Review of Philosophy and Psychology

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 511–529 | Cite as

Nudges, Agency, and Abstraction: A Reply to Critics

  • Cass R. Sunstein


This essay has three general themes. The first involves the claim that nudging threatens human agency. My basic response is that human agency is fully retained (because nudges do not compromise freedom of choice) and that agency is always exercised in the context of some kind of choice architecture. The second theme involves the importance of having a sufficiently capacious sense of the category of nudges, and a full appreciation of the differences among them. Some nudges either enlist or combat behavioral biases but others do not, and even among those that do enlist or combat such biases, there are significant differences. The third general theme is the need to bring various concerns (including ethical ones) in close contact with particular examples. A legitimate point about default rules may not apply to warnings or reminders. An ethical objection to the use of social norms may not apply to information disclosure. Here as elsewhere, abstraction can be a trap. We continue to learn about the relevant ethical issues, about likely public reactions to nudging, and about differences across cultures and nations. Future progress will depend on a high level of concreteness, perhaps especially in dealing with the vexing problem of time-inconsistency.


Choice Architect Default Rule Automatic Enrollment Time Inconsistency Active Choose 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I am grateful to Adrien Barton, Tyler Cowen, Elizabeth Emens, Till Grune-Yanoff, Daniel Kahneman, Lucia Reisch, and Richard Thaler for extremely valuable comments and discussions.

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Robert Walmsley University ProfessorHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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