This chapter outlines the history of the notion of spontaneous order, starting with an analysis of ideas akin to the concept of unplanned order that appeared in the writings of some of the ancient Greek philosophers. The chapter describes the change in the perception of economic phenomena in the Middle Ages and the development of reflection on market processes among the Salamanca School Scholastics. The chapter then presents the emergence, during the Enlightenment, of the idea that order can exist as an unintended effect of human interactions. It highlights the differences between the continental and Anglo-Saxon traditions and their influence on economic theories. It also describes the subsequent development of thought on unplanned order, with a particular focus on the legacy of the Austrian School of Economics.

This description shows that there is a historical connection between reflections on the idea of spontaneous order on the one hand and reflection on economic and, to a lesser extent, legal studies on the other. However, these reflections are almost non-existent in other areas of the social science, despite the general nature of spontaneous order as present in all spheres of human activity. In this chapter, which provides an account of the historical context for the emergence of this idea, the causes of this contrast are scrutinised.