June Carbone and Naomi Cahn on “Behavioral Biology, the Rational Actor Model, and the New Feminist Agenda”

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FeministLawProfs June Carbone and Naomi Cahn have posted to ssrn their new article, “Behavioral Biology, the Rational Actor Model, and the New Feminist Agenda.”   From the abstract:

[This paper] will incorporate gender conciousness into critiques of the rational actor model by revisiting Carol Gilligan’s account of moral development.   Economics itself, led by the insights that have come from game theory, is reexamining trust, altruism, reciprocity and empathy.   Behavioral economics, defined as “the combination of psychology and economics that investigates what happens in markets in which some of the agents display human limitations and complications,” further explores the implications of a more robust conception of human motivation.   We argue that the most likely source for a comprehensive theory will come from the integration of behavioral economics with behavioral biology, and that this project will in turn depend on the insights that come from evolutionary analysis, genetics and neuroscience. Considering the biological basis of human behavior, however, and, indeed, realistically considering the role of trust, altruism, reciprocity and empathy in market transactions, we argue, will require reexamination of the role of gender in the construction of human society.

The full article is  here.

This abstract caught our eye because the  authors discuss the search for a “comprehensive theory” of behavior.   Janet Halley has an interesting take on the utility of theory.   In Split Decisions: How and Why to  Take a Break  from Feminism,  Halley writes:

[S]ometimes we deploy the theory that results prescriptively: we stipulate that it does or must describe reality and explain why different aspects of it are good or bad, and point the only way to emancipation …. When we’re behaving this way, we’re set by default to say that if anyone takes a break from our theory, she becomes incapable of noticing or caring about real-world moments when theory’s constitutents are oppressed, injured, exploited, harmed….

Some of Halley’s readers are more sympathetic to this argument than others, but in any case Carbone and Cahn are up to Halley’s challenge.   Their article is worth reading precisely because it suggests that multiple theories — and academic disciplines — provide more insight than any single one.  

-Bridget Crawford and Amanda Kissel

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