Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
About us Faculty of Philosophy Organization News & Events Events

Bart Engelen: Moral Nudging: Oxymoron or Imperative?

When:We 19-01-2022 15:15 - 16:45
Where:Faculty of Philosophy, Room Omega (t.b.c. depending on Corona)

Second 2021/2022 Groningen PPE Colloquium

Nudges are deliberate changes to people’s choice environments and the framing of their options in an attempt to influence their behavior. Despite the initial focus on paternalistic nudges that promote the wellbeing of those targeted by nudges, the literature increasingly discusses nudges that can be labeled ‘prosocial’ (e.g. donating to charities), ‘civic’ (e.g. paying taxes) and ‘green’ (e.g. reducing energy or water consumption). Relatively little attention has been paid, however, to so-called ‘moral nudges’ that are aimed at facilitating, encouraging and, if successful, promoting moral thinking, feeling and acting.

In this talk, which is based on joint work with Thomas Nys (University of Amsterdam), I will first conceptualize and illustrate moral nudging, after which I will discuss and largely defuse worries about moral nudging being an oxymoron. The main worry here is that nudging is antithetical to and undermines specific kinds of motivations or attitudes that are arguably needed for genuine moral thinking, feeling and acting. The quasi-automaticity, thoughtlessness and effortlessness (of the heuristics and biases) that nudges tap into is arguably at odds with the autonomy, reflectiveness, responsibility and authenticity that genuine moral decision-making supposedly requires, i.e. doing the right thing for the right reasons. When designed and implemented wisely, we argue that nudges do not necessarily undermine this kind of attentiveness to the right reasons and do not uncritically assume whatever bias exists. Building on (John Stuart Mill’s notion of) ‘moral ethology’ and recent conceptions of ‘public ecology’, we argue that deliberately designing ‘moral ecologies’ that avoid or prevent immoral behavior and that help focus scarce cognitive resources on what really matters is crucial. Moral nudging then is arguably an imperative, not an oxymoron.

Bart Engelen

Bart Engelen is an Associate Professor at Tilburg University (The Netherlands) and is affiliated with the Tilburg Center for Moral Philosophy, Epistemology and Philosophy of Science (TiLPS). His research focuses on the borders between ethics, political philosophy and economics. He has published on issues surrounding rationality, paternalism, voting and the role of preferences in economics. Recently, he has focused primarily on ethical and conceptual issues that arise with respect to nudges: techniques used to steer people’s behavior by redesigning people’s choice architectures. He has published on how nudging relates to manipulation, rationality, autonomy, transparency, and ethics more generally and how nudges can and should be implemented in health promotion and moral education.