A Hayekian Explanation of Hayek’s ‘Epistemic Turn’

Scott Scheall


The present essay aims to account for F.A. Hayek’s oft-noted ‘turn’ away from technical economics to concerns of a more philosophical nature. In particular, the paper seeks an explanatory principle that reconciles various elements of both continuity and discontinuity in Hayek’s intellectual development, especially with respect to the evolution of his arguments concerning economic fluctuations. The essay uncovers such an explanatory principle in Hayek’s own methodology of sciences of complex phenomena. According to this principle, an inquirer who confronts phenomena too complex for adequate explanation on the basis of current knowledge must move to a more general, albeit less testable, explanation. This is precisely what occurred in the evolution of Hayek’s thought concerning trade cycles. The concluding section considers the implications of the argument for the extensive secondary literature on Hayek’s ‘transformation’.

Published on 28th September, 2015, in Economic Thought Vol 4, No 2, 2015