Ecosystems as Spontaneous Orders

Critical Review: A Journal of Politics and Society 27 (1):64-88 (2015)
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The notion of a spontaneous order has a long history in the philosophy of economics, where it has been used to advance a view of markets as complex networks of information that no single mind can apprehend. Traditionally, the impossibility of grasping all of the information present in the spontaneous order of the market has been invoked as grounds for not subjecting markets to central planning. A less noted feature of the spontaneous order concept is that when it is applied to ecosystems it yields a reasonably strong environmental ethic. Thinking of ecosystems as spontaneous orders generates a presumption against interfering with their natural functioning in a manner that results in anthropogenic species loss. Such a presumption will permit some interventions in nature while precluding others. Environmental ethics could potentially make valuable use of the spontaneous order idea, without necessarily endorsing its traditional application to markets.

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Andy Lamey
University of California, San Diego


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