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Second-Order Decisions

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School

Edna Ullmann-Margalit

Hebrew University of Jerusalem - Center for the Study of Rationality

Ethics, 2000

People are often reluctant to make decisions by calculating the costs and benefits of alternative courses of action in particular cases. Knowing, in addition, that they may err, people and institutions often resort to second order strategies for reducing the burdens of, and risk of error in, first order decisions. They make a second order decision when they choose one from among such possible strategies. They adopt rules or presumptions; they create standards; they delegate authority to others; they take small steps; they pick rather than choose. Some of these strategies impose high costs before decision but low costs at the time of ultimate decision; others impose low costs both before and at the time of ultimate decision; still others impose low costs before decision while exporting to others the high costs at the time of decision. We assess these second-order strategies and provide grounds for choosing among them in both legal and nonlegal contexts, by exploring the extent to which they minimize the overall costs of decision and costs of error. We also attempt to cast light on political, legal, and ethical issues raised by second-order decisions.

Note: This article formerly was University of Chicago Law School, Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper No. 01.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 37

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Date posted: November 19, 1999  

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R. and Ullmann-Margalit, Edna, Second-Order Decisions. Ethics, 2000. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=193848 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.193848

Contact Information

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)
Harvard Law School ( email )
1575 Massachusetts Ave
Areeda Hall 225
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2291 (Phone)
Edna Ullmann-Margalit
Hebrew University of Jerusalem - Center for the Study of Rationality ( email )
Feldman Building
Jerusalem, 91904
972-26513681 (Fax)
Feedback to SSRN

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