Natural Rationality | decision-making in the economy of nature


Kahneman and Sunstein on moral psychology and institutions

What does a professor of law and political Science and a Nobel-prize winning economic psychologist/behavioral economist can write about? The interplay of cognition and institution, of course ! In a paper posted on the SSRN website, Kahneman and Sunstein discuss how the combination of dual-process theories of cognition (the idea that we have a fast and intuitive "System I" and a deliberative "System II") and research on moral intuitions can help understanding institutional decision-making:

Moral intuitions operate in much the same way as other intuitions do; what makes the moral domain is distinctive is its foundations in the emotions, beliefs, and response tendencies that define indignation. The intuitive system of cognition, System I, is typically responsible for indignation; the more reflective system, System II, may or may not provide an override. Moral dumbfounding and moral numbness are often a product of moral intuitions that people are unable to justify. An understanding of indignation helps to explain the operation of the many phenomena of interest to law and politics: the outrage heuristic, the centrality of harm, the role of reference states, moral framing, and the act-omission distinction. Because of the operation of indignation, it is extremely difficult for people to achieve coherence in their moral intuitions. Legal and political institutions usually aspire to be deliberative, and to pay close attention to System II; but even in deliberative institutions, System I can make some compelling demands.
[found thanks to The Brooks blog]

On dual-process theories of reasoning, see Stanovich , Keith E. and West, Richard F. (2000) Individual Differences in Reasoning: Implications for the Rationality Debate?.(BBS online archive).

  • Kahneman, Daniel and Sunstein, Cass R., "Indignation: Psychology, Politics, Law" (July 2007). U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 346 Available at SSRN: