Cultivating Conscience: How Good Laws Make Good People


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Cultivating Conscience How Good Laws Make Good People Lynn Stout. Editions . Hardcover. ISBN. pp. 5 1/2 x 8 1/2. Cultivating Conscience: How Good Laws. Make Good People. Lynn A. Stout. E X E C U T I V E S U M M A R Y ow can we get people to behave themselves?.

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Learn more about Amazon Prime. Contemporary law and public policy often treat human beings as selfish creatures who respond only to punishments and rewards. Yet every day we behave unselfishly--few of us mug the elderly or steal the paper from our neighbor's yard, and many of us go out of our way to help strangers.

We nevertheless overlook our own good behavior and fixate on the bad things people do and how we can stop them. In this pathbreaking book, acclaimed law and economics scholar Lynn Stout argues that this focus neglects the crucial role our better impulses could play in society. Rather than lean on the power of greed to shape laws and human behavior, Stout contends that we should rely on the force of conscience.

Stout makes the compelling case that conscience is neither a rare nor quirky phenomenon, but a vital force woven into our daily lives.

Cultivating Conscience: How Good Laws Make Good People

Drawing from social psychology, behavioral economics, and evolutionary biology, Stout demonstrates how social cues--instructions from authorities, ideas about others' selfishness and unselfishness, and beliefs about benefits to others--have a powerful role in triggering unselfish behavior. Stout illustrates how our legal system can use these social cues to craft better laws that encourage more unselfish, ethical behavior in many realms, including politics and business.

Stout also shows how our current emphasis on self-interest and incentives may have contributed to the catastrophic political missteps and financial scandals of recent memory by encouraging corrupt and selfish actions, and undermining society's collective moral compass. Learn more about Amazon Prime. Read more Read less. Customers who viewed this item also viewed. Page 1 of 1 Start over Page 1 of 1.

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Review Cultivating Conscience is a blistering attack on the 'law and economics' school, which has had an enormous impact in the US legal academy. Princeton University Press October 24, Language: Related Video Shorts 0 Upload your video. Share your thoughts with other customers. Write a customer review. There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later. According to Lynn Stout LS , the "homo economicus" model -- the rational, calculating selfishness that is presented as a universal trait of human behavior in modern economics -- is anything but universal.

While we may exhibit this sort of behavior some of the time or in certain contexts, e. We don't drop garbage onto freshly-cleaned floors, we line up patiently for ice cream on a hot day, we usually obey the law and expect others to, as well. LS describes experiments with certain types of games, which show that this unselfishness is common across cultures. They also show that depending on the rules of the game, "unselfish prosocial behavior" can be encouraged or undermined.

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Another flaw of the explanation -- and an ironic echo of the fallacy of psychological utility theory -- is that it assumes that because a trait exists today, it's therefore adaptive or useful in some way. This book proves that if we care about effective laws and civilized society, the powers of conscience are simply too important for us to ignore. LS's use of the word "conscience" seems to be inconsistent throughout the book. They would agree that such behaviors can be self-interested; indeed, the Chicago School accounts of altruism, crime, etc. LS declares that we are all "intuitive utilitarians" , Drawing from social psychology, behavioral economics, and evolutionary biology, Stout demonstrates how social cues--instructions from authorities, ideas about others' selfishness and unselfishness, and beliefs about benefits to others--have a powerful role in triggering unselfish behavior.

Financial incentives -- the favorite remedy of economists, and judges and lawyers who follow the "law and economics" school of thought -- can actually undermine unselfishness. She cites the famous example of the Israeli day-care center that decided to fine parents who were late to pick up their children: Certain aspects of American law take this unselfishness into account.

For example, those who injure the person or property of others through negligence an example of what's called a "tort," in legalese aren't expected to pay the full amount of the victim's damage, while those who seem to have been deliberately callous might have to pay far more than that amount, in punitive damages.

The book makes many good points. Usual law and economics scholarship does often come up with flawed or even perverse recommendations.

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Legislators and regulators ought to structure laws so that they don't undermine our tendency to be unselfish. And what I found to be maybe the simplest and most important point: Bad behavior grabs our attention more, misleading us into believing it's more prevalent than it is. These points are presented in a very clear style that reads as smoothly as the work of a professional journalist, which is quite an achievement for a law professor.

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While I agreed with these big points, and also with some of LS's more specific recommendations such as that companies not be treated the same as individuals under the law, since they more often exhibit selfish behavior than humans do , I was less persuaded, and sometimes confused or even troubled, by some of LS's supporting argumentation.

Moreover, with its combination of utilitarianism, scientism and elitism, the book comes across more as a sort of heterodox Law and Economics, rather than a "blistering attack" on it, as a blurb would have it. The rest of this long review focuses on these reservations. LS's use of the word "conscience" seems to be inconsistent throughout the book.

After emphasizing that the distinction between acts and feelings is crucial 12f , LS defines conscience as behavior: However egoistic her motive, the person who sacrifices time or wealth to help or avoid hurting someone has acted, objectively, unselfishly. As a result, this book will define an act as unselfishly prosocial when it requires the actor to sacrifice time, money, or some other valuable resource to help, or to avoid harming, others.

A principal theme of this book is that unselfish prosocial behavior -- conscience -- is a very real, very common, very powerful and very important phenomenon. Often in the rest of the book, though, the text vacillates between speaking of conscience as behavior and conscience as feeling. We don't need to fully understand the workings of conscience to study, and value, how it affects behavior. I'm surprised that none of the Princeton U. Press editors or peer reviewers caught this ambiguity about the most important word in the book.

Declaring psychological utility to be a "crafty and common" strategy of economists 33 , LS points out that "[a]ny and all types of philanthropic, destructive, or downright bizarre behaviors For economics to preserve its predictive power, we must assume people get utility primarily from improving their own material circumstances.

They would agree that such behaviors can be self-interested; indeed, the Chicago School accounts of altruism, crime, etc. But does LS's revisionism actually improve the predictive ability of economics? Drawing from behavioral economics, social psychology, and evolutionary biology, it demonstrates that, far from being rare and quirky, conscientious behavior is both common and predictable.

This approach allows us to apply the lessons of behavioral science to our understanding of how laws and rules shape human behavior.

Lynn Stout

Using examples drawn from negligence law, contract law, and criminal law, Cultivating Conscience shows how we can put conscience to work—to understand the law better, to use it more effectively, and to promote better people. The book offers an approach to cultivating ethical and cooperative behavior that can be employed not only by lawmakers and legal experts, but also by employers, educators, management specialists, charitable organizations, and civic leaders. Spontaneous generation is one of those wrong theories that clutter the basements of the biological sciences and that now look so very obviously wrong that it is hard to see how anyone could have taken them seriously in the first place.

How simple would the crucial experiment be?