Irrationality and Immorality: Exploring the Ethical Dimensions of Behavioral Public Policy


This paper critically explores the ethical dimensions of Behavioral Public Policy (BPP), a domain grounded in the understanding that human rationality is bounded and that this limitation often leads to behaviors deemed irrational. By applying the behavioral lens, which posits that people operate under bounded rationality, BPP aims to craft interventions that safeguard individuals against their biases. However, this approach raises significant ethical concerns, both in the scientific underpinnings of BPP and its application through policy interventions. Accordingly, this paper examines two distinct ethical dimensions of BPP, both as a scientific discipline and through its intervention methodologies. The analysis of the first dimension argues that, viewing bounded rationality as only instrumental in decision-making processes, risks oversimplifying ethical complexities. Such simplification may ignore the moral and value-based rationalities underlying decisions, potentially misattributing instances of immorality and akrasia (the failure to act according to one's judgment) to mere deficiencies in rational thinking. Secondly, the paper examines the impact of BPP on moral behavior and character development, addressing ethical concerns like the evidentiary basis of BPP research, the bounded rationality of choice architects themselves, and the morality of behavior changes induced by policy. Overall, this article provides a much-needed examination of the moral considerations associated with behavioral strategies in public policy and its epistemological foundations, contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of their ethical implications

Author's Profile

Alejandro Hortal
University of North Carolina, Greensboro


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