Engineering Humans with Contracts

43 Pages Posted: 4 Sep 2016 Last revised: 15 Sep 2016

See all articles by Brett M. Frischmann

Brett M. Frischmann

Villanova University - Charles Widger School of Law

Evan Selinger

Rochester Institute of Technology - Department of Philosophy

Date Written: September 2, 2016


Contract law shapes the transactional environments where people formulate legally binding commitments and relationships. In general, contract law is understood to be a form of liberating infrastructure that greatly enhances individual and group autonomy and sociality. Yet conventional understanding may have it backwards. Contracting practices have changed dramatically over the past half-century to accommodate changes in economic, social, and technological systems, and may be more liberating for some (e.g., firms) than others (e.g., consumers). As implemented in electronic architecture, at least, contracts may be quite oppressive.

This Article shows how the current legal and technical architecture of electronic contracting nudges human beings to behave like simple stimulus-response machines and conditions us to become increasingly predictable and programmable. It develops a series of hypotheses to be tested, articulates a new Taylorist theory to explain the design of human-computer interfaces used to form electronic contracts, and defends a series of reform proposals.

Keywords: Electronic Contracts, Taylorism, Nudge, Techno-Social Engineering, Contracts

JEL Classification: K12, K10

Suggested Citation

Frischmann, Brett M. and Selinger, Evan, Engineering Humans with Contracts (September 2, 2016). Cardozo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 493, Available at SSRN: or

Brett M. Frischmann

Villanova University - Charles Widger School of Law ( email )

299 N. Spring Mill Road
Villanova, PA 19085
United States

Evan Selinger (Contact Author)

Rochester Institute of Technology - Department of Philosophy ( email )

92 Lomb Memorial Drive
Rochester, NY 14623-5670
United States
(585) 475-2531 (Phone)

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