Research Jan Willem Lindemans

Research interests

  • Social norms, leadership and autonomy
  • Philosophy of economics: behavioral economics; social preferences; Austrian economics; cultural evolution.  
  • Political philosophy: classical liberalism; Friedrich Hayek.    

Affiliation: postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) and member of the Behavioral Ethics Lab (BeLab)

I am currently doing research on the relationship between leadership and autonomy. Autonomous individuals, who are capable of reflecting on and questioning fundamental values, play an important role in changing social norms. Using theory as well as experiments, I study whether and to what extent autonomy is important to leaders and to followers in situations of norm change. This research is conducted within the framework of a multidisciplinary project on autonomy, with amongst others Cristina Bicchieri and Sebastiano Bavetta, and funded by the John Templeton Foundation. We also collaborate with UNICEF and NGOs on changing social norms, like child marriage and sanitary norms, in developing countries. My previous research was on philosophy of economics, more specifically, on the methodology of Austrian economics (Friedrich Hayek).

Contact: lja {at}

Published papers:

2014 (co-authored with Bicchieri and Jiang), "A structured approach to a diagnostic of collective practices", Frontiers in Psychology, Vol. 5(1418).

Download from the Frontiers website.

ABSTRACT: “How social norms change” is not only a theoretical question but also an empirical one. Many organizations have implemented programs to abandon harmful social norms. These programs are standardly monitored and evaluated with a set of empirical tools. While monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of changes in objective outcomes and behaviors is well-developed, we will argue that M&E of changes in the wide range of beliefs and preferences important to social norms is still problematic. In this paper, we first present a theoretical framework and then show how it should guide social norms measurement. As a case study, we focus on the harmful practice of child marriage. We show how an operational theory of social norms can guide the design of surveys, experiments, and vignettes. We use examples from existing research to illustrate how to study social norms change.

KEYWORDS: social norms, child marriage, monitoring and evaluation, surveys, experiments, vignettes

2012, "Methodological individualism and cultural evolution: Ontogenetic and phylogenetic approaches to social order”, Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, Fall 2012, pp. 331-369.

Download from the QJAE website.

ABSTRACT: This paper is about the alleged tension between methodological individualism and evolutionary ideas in the work of Friedrich Hayek. This issue is much debated, but I focus my attention on a quite original incompatibility argument by Geoffrey Hodgson. Hodgson sympathizes with the evolutionary Hayek and aims his arrows especially at Hayek’s methodological individualism. He argues that the latter involves an “ontogenetic” approach to social science, while his evolutionary thinking suggests a “phylogenetic” approach. “Ontogenetic” and “phylogenetic” are terms from biology which Hodgson applies to the social sciences. “Ontogeny” then refers to the development not only of organisms but also of social systems on the basis of fixed developmental rules, while “phylogeny” refers to the evolution of such entities through selection upon variation. Hodgson believes that there is a “fatal conflict” in Hayek’s work between his “ontogenetic” methodological individualism and his evolutionary approach to culture. In this paper, I agree with Hodgson that methodological individualism can be seen as an ontogenetic approach to social science, but I give several arguments to show that ontogenetic and phylogenetic approaches are complementary rather than incompatible. Discussing the complexities of ontogeny and phylogeny in social theory, I show exactly how economics and evolution (can) relate to each other and apply these ideas to Hayek’s work.

KEYWORDS: Methodological individualism; spontaneous order; cultural evolution; Friedrich Hayek; Geoffrey Hodgson
JEL classification: B25, B31, B40, B52 

2011, “Hayek’s post-positivist empiricism: Experience beyond sensation”, in Leslie Marsh (ed.), Hayek in Mind: Hayek’s Philosophical Psychology (Advances in Austrian Economics, Volume 15), Bingley, UK: Emerald, pp. 143-170.

Download here or buy the book/chapter at Emerald.

Rather than reproducing the abstract, let me quote a referee report (with free summary and free publicity):

“This is an excellent paper; clear, literate, well-argued, and interesting.  It is a very useful addition to the growing literature on Hayek and The Sensory Order.  It displays a knowledge of the literature, handled without pedantry, coupled with a keen insight.  In short, I recommend that it be accepted without reservation. 

In the “structured abstract” (which seems like something foisted on an author by an editor or a journal rather than a natural vehicle an author might choose), the “purpose” was listed as deciding whether Hayek was an empiricist or a Kantian.  One could forgive a reader for packing it in at this point, expecting nothing more than some sterile categorizing, but what one gets is anything but.  As the author cogently shows, Hayek is not easily pigeon-holed in these terms, and the author’s eventual summing-up designation of “post-positivist empiricist” seems about right.  But what makes the paper is the discussion of the various forms of “experience”, and it is here that I think the author goes beyond anything previously written about The Sensory Order.

I do have a few negative things to say, but they are such minor quibbles that it is almost embarrassing to bring them up. ... 

Finally, I’d like to thank the author for what was, for once, a very pleasurable refereeing experience!” 

Working papers

"What, if anything, does it mean that social preferences 'explain' or 'cause' cooperation?"

Download from SSRN

ABSTRACT: Ken Binmore has argued that social preferences interpreted as revealed preferences, i.e. as behavioral dispositions rather than as mental events, are empty constructs. This paper shows that social preference models of behavior are not empty but constitute genuine causal explanations of behavior: They indicate how the environment causes behavior. To make that point, I construct a semi-formal framework to reduce utility functions to what I call "behavior functions". Once I have translated social utility functions into social behavior functions, the emptiness criticism is easily rebutted.

PhD thesis:

2013, The Road to Rejection and the Burden of Methodology: F. A. Hayek Reassessed. PhD obtained from the University of Leuven (KUL), Belgium. 

Download here (click and then download the pdf, because the google viewer messes up the formatting) or at the KUL website (restricted access)

Summary for the general public: 

In this dissertation, I try to solve the puzzle of the “transformation” of Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992) and draw some normative conclusions from this episode. Hayek scholars hold that, around 1936, the technical economist Hayek “transformed” into a broad philosopher, interested not only in economics but also in the history and methodology of economics and its normative implications. In the standard account, Hayek became a philosopher because he came to realize that there were philosophical reasons why his fellow economists disagreed with his economics. More specifically, Hayek believed that his fellow economists had blindly imitated the methods of the natural sciences. He concluded that he could only convince them about the value of his economics if he could explain them that their “scientistic” methodology is mistaken.

I show that this standard account is wrong. Hayek never transformed into a philosopher: textual analysis shows that he has always been a philosophical economist. On the other hand, something was clearly happening in the 1930s. I argue that this was a crucial period in the maturing of economics as a scientific discipline and that the philosopher-economist Hayek was a victim of this maturation process.

The idea that scientific disciplines mature comes from Thomas Kuhn. On the basis of a thorough study of the history of the natural sciences, Kuhn showed that a scientific discipline becomes mature when it settles upon one particular “paradigm” that contains the official methodology of that discipline and thus specifies how a scientist should do science in that discipline. In an immature discipline, by contrast, there are many different competing schools with their own methods.

The paradigmatic methodology on which economists gradually found an agreement in the 1930s instructed economists, much like the physicists, to construct elegant mathematical models of economic phenomena and use statistical analysis to test them against empirical data. For some period, Hayek tried both measuring and modeling, but he ultimately opted for a nonempirical and nonmathematical kind of theorizing, typical of the Austrian school of economics. This became increasingly unacceptable to his colleagues, who were joining the consensual paradigm. Hayek, however, believed he had good methodological reasons for his nonempirical and nonmathematical approach and increasingly gave the economic discussions with his colleagues a methodological twist. Again, this was unacceptable to these colleagues-economists. As is common in the Kuhnian stage of matured science, they felt that the days of great methodological debates were over and that it was time to be practical and just do science.  So they ended up rejecting Hayek.

I argue that there are good reasons why even social science should be mathematical and empirical. Social science should be mathematical because it should be empirical, and it should be empirical because it should not be decoupled from social reality. Moreover, I argue that there are good reasons why social scientists should not reason too much about methodology. I show that Hayek performed best when accidental circumstances kept him from “methodologizing” and that things go wrong when he increased his methodological efforts.

CV: Download here. It contains more information on working papers, etc.

You can also find me on the Social Science Research Network.

Subpages (1): Autonomy Project
Jan Willem Lindemans,
Apr 11, 2014, 11:36 AM
Jan Willem Lindemans,
Feb 13, 2013, 11:29 AM