Hayek, Connectionism, and Scientific Naturalism

Here’s is an extract from Joshua Rust’s prize-winning essay from this volume.

The above criticisms look at The Sensory Order through the lens of nearly 60 years of work in the philosophy of mind. And it must be emphasized that Hayek’s text appears remarkably neoteric, anticipating both questions and answers in the field that would come to be known as cognitive science. However, I want to conclude on a cautionary note.

However, exegetically fruitful it may be to compare The Sensory Order to contemporary theories of mind, I wish to claim that such comparisons ultimately misconstrue the nature of Hayek’s project. In the end, Hayek’s question is importantly different from Searle’s or Fodor’s; Hayek’s ontological and epistemological presuppositions are not those of most contemporary theorists of mind.

In the previous section, I had assumed that both Searle and Hayek agree that there is a really-real physical order of atomic and subatomic facts. And we have assumed that Searle and Hayek share the task of reconciling the mental order with that ontologically basic physical order. Indeed, according to Searle (2010, p. 4), all ‘‘persistent philosophical questions’’ have the same characteristic structure: How is it possible in a universe consisting entirely of physical particles in fields of force that there can be such things as consciousness, intentionality, free will, language, society, ethics, aesthetics, and political obligations? Though many, perhaps most, contemporary philosophers do not address it directly, I believe that this is the single overriding question in contemporary philosophy.

On Searle’s view, philosophy’s aim is to reconcile the manifest image with the scientific image (Sellars, 1962) in the sense that consciousness, free will, language, and so on must be explained in terms of or shown to be consistent with the real, observer-independent world of brute facts. And there are passages in The Sensory Order, which suggest that Hayek’s question is not that different from Searle’s, even if the answer is. For example Hayek says, ‘‘A precise statement of the problem raised by the existence of sensory qualities must start from the fact that the progress of the physical sciences has all but eliminated these qualities from our scientific picture of the external world’’ (1.6). It is easy, then, to assume that, like Searle, Hayek is trying to locate mental qualities within the world as construed by our scientific picture.

But, appearances aside, Searle’s and Hayek’s questions are in fact quite different.