Rationality in an Unjust World: A Research Agenda

34 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2010

See all articles by Claire A. Hill

Claire A. Hill

University of Minnesota Law School

Date Written: December 15, 2009


The decision to forsake large or long-term benefits, or incur large costs, for small, short term benefits is often referred to as irrational, as are people who make such a decision. The author suggests that some people making these “irrational” decisions may have a rational basis that derives from a view that the world is unjust or not just. Policy-makers’ main tool to influence socially undesirable behaviour is to assess penalties such as monetary fines or prison sentences. The author contends that for people who do not hold a just world view, this approach may be less effective than policy-makers believe it to be. Following a detailed examination of the literature on just and unjust world views, the author defines a “just enough” world view, according to which people believe the world is sufficiently just that they behave as if it is just. This, she argues, is the world view that lawmakers and policy-makers assume people to have. She then considers how cost-benefit computations differ as between someone with a just enough world view and someone who believes that the world is not just enough. People may assess the benefits of an action offering short-term benefits but long-term costs similarly, whatever their world view. But people who think the world is not just enough may assess the costs of such an action to be much lower. They may think that whatever they do, they could be penalized; they may compute the additional penalty for the action offering the short-term benefit as comparatively small. Policy-makers fail to take this into account. Finally, the author encourages further research to determine how people who do not believe the world is just enough may respond differently to law’s attempts to influence their behaviour.

Keywords: rationality, just world belief

JEL Classification: D84, K42

Suggested Citation

Hill, Claire Ariane, Rationality in an Unjust World: A Research Agenda (December 15, 2009). Queen's Law Journal, Vol. 35, No. 1, 2009, Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-02, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1534904

Claire Ariane Hill (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

229 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States
612-624-6521 (Phone)

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