “however grateful we all must be for some of the descriptive work of the sociologists,

for which, however, perhaps anthropologists and historians would have been equally qualified,

there seems to me still to exist no more justification for a theoretical discipline of sociology than

there would be for a theoretical discipline of naturology apart from the theoretical disciplines

dealing with particular classes of natural or social phenomena.” (LLLIII, p. 173).4 Not only is

economics enough to explain why the interaction of millions of individuals creates an orderly and

stable social structure instead of resulting in total chaos; it is also the only discipline that is capable

of showing how the rules governing property and honesty have evolved so as to create a stable

system of co-operation that maximizes the amount of information that is accessible to these

individuals.5 The pursuit of self-interest in a market society is the rule of behaviour that is necessary

and sufficient for this. Hayek criticizes Durkheim’s explanation of co-ordination and co-operation

in terms of morality interpreted as altruism: “This confusion [of identifying altruism with morality]

stems in modern times at least from Emile Durkheim, whose celebrated work The Division of

Labour in Society … shows no comprehension of the manner in which rules of conduct bring about

a division of labour and who tends, like the sociobiologists, to call an action ‘altruistic’ which

benefits others …” (LLLIII, p. 205). Hayek also attributes to Durkheim the “constructivist” idea that

the faculty of reason enables man to successfully design and change social institutions and

processes according to his desires.6

The severity of Hayek’s criticism might lead one to expect that his theory of society is radically

different fromDurkheim’s. But that is far from the truth. On the contrary, they have many elements

in common. For instance, both share the idea that most social institutions evolve spontaneously, and

that their evolution has consequences that no one ever intended. For both, the relationship between

the individual and society is an important item on their research agenda. Both dwell at length on the

relationship between scientific analysis and morality, and both come to the conclusion that a moral

system is the outcome of an evolutionary process, and that imposing rules of conduct that are not

adapted to the individuals with their specific capacities in their specific historical situation has a

destabilizing effect. 7 The question why Hayek nevertheless brands Durkheim as one of the bêtes

noires of social theorizing will be discussed at the end of this chapter. Let us first give a summary

of Hayek’s and Durkheim’s theories of society, in preparation of a comparison between their views

on morality.

2. The spontaneous evolution of social institutions

Even though in the 1940s Hayek abandons technical economics and starts developing a theory of

society, this does not constitute a clean break in his thought. From his economics he retains the

emphasis on co-ordination. The idea of the market as a co-ordinating device is generalized to all

3 Both the content and the phrasing of ITF (for instance, “amount to little” is an almost literal translation of Durkheim’s

“sont peu de chose”) strongly suggests that it is a direct reaction to Durkheim. If this the case - as I think it is - the

question remains why Hayek does not refer to him. (Due to the speed with which Birner & Ege 1999 was written and

pubished, we failed to eliminate the sentence on p. 764 in which we wrongly say that he does.)

4 This is very similar to Menger’s idea about the relationship between his own (“exact”) economic theory and the

historical and statistical methods of the German Historical School, which only produce descriptions of concrete

phenomena and processes. For a discussion, cp. Birner 1990.

5 Hayek says so explicitly in a text that will be discussed more at length below, “The origins and effects of our morals: a

problem for science”, an unpublished ms. in Box 96/126 of the Hayek Archives at the Hoover Institution of War,

Revolution and Peace, Stanford. It is the text of a lecture, which was apparently delivered between the publication of

the third volume of Law, Legislation and Liberty in 1979 and The Fatal Conceit in 1988. I will refer to it as Origins.

6 Saying that this is shown by his insistence on social solidarity. Cp. LLLII, p. 186, n. 9. What Hayek means by

solidarity is discussed below, in section 6.

7 The question of the relationship between Hayek’s and Durkheim’s theories of society is discussed further in Birner &

Ege 1999.


social institutions as co-ordinating devices. They have evolved as the unintended consequences of

individual actions. Another idea from his economics, viz. that individuals have only limited

knowledge - they only know their immediate environment, and most of that knowledge is implicit -

comes to play an increasingly important role.8 What he keeps from his earlier work in psychology9

is the concept of self-organization. Hayek adds to this an evolutionary perspective that becomes

more prominent from about 1960, when The Constitution of Liberty was published, but whose

origin can also be traced back to his psychology. In many articles10 and in the three volumes of

Law, Legislation and Liberty Hayek constructs a theory that describes social institutions as mostly

spontaneously evolved, relatively stable patterns of behaviour or rules that co-ordinate the

interaction among individuals. Institutions embody the accumulated, mainly implicit and temporally

and spatially limited knowledge of individuals and their ancestors. These institutions are the

survivors of a selection process. That is why they contain more knowledge than any single human

being can ever dispose over or make explicit. That is how institutions enable individuals to survive

in a highly complex environment. Deliberate interventions risk destroying this accumulated

experience of the past.

In the course of social evolution, individuals have become used to, or, through adaptation,

practically forced to, suppress a large part of the behavioural instincts that were adequate to the

small and primitive groups of hunters and gatherers whose members all know each other personally.

Interaction through markets has taught individuals (in an implicit, non-theoretical way) to accept the

anonymous interaction patterns that are characteristic of modern society. This “Great Society”, as

Hayek calls it, relies on abstract rules that regulate the behaviour of millions of individuals who all

pursue the interests of themselves and of their immediate friends and relatives. The modern market

society has evolved in a process of variation and selection. In The Constitution of Liberty the

process of variation is presented as originating with courageous individuals trying out, at their own

risk, new forms of behaviour that may go against the norms and laws of their social environment.

This is the same process that we find in Mandeville.11 As to selection, Hayek rejects social

Darwinism on the grounds that it builds upon the selection of innate capacities of individuals

instead of culturally transmitted rules embodied in institutions. In its stead he proposes group

selection. This has been criticized as being inconsistent with (Hayek’s own) methodological

individualism. I will not go into this criticism here, except for pointing out that group selection

solves a problem that arises within the hayekian framework: it explains why certain moral rules

were adopted despite that fact that they were “infringing or repressing some of the innate rules and

replacing them by new one which made the co-ordination of activities of larger groups possible.”

(LLLIII, pp. 160-1). 12

Hayek’s last contribution to social science is his theory of cultural evolution. Although it is

announced by that name in the Epilogue of the final volume of Law, Legislation and Liberty (1979),

it had made its appearance at least as early as 1967, in “Notes on the Evolution of Systems of Rules

of Conduct” (Notes, Hayek 1967). Its last more or less systematic exposition can be found in the

first chapter of The Fatal Conceit (FC) of 1988. In biological evolution acquired features cannot be

8 Hayek’s contribution to the debate on socialism in the 1930s is the platform where he elaborates the importance of

limited knowledge.

9 Which dates from 1920. Hayek’s theory of perception is an early precursor of neural network models. Hayek explains

the human mind as a self-organizing system of decentralized, parallel distributed neural connections. For more details

about the relationships between Hayek’s psychology and the rest of his work, cp. Birner 1999.

10 Cp. the collections Individualism and Economic Order (1948) and Studies (1967).

11 For an excellent discussion, cp. Bianchi 1994.

12 The criticism that Hayek’s theory of group selection is non-individualistic can be found, for instance, in Vanberg

1986. The solution proposed in the text (and in Birner 1999b) constitutes also a reply to the criticism that Hayek does

not propose a mechanism through which individuals are motivated to co-operate when this is not in their immediate

self-interest. Cp. Bianchi 1994, Shearmur 1994, and Witt 1994.


inherited. In a social evolution, however, they can. Cultural evolution involves the transmission of

behaviour patterns and information to offspring, not only from parents, but from innumerable other

ancestors as well. This Lamarckian process of instruction makes cultural evolution much faster than

biological evolution. Another difference is that in cultural evolution selection does not function

through ”the immediately perceived effects of actions that humans tend to concentrate on” but

“rather, selection is made according to the consequences of the decisions guided by the rules of

conduct in the long run [which depend] chiefly on rules of property and contract securing the

personal domain of the individual.” (FC, p. 76). This leads Hayek to the idea of group selection. On

the other hand, biological and cultural evolution are similar in that both consist of a continuous

adaptation to unforeseeable circumstances. There are no laws of biological and cultural evolution,

and both involve the same principles of selection, viz., survival or reproductive success.

The comparison with biology leads Hayek to the conclusion that there are three main types of

evolution in human affairs: genetic evolution, which produces instincts and instinctive behaviour,

the evolution of rational thought, and cultural evolution. In time, culture comes after instinct and

before reason.13 Instinctive behaviour is sufficient for the co-ordination of the actions of individuals

within small primitive groups, the members of which have common perceptions and objectives and

are motivated by the instinct of solidarity. On the other hand, within the advanced or “abstract”

society (the “extended order”), which is too complex to be fully understood by the human mind, coordination

is ensured by abstract rules that have developed gradually. These rules govern private

property, honesty, contracts, exchange, commerce, competition, profit, and the protection of

privacy. They are transferred by tradition, learning, and imitation. There is a continuous tension

between the rules governing individual behaviour and those governing the functioning of social

institutions. The formation of supra-individual systems of co-ordination have forced individuals to

change their natural or instinctive reactions: “Disliking these constraints so much, we can hardly be

said to have selected them; rather these constraints selected us: they enable us to survive.” (FC, p.

14).14 The institutions that emerge are the result of certain individuals stumbling upon solutions to

particular problems in a process of competition. Every type of evolution operates through

competition, which acts as a process of discovery. However, each type of environment or stage of

society requires its own type of rules, and following the rules that were adapted to one environment

in a different one may lead to disaster. This is particularly the case with small, primitive groups and

modern extended society. “If we were to apply the unmodified, uncurbed rules of the micro-cosmos

... to the macro-cosmos (our wider civilisation) ... we would destroy it. Yet if we were always to

apply the rules of the extended order to our intimate groupings, we would crush them.” (FC, p. 18).

Let us now turn to the theory of society of De la division du travail social. A summary will do for

now as we will come back to Durkheim’s sociology in the section on functionalism. Whereas for

Hayek, at least until 1960, the individual is the methodological starting point of all social theorizing,

for Durkheim it is the social framework. Without it, all the individualistic elements that classical

economics has adduced for explaining the rise and success of industrialized market societies, such

as the pursuit of self-interest and competition, are centrifugal forces. Society is based on

“association”, the sharing by individuals of hereditary or geographical characteristics. Social

density makes for co-operation, and not until a co-operative framework exists can the market and

other social institutions start playing their co-ordinating role. In a piece of conjectural history that

has a similar function as in Hayek, Durkheim shows the evolution of society from the primitive

tribe, whose members are completely similar and which is ruled by the same collective conscience

that is orientated towards concrete circumstances, to the highly diversified modern industrial

13 Hayek writes that this is also the case logically and psychologically (FC, p. 23). It is not entirely clear what he means

by this.

14 This neglects the problem of incentives. Cp. Witt 1994 and Shearmur 1994. Cp. also the conclusion of Birner & Ege



society, where individuals identify with their professional group rather than with society as a whole.

In the beginning were the hordes, homogeneous primitive tribes. They are kept together by a type of

social cohesion that rests on similarity. The second stage in the development is primitive society,

which consists of a repetition of identical hordes. Next in the course of evolution are segmentary

societies. They arise due to a diversification that takes place as soon as one individual (by a

mutation that Durkheim does not explain) distinguishes himself from his fellow-men by his

leadership capacities. Even though the authority of these clan chiefs is a new element, similarity is

still the only basis of social cohesion or solidarity. These societies are regulated by repressive law,

which imposes sanctions on infringements of the values and rules that are shared by all members.

There is no place for individual personality. The form of social cohesion that rules these societies is

mechanical solidarity.

This starts to change with the increase in geographical and social density. The fact that the members

of society now have to keep track of a greater number of individuals makes it necessary for

collective conscience to come to terms with more abstract spatial and social relationships. This

involves a weakening of the hold of tradition. It also marks the birth of abstract thought, which is an

additional source of variations among individuals. It also creates greater individual liberty which

together with the rationalization of society underlies the process of specialization, in which

mechanical solidarity is gradually replaced by a different form of cohesion, organic solidarity. The

transition is reflected in the legal system; repressive law, which punishes infractions on the

common social code, gives more and more way to restitutive law, a system of rules that regulate

how torts can to be put right.15

Although the analysis of law has an important place in the work of both, its function is different.

Durkheim arrives at it via a methodological consideration. Solidarity is a moral concept, and as

such it cannot be observed. It can only be investigated indirectly (cp. DTS, p. 28), through the legal

system. It is the empirical manifestation of the state of solidarity in society because it is the system

of binding rules that have been developed to suppress conflicts,. In Hayek’s work, the legal system

is important for two different reasons. First, because it constitutes the body of rules that enables the

market order to function. Second, because it is a prime example of a spontaneously evolved system

of rules. The legal system is the set of “institutions that Western man has developed to secure

individual liberty.” (CL, p. 5). Hayek’s treatment of law is also more limited than Durkheim’s in

that he concentrates almost exclusively on property law. For Durkheim property law belongs to the

part of restitutive law which he calls negative: it is based on abstention and links a thing to a person.

Positive restitutive law, or the law of co-operation, is the set of the rules that regulate co-operation.

It is this positive restitutive law that increases in importance as we come closer to modern society.

Durkheim wants to explain how the complex process of the division of labour and the concomitant

emergence of social cohesion could have taken place without anyone, or any central organ,

consciously organizing it so as to result in a relatively stable social system. His fascination by

spontaneous evolution is shared by Hayek, who arrives at the same cautious, non-interventionist

consequences as Durkheim, as we will see in the next section.

15 What Hayek has to say on the passage from primitive to modern society is very similar. He even speaks of the role of

magic and ritual in passing from one economic order to another through the relaxation of prohibitions (LLLIII, p. 161).

Cp. also what he says about sharing in primitive societies: “But these habits had to be shed again to make the transition

to the market economy and the open society possible. The steps of this transition were all breaches of that `solidarity`

which governed the small group and which are still resented. Yet they were the steps towards almost all that we now

call civilization.” (LLLIII, p. 161).


3. A social science of morality

The relationship between scientific analysis and morality is something Durkheim is concerned with

from the very beginning of his scientific career. He writes in DTS that the scientific explanation of

norms and values is his main objective; morality is “un ensemble de faits acquis qu’il faut étudier”

(DTS, p. XL) [“a collection of facts to study”, p. 35] and not “une sorte de législation toujours

révocable que chaque penseur institue à nouveau.”(ibid.) [“a sort of revocable law-making which

each thinker establishes himself”, p. 35]. Durkheim harnesses this legal and moral anti-positivism to

his strategic goal of launching sociology. DTS is an investigation into the moral effects of the

division of labour. The concept of morality not only involves the study of rules of behaviour, it also

encompasses the idea of J.S. Mill of social science as moral science, the disciplines that involve the

mental attitudes of individuals.16 For Durkheim moral refers to the linking of conscience (or

consciousness) among individuals, something which economics with its narrow focus on selfinterest

as the source of human action cannot explain:

“[S]i l'intérêt rapproche les hommes, ce n'est jamais que pour quelques instants; il ne peut

créer entre eux qu'un lien extérieur. Dans le fait de l'échange, les divers agents restent en

dehors les uns des autres, et l'opération terminée, chacun se retrouve et se reprend tout

entier. Les consciences ne sont que superficiellement en contact; ni elles se pénètrent, ni

elles n'adhèrent fortement les unes aux autres. Si même on regarde au fond des choses, on

verra que toute harmonie d'intérêts recèle un conflit latent ou simplement ajourné. ...

L'intérêt est, en effet, ce qu'il y a de moins constant au monde.” (DTS, pp. 180-1)

[“if interest relates man, it is never for more than a few moments. It can create only an

external link between them. In the fact of exchange, the various agents remain outside of

each other, and when the business has been completed, each one retires and is left entirely

on his own. Consciences are only superficially in contact; they neither penetrate each other,

nor do they adhere. If we look further into the matter, we shall see that this total harmony of

interests conceals a latent or deferred conflict. … There is nothing less constant than

interest.”, pp. 203-4]

But there is more to the meaning of morality. Moral is what serves a certain social function: “tout

fait d’ordre vital – come sont les faits moraux, - ne peut généralement pas durer s’il ne sert à

quelque chose, s’il ne répond à quelque besoin… “( p. XLI) [“each vital fact – and a moral fact is

vital – cannot endure if it is not of some use, if it does not answer some need…”, p. 35]. The

“quelque chose”, the need the satisfaction of which is the function of morality, is the subject of

DTS. Durkheim summarizes it at the end of the book: “Est moral … tout ce qui est source de

solidarité, tout ce qui force l’homme à compter avec autrui, à régler ses mouvements sur autre chose

que les impulsions de son égoïsme, et la moralité est d’autant plus solide que ces liens sont plus

nombreux et plus forts.” (DTS, p. 394) [“Everything which is a source of morality is moral,

everything which forces man to take account of other men is moral, everything which forces him to

regulate his conduct through something other than than the striving of his ego is moral, and morality

is as solid as these ties are numerous and strong.”, p. 398].

The various connotations of the concept of morality are merged in Durkheim’s idea that attempts to

improve the social world are conditional on a scientific analysis of the mechanisms by which it is

ruled. This leads him to be very cautious about the possibility of intervention. One must start by

presuming that a certain status quo responds to a particular need: “tant donc que la preuve contraire

n’est pas faite, il a droit à notre respect.” (DTS, p. XLI) [“until the opposite is proved true, such vital

facts are entitled to our respect.”, p. 35]. If we must intervene in the moral sphere, it is better to do

16 Cp. for instance he passage further on in the book to the extent that “[t]oute société est une société morale." (DTS p.

207), which clearly reveals the influence of Mill, whose “moral sciences” is the translation of the German



so piecemeal, basing ourselves upon scientific analysis: “l’intervention est … limitée: elle a pour

objet, non de faire de toutes pièces une morale à coté ou au-dessus de celle qui règne, mais de

corriger celle-ci ou de l’améliorer partiellement. Ainsi disparaît l’antithèse que l’on a tenté d’établir

entre la science et la morale…” (ibid.) [“the intervention is … limited; it has for its object, not to

make an ethic completely different from the prevailing one, but to correct the latter, or partially to

improve it. Thus, the antithesis between science and ethics … disappears.”, pp. 35-6].

In the case of Hayek, the scientific explanation of the emergence of moral rules appears rather late

as an explicit item on the research agenda. In his published work it is mentioned for the first time in

the concluding chapter of Volume III of Law, Legislation and Liberty of 1979. However, he had

discussed the subject at least as early as 1944, in The Road to Serfdom (particularly in chapter X),

and more extensively in 1945, in “Individualism: True and False” (ITF). There, his main premise is

that “without principles we drift.” (ITF, p. 2). The question “Is there anywhere a consistent

philosophy to be found which supplies us not merely with the moral aims but with an adequate

method for their achievement?” (ibid.) is answered affirmatively. The philosophy is that of the

Scottish Enlightenment, which Hayek distinguishes sharply from the French constructivist tradition

to which he reckons Durkheim to belong. In the Introduction I have already mentioned that Hayek’s

rejection of Durkheim is odd in view of the many parallels with his own thought. They extend to

Hayek’s thought on morality. Hayek shares with Durkheim the idea that the peculiarity of the social

sciences lies in the fact that they deal with mental phenomena. The whole of CRS is devoted to

exploring the consequences of the fact that they are moral sciences. Another important point of

agreement is that morality is a gradually and spontaneously evolved system of rules of conduct that

we must not intervene with at all, or at the most piecemeal.

The emergence of rules of behaviour is the subject of Notes. By studying rules of behaviour in an

evolutionary context the link between science and morality is tightened. The article focuses on the

function of moral rules for increasing the predictability and hence the stability of the social


“The knowledge of some regularities of the environment will create a preference for those

kinds of conduct which produce a confident expectation of certain consequences, and an

aversion to doing something unfamiliar and fear when it has been done. This creates a sort

of connection between the knowledge that rules exist in the objective world and a

disinclination to deviate from those rules commonly followed in action, and therefore

between the belief that events follow rules and the feeling that one ‘ought’ to observe rules

in one’s conduct.” (Hayek 1967, p. 80).

This leads to the conclusion that “[t]he factual belief that such and such is the only way in which a

certain result can be brought about, and the normative belief that this is the only way in which it

ought to be pursued, are thus closely associated.” (ibid., p. 80). That Hayek does not defend a moral

naturalism can be concluded from the last footnote. It contains the suggestion (interesting but not

elaborated) that the descriptive or explanatory rules on which individuals base their behaviour in

society “may be meaningful only within a framework of a system of normative rules.” (Hayek

1967, p. 81, n. 20).

Hayek intended to work out the project of a scientific explanation of morals in The Fatal Conceit.

As we have seen above, it contains the elements of a theory of cultural evolution that tries to

develop the ideas in Notes. The most important additions are that culture, and hence morality,

constitutes a level of evolutionarily emerged rules that is situated between instinct and reason, and

that the success of a particular social order can be measured by the number of individuals it can

keep alive. The project was never finished; FC is a patchwork of brief chapters and appendices


without the sense of unity that characterizes Hayek’s earlier books. No doubt this is due to the fact

that Hayek’s health was deteriorating and that the book was written together by Bill Bartley.17 I will

therefore discuss a text that was certainly written by Hayek himself, and that shows more

coherency, the Origins manuscript referred to above.18 Hayek writes there that the problem of the

scientific study of cultural evolution (and hence, we may add, of morality) threatened to become

unmanageable until he introduced group selection. Cultural evolution depends on it. This explains

why our morals provide us with the means of adapting to unforeseen and unforeseeable conditions

for which reason is insufficient. In this context, Hayek refers to the collective mind in the sense of

the moral rules the members of a social group have in common. Even though this collective

conscience remains in permanent interaction with the minds of the individuals, it is different from

the contents of individual minds, and it has an autonomous existence. This is very similar to

Durkheim’s idea of collective conscience. Hayek chooses a non-Darwinian evolutionary framework

for dealing with the complexity of the origin of morals. Durkheim, too, is critical of an application

of Darwinism to social processes.19 Hayek addresses the same problem as Durkheim: how social

evolution in a non-Darwinian process creates moral values.

4. Functionalism

La division du travail social is as much a methodological manifesto as a theory of society. I have

already mentioned that it serves to establish sociology as an independent discipline. The other sense

in which the book is methodological is that it is intended as an exercise in functional explanation.

On the first page of Book I Durkheim defines function as

“le rapport de correspondance qui existe entre ces mouvements [vitaux] et les besoins de

l’organisme. … Se demander quelle est la fonction de la division du travail, c’est donc

chercher à quel besoin elle correspond; quand nous aurons résolu cette question, nous

pourrons voir si ce besoin est de même nature que ceux auxquels correspondent d’autres

règles de conduite dont le caractère moral n’est pas discuté.” (DTS, p. 11) [“the relation

existing between these [vital] movements and corresponding needs of the organism. … To

ask what the function of the division of labor is, is to seek for the need it supplies. When we

have ansered this question, we shall be able to see if this need is of the same sort as those to

which other rules of conduct respond whiose moral character is agreed upon.”, p. 49]

This might suggest that Durkheim subscribes to a theory in which final causes are a central element.

He also distinguishes between normal and abnormal forms of social life. Usually, such a distinction

immunizes a theory against falsifications, turning it into a piece of metaphysics, or worse, a

tautology. This suspicion is fed, for instance, by what Durkheim writes on p. 343: “Si,

normalement, la division du travail produit la solidarité sociale, il arrive cependant qu’elle a des

résultats tout différents ou même opposés.” [“Though normally the division of labor produces social

solidarity, it sometimes happens that it has different, and even contrary results.”, p. 535]. Does

Durkheim’s functionalism makes his theory empirically empty? To see whether this is the case, let

us examine his procedure in more detail. Durkheim discusses three examples of an anomalous

17 Bartley’s influence shows in the many references to religion, something Hayek had never paid much attention to.

18 Cp. Note 5.

19 Cp. DTS, p. 174: “Si les hypothèses de Darwin sont utilisables en morale, c'est encore avec plus de réserve et de

mesure que dans les autres sciences. Elles font, en effet, abstraction de l'élément essentiel de la vie morale, à savoir de

l'influence modératrice que la société exerce sur les membres et qui tempère et neutralise l'action brutale de la lutte pour

la vie et de la sélection. Partout où il y a des sociétés, il y a de l'altruisme, parce qu'il y a de la solidarité.” [“If the

hypotheses of Darwin have a moral use, it is with more reserve and measure than in other sciences. They overlook the

essential element of moral life, that is, the moderating influence that society exercises over its members, which tempers

and neutralizes the brutal action of the strugle for existence and selection. Wherever there are societies, there is

altruism, because there is solidarity.”, p. 197].


division of labour. The first is that of industrial or economic crises. They represent a case where the

division of labour fails to produce solidarity. In general, if the relationships among the various

organs that make up society are not regulated in the sense that the division of labour has created a

sufficiently developed system of rules, then that society is in a state of anomie. This is due to the

fact that these organs have not been in contact with one another sufficiently or for a sufficiently

long period. Another possible cause is that the organs are separated by a dark zone, a “milieu

opaque”, so that the rules cannot establish in sufficient detail the conditions of equilibrium. In that


“Les relations, étant rares, ne se répètent pas assez pour se determiner; c’est à chaque fois

nouvelle de nouveaux tâtonnements. Les lignes de passage suivies par les ondes de

mouvements ne peuvent pas se creuser parce que ces ondes elles-memes sont trop

intermittentes.20 Du moins, si quelques règles parviennent cependant à se constituer, elles

sont générales et vagues; car, dans ces conditions, il n’y a que les contours les plus généraux

des phénomènes qui puissent se fixer. Il en sera de même si la contiguité, tout en étant

suffisante, est trop récente ou a trop peu duré.” (DTS, p. 360-1) [“Relations, being rare, are

not repeated enough to be determined; each time there ensues new groping. The lines of

passage taken by the streams of movement cannot deepen because the streams themselves

are too intermittent. If some rules do come to constitute them, they are, however, general

and vague, for under these conditions it is only the most general contours of phenomena that

can be fixed. The case will be the same if the contiguity, though sufficient, is too recent or

has not endured long enough.”, p. 369]

In those conditions, with the growth of industry and the market becoming practically unlimited,

producers can no longer see all relevant factors directly, production proceeds unfettered and gets

out of control; it can only proceed by random “tâtonnements”.21 The different organization of

industry that would be needed to cope with this has not kept pace with the very rapid changes, so

that the various conflicting interests have not yet found the time to find a new equilibrium. (DTS, p.

362). In order for the division of labour to have a non-disequilibrating effect, the worker must not

lose his fellow workers from sight, so that he is aware of the effects he has on them and they on

him. The labourer is thus not a machine that repeats itself,22 but he feels that he is useful (“sert”). In

order for that to be possible, he need not be able to survey large parts of the social horizon; it is

sufficient that he sees enough of it to understand that his actions have a goal that lies outside

himself (an external goal, DTS, p. 365).23

The second example of an anomalous division of labour is “la division du travail contrainte”, forced

division of labour. Durkheim observes that the existence of rules is not enough, for sometimes the

rules are the cause of the anomaly, for example in the case of class struggle (DTS, p. 368). In order

20 The association that the reader may make with a neurophysiological metaphor would be justified. Durkheim devotes

several sections to this. A discussion of the relationship between Durkheim’s and Hayek’s theories of society with

neurophysiological models goes beyond the scope of the present chapter. For the case of Hayek, the reader is referred to

Birner 1996.

21 The use of the term is probably a deliberate evocation (provocation?) of Walras.

22 Cp. the contribution of Bensaïd, this volume, who takes up this issue in a criticism of Hayek.

23 Durkheim’s triumphant criticism of “the economists“ that they failed to see this certainly does not apply to Hayek,

who emphasizes exactly the limited scope of individuals’ perceptions and the division of knowledge: “Les économistes

n’auraient pas laissé dans l’ombre ce caractère essentiel de la division du travail et, par suite, ne l’auraient pas exposées

à ce reproche immérité, s’ils ne l’avaient réduite à n’etre qu’un moyen d’accroitre le rendement des forces sociales, s’ils

avaient vu qu’elle est avant tout une source de solidarité.” (DTS, p. 365) [“The economists would not have left this

essential character of the division of labor in the shade and, accordingly, would not have exposed it to this unmerited

reproach, if they had not reduced it to being merely a means of increasing the produce of social forces, if they had seen

that it is above all a source of solidarity.”, p. 373]. For further discussion, cp. Birner & Ege 1999.


for the division of labour to create solidarity, it is not enough that everybody performs his task, but

also that that task suits him (“convient”). The division of labour must be adapted to the natural

distribution of talents: “La seule cause qui détermine alors la manière dont le travail se divise est la

diversité des capacités. …. Ainsi se réalise de soi-même l’harmonie entre la constitution de chaque

individu et sa condition.” (DTS, 369) [“The only cause determining the manner in which work is

divided, then, is the diversity of capacities. … Thus, the harmony between the constitution of each

individual and his condition is realized of itself.”, p. 376]. Compare also DTS, p. 370, where he

writes: “La contrainte ne commence que quand la réglementation, ne correspondant plus à la nature

vraie des choses, et, par suite, n’ayant plus de base dans les moeurs, ne se soutient que par la force.”

[“Constraint only begins when regulation, no longer corresponding to the true nature of things, and,

accordingly, no longer having any basis in customs, can only be validated through force.”, p. 377].

Durkheim speaks in this context of spontaneity: “par spontanéité, il faut entendre l’absence, non pas

simplement de toute violence expresse et formelle, mais de tout ce qui peut entraver, même

indirectement, le libre déploiement de la force sociale que chacun porte en soi.” (DTS, p. 370) [“by

spontaneity we must understand not simply the absence of all express violence, but also of

everything that can even indirectly shackle the free unfolding of the social force that each carries in

himself.”, p. 377]. And “le travail ne se divise spontanément qui si la société est constitutuée de

manière à ce que les inégalités sociales expriment exactement les inégalités naturelles.” (DTS, p.

370) [“labor is divided spontaneously only if society is constituted in such a way that social

inequalities exactly express natural inequalities.”, p. 377].

The third anomalous type of the division of labour is the lack of functional activity, which can be

characterized as a lack of a particular type of co-ordination of the functions. The continuity with

which the various functions interact and need one another has to keep pace with the increased

division of labour; they must feel their interdependence. (DTS, p. 387). To specialize more means to

work harder (ibid.). However, if – for instance as a consequence of a wrong central organization

within an enterprise or a society - the various specialized functions do not have enough to do, this

causes defects in their co-ordination. Working harder constitutes

“une nouvelle raison qui fait de la division du travail une source de cohésion sociale. Elle ne

rend pas seulement les individus solidaires, comme nous l’avons dit jusqu’ici, parce qu’elle

limite l’activité de chacun, mais encore parce qu’elle l’augmente. Elle accroît l’unité de

l’organisme, par cela seul qu’elle en accroît la vie; du moins, à l’état normal, elle ne produit

pas un de ces effets sans l’autre.” (DTS, pp. 389-90) [“a new reason why the division of

labor is a source of social coheson. It makes individuals solidary, as we have said before, not

only because it limits the activity of each, but also because it inceases it. It adds to the unity

of the organism, solely through adding to its life. At least, in its normal state, it does not

produce one of these effects without the other.”, p. 395].

This passage makes it particularly clear that the main function of Durkheim’s anomalies is to clarify

the content of his theory of social cohesion. The conclusion of the discussion of Durkheim’s

anomalous forms is therefore that they serve to give his theory more rather than less empirical

content. Nor do final causes have a role to play in Durkheim’s functionalism. Functional is that

which arises spontaneously, as a solution to the complexity of life in society. The division of labour

“consiste … dans le partage de fonctions jusque là communes. Mais ce partage ne peut être

exécuté d’après un plan préconçu; on ne peut dire par avance où doit se trouver la ligne de

démarcation entre les tâches, une fois qu’elles seront séparées; car elle n’est pas marquée

avec une telle évidence dans la nature des choses, mais dépend, au contraire, d’une

multitude de circonstances. Il faut donc que la division se fasse d’elle-même et

progressivement.” (DTS, p. 260) [“consists in the sharing of functions up to that time


common. But this sharing cannot be executed according to a preconceived plan. We cannot

tell in advance where the line of demarcation between tasks will be found once they are

separated, for it is not marked so evidently in the nature of things, but depends, on the

contrary, upon a multitude of circumstances. The division of labor, then, must come about of

itself and progressively.”, p. 276].

Let us now turn to Hayek’s method. Above, in the discussion of his theory of society and moral

rules, I have indicated the importance of the concept of social institutions as the unintended

consequences of individual actions, and of the contribution of both individuals and institutions to

the maintenance of the social framework as a whole. Even though Hayek never puts these ideas in

terms of individuals and institutions serving the goal of stability, his theory has a strong

functionalist ring to it. Is it functionalist? Since Hayek is always very explicit about his own

methodology, the first place to turn to for an answer are his many methodological and, of course,

The Counterrevolution of Science (CRS). Hayek never describes himself as a functionalist.24

However, chapter VIII in CRS on “”Purposive” social formations” leaves no doubt that he accepts

the main tenets of functionalism. He mentions the notion of unintended consequences, i.e., the fact

that human actions often have functions from the one for which they were undertaken. Furthermore,

phenomena such as individual freedom and tacit knowledge are mentioned as serving to maintain a

particular social framework:

“If we survey the different fields in which we are constantly tempted to describe phenomena

as “purposive” though they are not directed by a conscious mind, it becomes rapidly clear

that the “end” or “purpose” they are said to serve is always the preservation of a “whole”, of

a persistent structure of relationships, whose existence we have come to take for granted

before we understood the nature of the mechanism which holds the parts together. The most

familiar instances of such wholes are biological organisms. Here the conception of the

“function” of an organ as an essential condition for the persistence of the whole has proved

to be of the greatest heuristic value. (CRS, pp. 81-2)

By emphasizing the as-if character of many social explanations, Hayek defends a sophisticated

functionalism. He does not reject the use of explanations that employ purposive of functionalist

concepts: “It is easily seen how paralyzing an effect on research it would have had if the scientific

prejudice had banned the use of all teleological concepts in biology and, e.g., prevented the

discoverer of a new organ from immediately asking what “purpose’ or “function” it serves.” (CRS,

p. 82). He is against using them in an anthropomorphic sense:

“As the terms of ordinary language are somewhat misleading, it is necessary to move with

great care in any discussion of the “purposive” character of spontaneous social formations.

The risk of being lured into an illegitimate anthropomorphic use of the term purpose is as

great as that of denying that the term purpose in this connection designates something of

importance. In its strict original meaning “purpose” indeed presupposes an acting person

deliberately aiming at a result. The same, however, …. is true of other concepts like “law”

or “organization”, which we have nevertheless been forced, by the lack of other suitable

terms, to adopt for scientific use in a non-anthropomorphic sense. In the same way we may

find the term “purpose” indispensable in a carefully defined sense.” (CRS, p. 81)

The analogy with biology is recommended as useful for social science. This does not imply an

endorsement of organicism, as is shown by his rejection of historicism in CRS.25 This is closely

24 Nor do any of his commentators. Only Vanberg 1986 mentions it.

25 Cp. also his rejection of the idea of society as mind-like in Hayek 1967, p. 74


related to Hayek’s use of conjectural history, which is a typically functionalist device.26 Hayek calls

it reconstruction.27 Every reconstruction is a reconstruction in the light of some point of view, or of

some function; without this anchoring device, a reconstruction would be pointless (if not

impossible). Hayek is very clear about this in Notes. There the method of conjectural history is

described as

“the reconstruction of a hypothetical kind of process which may never have been observed

but which, if it had taken place, would have produced the phenomena of the kind we

observe. The assumption that such a process has taken place may be tested by seeking for as

yet unobserved consequences which follow from it, and by asking whether all regular

structures of the kind in question can be accounted for by that assumption.” (Hayek 1967, p.


This is yet another defence of a counterfactual or as-if approach, one that even aims at producing

testable implications. This method is merged with a functionalist approach in two intervening steps.

One is the argument that the social sciences differ from the natural sciences in that the complex

structures which they study are in their turn composed of other complex structures, viz. the sets of

rules behaviour of individuals who are equipped with a mind. The second step is the introduction of

an evolutionary process in which rules of behaviour have been selected by their adaptedness to the

system. Again, Hayek’s conclusion is a defence of functionalism:

“This implies a sort of inversion of the relation between cause and effect in the sense that the

structures possessing a kind of order will exist because the elements do what is necessary to

secure the persistence of that order. The ‘final cause’ or ‘purpose’, i.e., the adaptation of the

parts to the requirements of the whole, becomes a necessary part of the explanation of why

structures of the kind exist: we are bound to explain the fact that the elements behave in a

certain way by the circumstance that this sort of conduct is most likely to preserve the

whole. …. A ‘teleological’ explanation is thus entirely in order so long as it does not imply

design by a maker …” (Hayek 1967, p. 77)

The conclusion is that Hayek is a functionalist.28 Not only that, like Durkheim, he is a sophisticated

functionalist who is fully aware of the dangers a literal interpretation of the notion of function or

purposiveness has, and who for that reason relies on the tools of counterfactual reconstruction and

evolutionary explanation. Now we have the ingredients to examine Durkheim’s and Hayek’s

theories of morality.

5. Functional morality

But before proceeding to a comparison between Hayek’s and Durkheim’s thought on morality, a

problem must be addressed that has remained latent so far. It concerns the question what it is that

we compare. In the case of Durkheim I have limited myself mainly to DTS, whereas in the case of

Hayek the picture is composed of elements borrowed from various episodes in his development that

vary from ITF of 1945 to FC of 1988. On a number of issues Hayek’s thought seems to evolves (for

instance on the importance of individual freedom as a moral value), whereas on others he seems to

be more constant. I “solve” this problem radically by reconstructing Hayek’s thought on morality in

the most coherent way possible, even though I shall occasionally discuss its evolution where I think

it useful to do so. This may not be satisfactory from a purely historical point of view. However, I

think the possible disadvantages of this approach are compensated by the gains in understanding of

26 Pettit calls this the missing mechanism type of explanation. Cp. Pettit 1996.

27 Cp. CRS, p. 85.

28 Cp. also LLLI, p. 149, n. 15.


the role of morality in society as a problem in its own right that I hope will result from the

comparative discussion of Durkheim and Hayek.

Let us begin by comparing the methods Hayek and Durkheim employ in developing their theories

of morality. Both attempt to find an uncontestable, or at least an uncontested, basis for morality. For

Durkheim it is the rule that commands us to realize the essential characteristics of the collective

type (DTS, p. 393). Since these have been defined by Durkheim as solidarity, it follows that moral

rules “énoncent les conditions fondamentales de la solidarité sociale”(DTS, p. 393) [“enunciate the

fundamental conditions of social solidarity.”, p. 398]. And since solidarity rests on the division of

labour, the latter “devient du même coup la base de l’ordre moral.” (DTS, p. 396) [“becomes, at the

same time, the foundaton of the moral order.”, p. 401]. So, because it is a fundamental characteristic

of man that he is a social being, morality is that which is conducive to the establishment and

strengthening of social cohesion. Hayek shares the idea that morality is that which rest on, or

follows from, human nature. He adopts this idea from the philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment,

or as he calls it, “true individualism”: “The great concern of the great individualist writers was … to

find a set of institutions by which man could be induced, by his own choice and from the motives

which determined his ordinary conduct, to contribute as much as possible to the need of all others

....” (ITF, pp. 12-13, emphasis added). In later writings this is elaborated into the criterion of the

survival of the greatest number of individuals as the value by which a particular social order should

be judged. Underlying this idea is a peculiar logical argument: since morals regulate human

relationships, there can be no morality without human beings. This is supplemented by two

arguments that we find in Origins. The first is that morals are rules of behaviour that have been

accepted by individuals because they have been exposed to them long enough, even though they do

not understand their rationale. If a sufficiently large number of individuals accepts the moral rules,

keeping to them becomes an advantage because of the network externalities (as they would now be

called) they create. The second argument is aimed against all egalitarian moral systems. If, says

Hayek, we had enforced social justice in the sense of an equitable distribution of property, we

would never have reached the current state of development in which many more people are born

and survive than would have been possible in an egalitarian society. So, those who defend an

equitable distribution of property and income (i.e. the socialists) have not understood that the

apparently unjust principle of “several property” is more beneficial than an equal distribution, under

which the masses of the poor would have been far smaller, not because more people would belong

to the haves instead of the have-nots, but simply because many fewer people would be alive.29 So,

the existence of morality logically presupposes the existence of (at least two) human beings, and

therefore life is a necessary condition for morality. Hayek concludes from this that morals are not

idealistic but materialistic, since their function is to keep us alive.30

Durkheim uses the same type of argumentation. It can be summarized as follows. All social science

is moral science; its basic ingredients are intentionality and relatively stable mental constructs

individuals somehow share. This presupposes that they interact regularly. This in turn presupposes

the existence of a social framework, which again presupposes the existence of solidarity, which

implies the existence of rules of behaviour that allow individual mental attitudes to be made

compatible with one another. So in the case of both authors we have a peculiar mix of logical,

methodological, and theoretical arguments that sustain their theories of morality. But even though

their procedures for finding the foundations of morality are very similar, Hayek and Durkheim

come to different conclusions as to its content. For Durkheim morality is everything that keeps man

from being selfish31 and favours co-operation. Hayek rejects unselfishness, at least as a moral value

29 Basically, this is the same argument as in introduction to Capitalism and the Historians of 1954.

30 Cp. Origins, p. 17.

31 Cp. the passage from DTS, p. 394 which was quoted in the fourth paragraph of section 3. Cp. also DTS, p. 404:

Morality “nous demande seulement d’être tendres pour nos semblables et d’être justes, de bien remplir notre tâche, de


of the market order,32 and emphasizes the value of co-ordination.33 For Durkheim, society has a

mitigating effect on egoism.34 For Hayek self-interest (in the extended sense of caring also for one’s

immediate social environment35) is the value that holds the order of the market together and makes

it work. Everything that is aimed at taking away this motivation (and Hayek singles out all

proposals that are based on the promotion of altruism) jeopardizes the continued functioning of the

market order.

In summary, Hayek and Durkheim both explain the function of moral rules by using conjectural

history. Both are moral functionalists. They share the central idea that the function of moral rules is

to preserve the stability of the social framework, though they give it a different content. For Hayek,

the system of morals serves to keep the greatest possible number of people alive. For Durkheim

morality has the function of maintaining social cohesion. In addition to these similarities, let me

indicate several others. For both authors moral rules rest on the way in which our fellow citizens

judge our behaviour.36 A further common element is that moral rules involve a cognitive

dimension.37 Another shared characteristic is their empiricism in the sense that a theory of morality

should be empirically testable. For instance, in Origins Hayek criticizes hedonism, utilitarianism

and egalitarianism by saying that they have never been put to the test of determining whether they

help to maintain or to improve the survival of the group.38 The ultimate test for any system of moral

rules lies in the number of individuals it can keep alive.39In Durkheim we find a similar empiricist

strand. Scientific method relies on observation. Solidarity is a moral concept, and as such it is

unobservable. That is why Durkheim studies its most important empirical manifestation, the legal

system. There is a second sense in which Durkheim and Hayek share an empiricist approach. Both

travailler à ce que chacun soit appelé à la fonction qu’il peut le mieux remplir, et reçoive le prix juste de ses efforts.” [

only asks that we be thoughtful of our fellows and that we be just, that we fulfill our duty, that we work at the function

we can best execute, and receive the just reward for our services.”, p. 407].

32 Cp. LLLIII, p. 165: “ Its mores involved withholding from the known needy neighbours what they might require in

order to serve the unknown needs of thousands of unknown others. Financial gain rather than the pursuit of a known

common good became not only the basis of approval but also the cause of the increase of general wealth.” The criticism

of social justice is the subject of Law, Legislation and Liberty.

33 Cp. LLLIII, p. 164: “This exchange society and the guidance of the co-ordination of a far-ranging division of labour

by variable market prices was made possible by the spreading of certain gradually evolved moral beliefs which, after

they had spread, most men in the Western world learned to accept.” For a discussion of Hayek and Durkheim as

representatives of explanations of social stability that are based on co-ordination and co-operation, cp. Birner & Ege


34 DTS, p. 396: “cette pression salutaire de la société, qui modère son égoïsme [de l’homme] et qui fait de lui un être

moral.” [“this salutary pressure of society which moderates his egoism and makes him a moral being.”, p. 401]. On p.

401 Durkheim generalizes the argument: “La seule puissance qui puisse servir de modérateur à l’égoïsme individuel est

celle du groupe; la seule qui puisse servir de modérateur à l’égoïsme des groupes est celle d’un autre groupe qui les

embrasse.” (DTS, p. 401) [“The only power which can serve to moderate individual egotism is the power of the group;

the only power which can serve to moderate the egotism of groups is that of some other grup which embraces them.”, p.


35 Cp. section 6 below.

36 Cp., for instance, LLLIII, p. 171: “All morals rest on the different esteem in which different persons are held by their

fellows according to their conforming to accepted moral standards. It is this which makes moral conduct a social value.”

And Durkheim: “Voilà ce qui fait la valeur morale de la division du travail. C’est que, par elle, l’individu reprend

conscience de son état de dépendence vis-à-vis de la société ... puisque la division du travail devient la source éminente

de la solidarité sociale, elle devient du même coup la base de l’ordre moral.” (DTS, p. 396) [“This is what gives moral

value to the division of labor. Through it, the individual becomes cognizant of his dependence upon society … since the

division of labor becomes the chief source of social solidarity, it becomes, at the same time, the foundation of the moral

order.”, p. 401].

37 Durkheim observes that solidarity, the main social value, is only operative if individuals are aware of its existence.

(DTS 259-60). Hayek’s idea that a major function of moral rules in creating a more predictable social environment has

already been discussed.

38 Cp. Origins, p. 11.

39 This corroborates the idea of Shearmur 1996, ch. 5, and Aimar, this volume, that Hayek looks for a testable criterion

by which to judge a social order, and that this criterion is biological.


emphasize that in order for individuals to accept moral rules, they must be exposed to them long


6. The cement of the social universe

In the above, Durkheim’s emphasis on solidarity and altruism has repeatedly been contrasted with

Hayek’s idea that the pursuit of self-interest is the force that keeps society together. It is now time

to go into the details of what Hayek means by self-interest, and what its place is. In ITF Hayek

stresses “the value of the family and all the common efforts of the small community and group …

local autonomy and voluntary associations …” (p. 23). In short, the intermediate groups, the hold of

which is negatively correlated with the rate of suicide in Durkheim’s Suicide. So, the integration of

the individual in the intermediate groups is a direct empirical measure of social cohesion. For

Hayek, however, the function of these groups lies in their greater efficiency in making individuals

achieve their goals than the state. Hayek’s idea of solidarity is more restricted than Durkheim’s, and

he rejects it as the factor that keeps larger social aggregates together:

“Even today the overwhelming majority of people, including, I am afraid, a good many

supposed economists, do not yet understand that this extensive division of labour, based on

widely dispersed information, has been made possible entirely by the use of those

impersonal signs which emerge from the market process and tell people what to do in order

to adapt their activities to events of which they have no direct knowledge.” (LLLIII, p. 161).

So, it is the pursuit of the interests of oneself and the members of one’s immediate social

environment together with the anonymous price system that makes for co-ordination and social

stability. The market order has co-evolved with the system of moral rules that sustains it: “This

exchange society and the guidance of the co-ordination of a far-ranging division of labour by

variable market prices was made possible by the spreading of certain gradually evolved moral

beliefs which, after they had spread, most men in the Western world learned to accept.” (LLLIII , p.

164).41 The content of these rules is economic: providing for the future, accumulating capital, and

seeking the esteem of fellow-men.

These are differences between Hayek and Durkheim. What they have in common is the problem of

explaining social stability. Their theories of morality have to be seen in that light. The function of

moral rules is to preserve a stable social framework. More specifically, the moral rules that have coevolved

with the market order serve to suppress or transform the individual instincts that still

belong to the era of the primitive tribe and that have failed to co-evolve with the increase of the

complexity of society. Both Hayek and Durkheim propose functional theories of morality. They use

a mixed logical-explanatory analysis that starts from an attempt to find the system of rules that is

accepted by everyone. They both employ the method of conjectural history without abandoning the

possibility of putting their theories to the test. Finally, both add a cognitive dimension to this

empiricism. However, they propose different fundamental factors that explain social stability. For

Durkheim they are co-operation and altruism; Hayek emphasizes co-ordination and the pursuit of

self-interest. They also differ in their preferences for the political system that is conducive to social

stabilty. This is discussed in the next paragraph.

40 For Hayek’s empiricism in the second sense cp. Birner 1995 and 1999a. Durkheim’s empiricism is apparent from our

discussion of the first anomalous type of division of labour in section 4 above.

41 On the idea of the co-evolution of morals and institutions, cp. also LLLIII, p. 170: “But as moral views create

institutions, so institutions create moral views…”


7. Moral theories

The whole of Durkheim’s intellectual career is inspired by his concern to put sociology in the

service of morality. One of the last sentences of DTS reads: “notre premier devoir actuellement est

de nous faire une morale” (p. 406) [“our first duty is to make a moral code for ourselves.”, p. 409)].

Even though the phrasing would be too constructivistic to Hayek’s taste, the idea is very similar to

Hayek’s objective. It is to make man understand that in order to maintain the social order that brings

so many benefits, we must change our moral attitudes, and in particular abjure the morals of

socialism, since they are based on descriptively false premises. This conditionality of moral

prescriptions on facts, which we also find in Durkheim,42 alerts us to an important feature of

morality that is often forgotten: moral rules and value judgements are not isolated entities, but they

are always embedded in judgments of fact. Each and every moral judgment has implicit or explicit

factual premises and presuppositions. It is therefore more appropriate to speak of moral theories.

One advantage is that this widens the scope of a rational and critical discussion of moral rules. Hans

Albert has elaborated this proposal.43 A principle on which probably all human beings agree44 is

that it is not reasonable to impose moral rules that one cannot keep to as a matter of fact: “”ought”

ought to imply can.” Hayek and Durkheim add a dimension to this by placing morality in an

evolutionary perspective, introducing the emergence of moral rules and the consequences they may

have for future social developments as legitimate objects of scientific inquiry. The two authors also

agree on the general function of morality, which is to preserve the stability of the social framework.

However, studying moral judgements as part of moral theories does not alter the fact that every

moral theory has at least one value judgment among its premises, since moral judgments cannot be

derived from factual ones.45 So this raises the question about Durkheim’s and Hayek’s moral

premises. Rather casually Durkheim introduces the brotherhood of man as an uncontested moral

ideal: “C’est un rêve depuis longtemps caressé par les hommes que d’arriver enfin à réaliser dans

les faits l’idéal de la fraternité humaine.” (DTS, p. 401) [“Men have long dreamt of finally realizing

in fact the idea of human fraternity.”, p. 405]. This is linked to solidarity by a conditional argument:

if we want brotherhood, then solidarity is a necessary intermediate social norm. This is reminiscent

of Hayek’s defence of liberty. In CL the freedom of the individual is presented first and foremost as

instrumental to the functioning of the market. Its most important effect is that it creates the

conditions under which information and the creative powers of society are mobilized. Hayek is

aware that his emphasis on instrumental freedom might be considered as insufficient for the defence

of a liberal society:

“Some readers will perhaps be disturbed by the impression that I do not take the value of

individual liberty as an indisputable ethical presupposition and that, in trying to demonstrate

its value, I am possibly making the argument in its support a matter of expediency. This

would be a misunderstanding. But it is true that if we want to convince those who do not

already share our moral suppositions, we must not simply take them for granted. We must

show that liberty is not merely one particular value but that it is the source and condition of

most moral values.” (CL, p. 6)

However, when we look for those other moral values, again we find an enumeration of factors that

are instrumental to the functioning of the market order: abstract rules governing private property,

honesty, contracts, exchange, commerce, competition, profit, and the protection of privacy (cp., for

42 Cp. above, the first paragraph of section 3.

43 Cp. Albert 1979, pp. 76-9, where he takes up an idea of Popper’s; cp. Popper 1945, ch. 24, para. III.

44 All humans, that is, who do not subscribe to a romantic heroism that considers as the highest value to demand and do

the impossible.

45 Notioce, however, that Durkheim denies that there is a fundamental difference between moral and factual statements.

Cp. the next note.


instance, FC, p. 76). So, Hayek does not really seem to have changed his mind between CL and FC.

What he has done instead is to unwrap, or render explicit, an idea that had always been a premise of

his system of ideas: that the market is the economic system that favours the material opportunities

for sustaining the greatest number, and that liberal society is the best socio-political framework for

the market.

Durkheim does not pronounce himself openly in favour of any political system; perhaps he would

have found that incompatible with his conception of sociology as the positive science of morality

and of himself as a social scientist.46 But it is clear that he favours a system in which professional

groups play an important role, without either the state or unfettered competition being dominant.47

In other words, Durkheim opposes both liberalism and socialism. If Hayek’s liberalism and

Durkheim’s anti-liberalism followed logically as conclusions from their method and analysis, which

as I have argued are very similar, these different preferences would be hard to explain. So the

conclusion seems inevitable that here we have arrived at different political value judgments that

inspire the two authors.

8. A historical puzzle

This leaves us with one last question. Hayek accuses Durkheim of constructivism and of being

opposed to accepting the outcome of spontaneous social evolutionary processes. He attributes to

Durkheim the idea that solidarity is to be obtained by consciously creating and imposing the

conditions under which all members of a society could pursue the same goal on which they all

agree,48 and that moral is that which furthers altruism. We have seen that a closer reading of

Durkheim reveals a picture that is almost the exact opposite. Most differences between the

functional moral theories of Hayek and Durkheim are differences of degree, not of kind.

Spontaneous social orders, the importance of free associations, the emphasis on the emancipation of

the individual and on individual freedom are prominent features of the theories of both. So, why

does Hayek reject Durkheim’s ideas?49

I propose two alternative explanations. The first is that Hayek interpreted Durkheim’s emphasis on

the role of professional groups as a defence of corporatism. For Hayek, corporatism, whether of the

socialist or of the fascist kind, is the embodiment of hostility to competition.50 This made him

decide that a further study of Durkheim would be a waste of time. Consequently, all the details and

subtleties of Durkheim’s analysis were lost on him. The second explanation is that Hayek

remembered that Durkheim stands in the tradition of Comte - without knowing or remembering that

he is critical of Comte - and that he is critical of Spencer, who advocates a particular brand of

liberalism. For Hayek, criticizing liberalism is tantamount to advocating socialism. Hayek attributed

this presumed defence of socialism to Durkheim’s scientific analysis. In both cases, in order to

make Durkheim’s presumed defence of corporatism or socialism coherent with that author’s

46 On the other hand, he should not have shrunk from making his political preferences explicit. Cp. Durkheim 1911, in

particular pp. 138-9: “Comment faut-il donc concevoir le rapport des jugements de valeur aux jugements de réalité? De

ce qui précède il résulte qu’il n’existe pas entre eux de différences de nature.” [“How must the relationship between

value judgements and descriptions of reality been conceived of? From the preceding discussion it follows that there is

no difference of kind between the two.”, my tr.]

47 Cp., for instance, the preface to the second edition of DTS, and the Preface to Durkheim 1928 by Marcel Mauss.

48 Cp. also LLLII, p. 11, where Hayek writes that the “Great Society” has nothing to do with solidarity in the “true”

sense of conscious unitedness in the pursuit of common goals.

49 Hayek’s misrepresentation of Durkheim is repeated by Popper: “It is the analysis of these abstract relations with

which modern social theory, such as economic theory, is mainly concerned. This point has not been understood by

many sociologists, such as Durkheim, who never gave up the dogmatic belief that society must be analysed in terms of

real social groups.” (Popper 1945, Vol. 1, p. 175)

50 Cp. Hayek 1944, p. 30.


scientific analysis, Hayek truncated Durkheim’s analysis of society to the description of solidarity

in primitive society. So, in the end, Hayek’s misrepresentation of Durkheim is due to Hayek’s

attempt to make Durkheim’s scientific analysis of society and the defence of corporatism or

socialism which he, Hayek, wrongly attributed to him, consistent with one another. This would

explain why Hayek developed and presented many of his own ideas as if they were a critical

reaction to Durkheim. In reality, he rejects many of the very ideas Durkheim rejects, too. This

“double negation” explains why Hayek’s theory of society is so similar to Durkheim’s.

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