Social Nudges: Their Mechanisms and Justification
In this paper I argue that the use of social nudges, policy interventions to induce voluntary cooperation in social dilemma situations, can be defended against two ethical objections which I call objections from coherence and autonomy. Specifically I argue that the kind of preference change caused by social nudges is not a threat to agents’ coherent preference structure, and that there is a way in which social nudges influence behavior while respecting agents’ capacity to reason. I base my arguments on two mechanistic explanations of social nudges; the expectation-based and frame-based accounts. As a concrete example of social nudges I choose the “Don’t Mess With Texas” anti-littering campaign and discuss in some detail how it worked.
The idea of this paper was born in Manchester where I worked as Sustainable Consumption Institute postdoc for the project Motivations of Indifference led by late Peter Goldie. I regret that I cannot show this to Peter. I thank Michael Scott for his support during the project. The paper developed thanks to the comments I received in Manchester, Rotterdam, Trento, Helsinki, Oviedo and Madrid. I am grateful to the University of Oviedo for the research visit grant, and Armando Menéndez Viso for his hospitality. I also thank David Teira for inviting me to UNED, Madrid. Two anonymous reviewers and the editors helped me improve the paper substantially, for which I am grateful. Finally I thank Miles MacLeod for a “buddy” language check. All the remaining mistakes are mine.
Compliance with ethical standards
This research was initiated while I was funded by Sustainable Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester (2009-2010); I am currently funded by TINT/Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences, University of Helsinki. The paper also benefited from my research visit to the University of Oviedo (Nov. 2014) funded by the same university. I believe there is no conflict of interest involved in this research.
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