Willpower and Legal Policy

Posted: 4 Jun 2010 Last revised: 6 Jun 2010

See all articles by Lee Anne Fennell

Lee Anne Fennell

University of Chicago - Law School

Date Written: December 1, 2009


People often act in ways that are inconsistent with their own stated desires. What, if anything, can or should legal policy do about this disjunction? In recent years, legal and social science scholarship has increasingly examined self-control and related concepts. In this review, I discuss the policy implications of this work. I begin by defining willpower, disaggregating it from other, related problems, and considering the terms of the intraself conflict it implies. Drawing on ideas that are well recognized in the literature, I divide the costs of willpower lapses and their prevention into the failure costs of bad decisions, the exercise costs associated with exerting willpower effort, and the erosion costs that individuals and society as a whole might incur over time if willpower is not regularly exercised. After surveying a variety of possible policy responses to self-control problems, I offer some suggestions for future research.

To obtain a pdf of the published paper, please email the author for a link, or use the link provided on the University of Chicago Law faculty webpage.

Suggested Citation

Fennell, Lee Anne, Willpower and Legal Policy (December 1, 2009). Annual Review of Law and Social Science, Vol. 5, pp. 91-113, 2009, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1599992 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev.lawsocsci.093008.131535

Lee Anne Fennell (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-702-0603 (Phone)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics