Yuval Feldman — Perception of Legality, Dual-Process Reasoning, and Ethical Decision-Making

The fifth Edmond J. Safra Lab seminar met on October 10, 2012, and was led by Lab Fellow, Professor Yuval Feldman. During his fellowship, Professor Feldman will engage in a number of collaborative experimental projects all related to the implicit and explicit effects of law on ethical decision-making. Notions of compliance, performance, and bounded ethicality permeated the discussion as participants considered specific examples and attempted to discern the role of behavioral analysis in instances of legal and moral ambiguity and then apply it to institutional corruption research.

Professor Feldman opened his presentation by highlighting the recent Olympic games controversy involving several women's Badminton teams and a men's Basketball team deliberately throwing their games in order to place into less competitive elimination round brackets. These scenarios, as Professor Feldman explained, serve as good examples of the limits of compliance in situations of legal and moral ambiguity. In the context of institutional corruption, each case presents a situation where it's not simply an issue of following set rules, but rather what to do when "good players" do "bad stuff." What's more, it speaks to the core of one of Professor Feldman's research concerns: do people adopt favorable views of ambiguous risks relative to ones with known probabilities to justify unfair behavior?

Participants were eager to comment on Professor Feldman's use of sports analogies to moments of legal and moral ambiguity relating to institutional corruption. One participant disagreed about these scenarios being classified as ambiguous and contended that they are merely moments where there is a lack of process evidence next to the "smoking gun." Conversely, another participant commented that these analogies provide wonderful examples of how complexity can lead to institutional and organizational corruption. For example, unless you're a member of a specific practice, such as basketball, it might not be so obvious to see that the system is being gamed. This same mode of thinking could be applied when considering compliance in complex professions. At this point in the discussion, one seminar participant remarked that there might be an artificial distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Instead of asking the question if law has something to add to this dual system reasoning, law might be able to reconceptualize these distinctions. As a result, the conversation then shifted to notions of plasticity of the law, and several examples were given on how plastic outcomes can be as a result of the law.

In summary, seminar participants discussed numerous examples of ambiguity in recent case law and the idea of bounded ethicality in the context of institutional corruption. Further, ideas of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations were discussed at length, which led to a discussion regarding the plasticity of the law.