Behavioral Ethics Meets Behavioral Law and Economics

The Oxford Handbook of Behavioral Economics and the Law, Forthcoming

27 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2013 Last revised: 26 Dec 2015

See all articles by Yuval Feldman

Yuval Feldman

Bar-Ilan University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: October 3, 2013


The present chapter attempts to map the literature of ethical decision making in psychology and management and examine the ways in which it could shape behavioral law and economics. In the last ten years, research in the field of ethical decision making has grown exponentially, mainly in the area of behavioral ethics or bounded ethicality. The new literature uncovers the various cognitive and motivational mechanisms that cause good people to engage in bad behaviors. This shift in focus has made ethical decision making an important area both normatively and descriptively for the scholarship on management. In the present chapter I make the case that as a result of the shift, this literature has become important to the law in general and to the domain of behavioral law and economics in particular. Moreover, I argue that to some extent this literature poses a much greater threat to the assumptions of rationality than does classical behavioral law and economics because it reexamines both the "self" in self-interest and the limited importance of "choices" in accounting for people's decisions and behaviors. In conducting this review, I examine all of the important paradigms and biases that have been developed in this area, such as moral disengagement, self-deception, moral licensing, automaticity of self-interest, moral hypocrisy, elastic justification, ethical fading, blind spots, and the dishonesty of honest people. I argue that although there has been a significant advance in the understanding of ethical decision making, our understanding is still not as developed as it seems, with numerous and at times conflicting paradigms attempting to describe how good people are responsible for bad deeds. I attempt to create some order on the descriptive side, explaining the principal taxonomies and highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. On the normative side, I show how the mechanisms developed by this literature uncover the limited ability of current enforcement strategies to shape behavior. The chapter concludes with some tentative suggestions on how to overcome these limitations and address the unaware, automatic unethical behaviors that are described by the bounded ethicality literature. In particular, I focus the legal feasibility of concepts such as dual reasoning enforcement, statistical unethicality, disambiguation, accountability and reflection.

Keywords: Bounded Ethicality, Behavioral Ethics, Good People, Nudge, Enforcement; dual system reasoning, self interest, automaticity

JEL Classification: K19, K42, A13, K23

Suggested Citation

Feldman, Yuval, Behavioral Ethics Meets Behavioral Law and Economics (October 3, 2013). The Oxford Handbook of Behavioral Economics and the Law, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Yuval Feldman (Contact Author)

Bar-Ilan University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Faculty of Law
Ramat Gan, 52900

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