The Central Planner: What Exactly Does He Explain?

Carplips / Foter / CC BY-NC

Aristippus has written here on the deep roots of Hayek’s Fatal Conceit in Western philosophy. I think we can make an argument that positing central design in the face of an already-sufficient emergent explanation is a violation of Ockham’s Razor: “Do not multiply entities beyond necessity.”

For example, consider an anthill. An untrained observer stumbling upon such a miracle might falsely assume that its overall design is directed through messaging from a “grand architect ant” to its underlings. This understanding would be false. Ants do have a diversity of roles. But no single ant – or even a small group of “ant elites” – is responsible for the phenomenon of the anthill. Bit-by-bit, the anthill has been constructed from nothing more than lots of ants, each following its own innate tendencies, blind to the scope and sweep of the work of its compatriots or the collective outcome of their efforts.

Once we have a sufficient explanation of the phenomenon of the anthill – that the efforts of innumerable ants, each acting in accordance with its instincts, moving dirt bit-by-bit, has given rise to the overall phenomenon – it is now superfluous to tack on a grand architect ant or central-planner ant. There is nothing left to be explained by such an entity and it is, thus, an offense to reason to gratuitously posit it.

To return to the topic of language and how words come to be defined, the mistake of positing legislation of language is the same as positing a central-planner ant: it multiplies entities beyond necessity. “Words are memes that can be pronounced”, says Daniel Dennett. In fact, the word is the archetypal meme. We do not need a legislator or central-planner in order to explain the origins of words – people just make them up willy-nilly and then they spread or perish like the memes they are. Language – and the human brain – is more complex than ants and their behavior but the principle remains – to add entities to an already sufficient explanation is to mar the purpose of explanation.

We have eliminated a designer from biology because he is unneeded and to posit one anyway is grotesque. The linguists have eliminated a designer from language. The economists are still struggling to eliminate the designer from the economy.



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