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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: February 2018

7 - The Division of Knowledge after Mandeville




We have seen Hayek credit Mandeville with the “twin ideas” of evolution and spontaneous order. Mandeville's close contemporary Giambattista Vico has also been cited for his anticipation of the idea of spontaneous order. Hirschman (1977, p. 17) notes that “Adam Smith's Invisible Hand” can be “read into” Vico's work. “But,” Hirschman cautions, “there is no elaboration and we are left in the dark” about how it all works. Moreover, in The New Science Vico articulates a stages theory of the history of the rise and decline of nations (1744, pp. 509–35) and attributes natural law to divine providence (1744, pp. 313–17). It is Divine Providence that has ordained both “the republics” and “the natural law of the people.” Vico thus seems an improbable source for enriching our understanding of SELECT knowledge, i.e., knowledge that is synecological, evolutionary, exosomatic, constitutive, and tacit.

In book I, chapter I of The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith gives two distinct accounts of the division of knowledge. On the one hand, the division of labor applies to “science”:

In the progress of society, philosophy or speculation becomes, like every other employment, the principal or sole trade and occupation of a particular class of citizens. Like every other employment too, it is subdivided into a great number of different branches, each of which affords occupation to a peculiar tribe or class of philosophers; and this subdivision of employment in philosophy, as well as in every other business, improves dexterity, and saves time. Each individual becomes more expert in his own peculiar branch, more work is done upon the whole, and the quantity of science is considerably increased by it.


This passage seems to suggest that speculative knowledge is an offshoot of constitutive knowledge. Peart and Levy say: “In Adam Smith's account, philosophy is a social enterprise that begins with universal experience” (Peart and Levy 2005, p. 4, n. 1).

Of more humble forms of knowledge, Smith says, “Observe the accommodation of the most common artificer or day-labourer in a civilized and thriving country, and you will perceive that the number of people of whose industry a part, though but a small part, has been employed in procuring him this accommodation, exceeds all computation.”

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