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12 oakeshott and hayek: situating the mind Leslie Marsh It’s a hazardous enterprise contrasting two figures such as Friedrich August von Hayek (1899–1992) and Michael Joseph Oakeshott (1901–1990)––similarities are often superficially drawn; divisions tend to be overstated.1 But if one understands both men to be centrally concerned with the social nature of mind and with the distributed nature of knowledge, then this confluence of interest dissolves the somewhat rigid ideological lines that both followers and uninformed critics attribute to these two thinkers. Admittedly, these divisions are engendered by the misunderstandings and terminological confusion that the two thinkers themselves generate.2 Oakeshott and Hayek were both in the business of “situating the mind,” that is, both understood rationality to be culturally saturated and modulated.3 For both Oakeshott and Hayek, customs, practices, and traditions are the fundamentum and the residua of practical reasoning. Oakeshott was inspired by the Diltheyan hermeneutic tradition; Hayek was schooled within the Austrian hermeneutic tradition emphasizing the lived subjectivity of experience.4 Both traditions take individuals to draw their self-­ understanding from what is conceptually to hand, a preexisting and dynamic web of linguistic, technological , social, political, and institutional constraints. The embedded mind does not merely respond to a given world; it is enacted through a particularized history of socioenvironmental coupling. This dynamic conception of cognition is manifest as the exercise of skillful know-­ how. This externalist view of mind is in sharp contrast to the Cartesian tradition that both Oakeshott and Hayek took to task—a chauvinistic and imperialist apriorism they diagnosed as corrosive of sociopolitical and ultimately moral freedom. It may appear eccentric to approach Oakeshott and Hayek from the perspective of cognitive science and the philosophy of mind, given that their reputations were established as social theorists.5 This said, if one is to do justice Franco.indb 248 8/2/12 8:44 AM oakeshott and hayek   249 to their explicitly anti-­ Cartesian stance, then mind and sociality—Janus-­ like—cannot be pried apart. The situated stance subscribes to the proposition that mind can coherently exist only at the nexus of the embodied, the social, and the artifactual. With this firmly in place, my motivation is to show that Oakeshott and Hayek 1. Offer a more sophisticated account of sociality than traditional sociology . They do not dispense with the vital methodological principle that retains the individual as a locus of cognition within a wider system—unlike a tradition of sociological theorizing that posits an inflated social ontology that makes no concessions to the mechanics of the mind and individualized learning patterns.6 2. Have a great deal of relevance beyond their usual sociopolitical constituencies —indeed, they are right at home in the non-­ Cartesian wing of cognitive science.7 As heretical as it might first sound, Oakeshott’s and Hayek’s hermeneutical stance is compatible with a nonreductive naturalism as espoused by non-­ Cartesian cognitive science. 3. And that (1) and (2) jointly inform their notion of epistemic modesty : that is, the recognition that the individual is necessarily subject to cognitive—and therefore epistemic—constraint, which manifests itself as their critique of rationalism in matters of sociality. Therein lies their distinctive brand of liberalism, a liberalism that tends to get lost in the intellectual crosscurrents that can be found in Oakeshott and Hayek. The order of business is as follows. The next section locates Oakeshott and Hayek within the non-­ Cartesian wing of recent cognitive science. This clears the space to make an attempt to unpack the intertwined notions of constructivism and rationalism that exercised both Oakeshott and Hayek in the following section. The penultimate section offers an assessment of the famous or, perhaps more accurately, infamous swipe by Oakeshott at Hayek in Rationalism in Politics. The final section offers a concluding perspective by drawing Oakeshott and Hayek together under what I take to be the distinctive feature of their liberalism—an embedded individualism. situating the mind Oakeshott and Hayek are known, to use the current argot, as “situated” theorists . Situated theorists take seriously the idea that cognition has an embodied, Franco.indb 249 8/2/12 8:44 AM 250   political philosophy social, and artifactual dimension.8 Indeed, the perpetual cybernetic impact of the artifactual world on the brain has outstripped any adaptive alteration of the genetic code.9 This distinctly non-­ Cartesian sensibility is captured by Oakeshott’s slogans: “[a] history of thought is a history of men thinking, not a ‘history’ of abstract, disembodied ‘ideas...


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