Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Philosophy (MA)

Degree Level





Warren Herold

Committee Member

Jacob Adler

Second Committee Member

Barry Ward


Adaptability, Anglo-American Conservatism, Black Swans, Complex Systems, Complexity Science, Conservatism, Human Civilization, Right-Leaning, Political Philosophy, Yaneer Bar-Yam


Although complex systems science is relevant to problems of political philosophy, the intersection of these two disciplines has not been studied in depth. Complex systems are made up of multiple interdependent parts whose interactions create emergent properties. This interdependence makes these systems “fat-tailed”: low-probability events can have a major impact on the system. Complex systems engineers have formulated a series of rules of thumb for approximating an “evolutionary” environment. Contemporary human civilization is a complex system; because of this, governments need to become adaptable and approximate the evolutionary environment by fostering policy innovation while at the same time promoting mechanisms for altering or abolishing “toxic” policies. The best way to apply the techniques of complex systems engineering to government is for there to be a preference for smaller jurisdictions, decentralized governance, bottom-up policy creation, and discretionary policy implementation. However, the goal of making governments adaptable must be balanced against the other goals of government. Thus, there are situations in which larger jurisdictions, etc. are appropriate—primarily, cases which involve risk of grave moral harm or otherwise insoluble collective action problems. The complex systems science approach to political philosophy grounds many widely-held intuitions, but also provides some support for the political philosophy of Anglo-American conservatism.