Justification Norms Under Uncertainty: A Preliminary Inquiry

29 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2011

See all articles by Claire A. Hill

Claire A. Hill

University of Minnesota Law School

Date Written: December 1, 2010


People making decisions under uncertainty may need to justify those decisions to their reputational community. This Essay considers when and how the potential need to justify might lead a decision-maker to employ a methodology better suited to yielding a justifiable choice that may not be the best choice. When a decision involves uncertainty, the possible outcomes and probabilities are not known. A broad consensus about a methodology that produces a good decision often may not exist. But norms will often arise as to acceptable methodologies - that is, methodologies that will be accepted as justifiable if justification is needed. The norms instantiate considerable stickiness - after all, the best way to demonstrate that something is (typically) “done” is to show that relevant others “do it.” This Essay identifies a particular pathology associated with the practice of favoring a justifiable decision over a “good” one, and argues that this pathology can have significant negative consequences. The main example discussed is the volume of subprime securities purchased. Other examples include the process by which CEOs are selected, and decisions regarding contract terms in complex business contracts.

Keywords: justification, norms, herding, uncertainty, risk

JEL Classification: D70, D81, K20, M51

Suggested Citation

Hill, Claire Ariane, Justification Norms Under Uncertainty: A Preliminary Inquiry (December 1, 2010). Connecticut Insurance Law Journal, Vol. 17, No. 1, p. 27, 2010, Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-32, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1922866

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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