Tenth Annual Fall Ethics Symposium

The Ethics of Nudges

Monday and Tuesday, November 16 - 17, 2015 / 9:00 - 11:30, 1:30 - 3:30 both days
Recital Hall, Cosumnes River College (Monday, November 16);
Redwood Room (University Union), Sacramento State (Tuesday, November 17)

Links to symposium Poster (color PDF) and Flyer (color PDF)

How can we help ourselves and others make decisions where things go well for the one deciding, while still respecting the freedom of the decider? Such “nudging” can be a delicate and difficult task, as anyone knows who has tried to parent a teenager or help a friend quit smoking. And ever since the publication of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's 2008 book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, the concept of “nudging” -- trying to get people to decide what is best for themselves while still respecting their freedom -- has been receiving increasing attention in both academic and popular conversations. From the way a school cafeteria arranges the placement of its veggie and desert options, to the way a university arranges incentives for students to graduate, to the way a corporation structures its employee pension contributions, the concept of “nudges” -- and the related concepts of manipulation, choice architecture, and “libertarian paternalism” -- are hot topics. Is it really possible for individuals to “nudge” one another without manipulation or coercion? Is it really a wise idea for the government to get (or stay) in the business of “nudging” one of its citizens for that citizen's own good? Come join us for two days of reflection and discussion on these and other ethical questions surrounding “nudges.”

This event is free and open to the general public. Here are links for Directions and a Campus Map for Cosumnes River College. Here are links for Directions and a Campus Map for Sacramento State.


Symposium Program


Monday, November 16, 2015: Cosumnes River College, Recital Hall

Videolink for entire 11/16 AM activity--you can navigate to the relevant start times for Intro (0:00), Main Speaker (13:52), and Q & A(51:46):

video icon Click to view (YouTube; 1 hour 59 min)


9:00 am - 9:15 am: Morning Refreshments, Coffee/Tea


9:15 am - 9:30 am: Greetings and Opening Remarks

Russell DiSilvestro
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director,
Center for Practical and Professional Ethics,
Sacramento State

Rick Schubert
Professor of Philosophy,
Cosumnes River College and Executive Director,
CRC-CPPE Fall Ethics Symposium Series

Christina M. Bellon
Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Philosophy,
Sacramento State

Edward Inch, Dean 
College of Arts and Letters,
Sacramento State

Edward C. Bush
President,
Cosumnes River College


9:30 am – 11:30 am Session #1: Nudged and Rational

Main Speaker: Timothy Houk, Ph.D candidate, Department of Philosophy, University of California Davis

Abstract: I aim to defend the practice of nudging against a particular moral concern. Some argue that nudging is morally objectionable because it somehow interferes with, or undermines, the rationality of the nudged agents. Promoting rational choice is good and preventing or thwarting rational choice is bad (perhaps because it violates people's autonomy or prevents them from giving informed consent). So nudging appears to be bad. However, I argue nudging does not typically threaten rationality in this way. I evaluate what effect nudging has on our deliberative process and our resulting decisions, and I argue that nudging typically leaves the nudged agent's rationality intact. Lastly, I explore what implications this has for nudging's supposed threat to autonomy.

Bio: Houk was educated at Sacramento State (BA, Philosophy), Biola University (MA, Philosophy of Religion and Ethics), and UC Davis (MA, Ph.D candidate, Philosophy). His teaching responsibilities include courses in the History of Ethics and Ethics and Social Problems in Contemporary Society, and he is the co-author (with Bernard Molyneux) of the forthcoming "Intuitions" article in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. He served as Conference Director of the 2014 Berkeley-Stanford-Davis Graduate Philosophy Conference, and has served since 2014 as the Website Manager for the UC Davis Philosophy Department. His doctoral dissertation is on the nature and moral status of manipulation.

Additional Panelists for this Session:

Gerald Dworkin
Distinguished Professor of Philosophy (Emeritus)
University of California Davis

Moti Gorin 
Assistant Professor of Philosophy 
Colorado State University

Dan Haybron 
Professor of Philosophy 
St. Louis University


11:30 am - 1:30 pm Lunch Break

Please visit one of the dining establishments serving the campus community.


1:30pm - 3:30 pm Session #2: Much Ado About Nudging

Videolink for entire 11/16 PM activity--you can navigate to the relevant start times for Main Speaker (4:32) and Q & A (1:02:28):

video icon Click to view (YouTube; 1 hour 57 min)

Main Speaker: Moti Gorin, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Colorado State University

Abstract: Some philosophers claim that libertarian paternalist interventions, i.e., so-called “nudges,” exert an illicit form of control over those whose behavior they influence. The worry is that nudgers, by exploiting various cognitive deficits, undermine the autonomy of nudgees. Such criticisms rest on an assumption the truth of which behavioral economists have openly called into doubt. The assumption is that people always, or almost always, have authentic preferences over the options confronting them, preferences that accurately reflect deeply held values. I argue that recent research strongly suggests that this assumption is false and that consequently autonomy-based objections to nudging fail. This narrow defense of nudging does not, however, let libertarian paternalists completely off the hook. Though there is nothing especially morally troubling about nudges they—like any form of influence—can be morally problematic when they are invasive or when they fail to aim at the right ends.

Bio: Gorin was educated at Rice University (PhD, MA, Philosophy) and The University of Pennsylvania (MBE, Bioethics). He has been an Assistant Professor at Colorado State since 2015; from 2013-2015 he was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Advanced Biomedical Ethics in the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Perelman School of Medicine (University of Pennsylvania).  His published work is primarily in moral philosophy, studying the nature and ethical dimensions of manipulation, both at a theoretical level and at various applied levels affecting decision-making in medical settings.

Additional Panelists for this Session:

Gerald Dworkin
Distinguished Professor of Philosophy (Emeritus) 
University of California Davis

Dan Haybron 
Professor of Philosophy 
St. Louis University

Timothy Houk
Ph.D candidate 
Department of Philosophy
University of California Davis


3:30 pm: Reception, Light Refreshments


Tuesday, November 17, 2015: Sacramento State, Redwood Room (University Union)

9:00 am - 9:15 am: Morning Refreshments, Coffee/Tea

9:15 am - 9:30 am: Greetings and Opening Remarks

Russell DiSilvestro
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director
Center for Practical and Professional Ethics
Sacramento State

Rick Schubert
Professor of Philosophy
Cosumnes River College and Executive Director 
CRC-CPPE Fall Ethics Symposium Series

Christina M. Bellon 
Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Philosophy
Sacramento State

Frederika "Fraka" Harmsen 
Provost 
Sacramento State

Robert S. Nelsen 
President
Sacramento State


9:30 am – 11:30 am Session #3 (Keynote Session): Choice Architecture and Lifestyle Infrastructure

Main Speaker: video icon Click to view/stream (YouTube; 45 min)
Q & A: video icon Click to view/stream (YouTube; 1 hour 14 min)

Main Speaker: Dan Haybron, Professor of Philosophy, St. Louis University

Abstract: The literature on nudges has tended to focus mainly on "point interventions" meant to encourage specific actions. In some cases, like setting default options to favor retirement savings, nudging seems unobjectionable. But as a broad approach to policy that aspires to substantially improve citizens' welfare, it raises reasonable concerns about paternalism and an unwelcome expansion of government: devising and implementing such nudges could require a costly and intrusive administrative apparatus that could be hard to monitor, and might not always be restrained or wise in its efforts to influence people's choices. I suggest that this approach misses the forest for the trees: some of the most important policy decisions affecting citizens' well-being have to do with the institutions, norms, and social and physical environment that shapes the way people live: lifestyle infrastructure. Tax and regulatory regimes, urban planning and transportation policies, agricultural subsidies, and many other policy choices play an enormous role in setting the stage on which people make their lives. (Consider how the American lifestyle has evolved since WWII.) Such choices are inevitable, and they bombard people with a daily blizzard of nudges that can profoundly influence their well-being. I argue that lifestyle infrastructure decisions constitute a central case of well-being policy, and require choices about which manner of nudges we wish to subject ourselves to. The result is perhaps a far more ambitious application of the nudge strategy than the standard approach; indeed such policy shapes not only choices, but also preferences. Yet ironically it may be less vulnerable to worries about government expansion and bureaucratic meddling: no effort is made to manage specific choices; policymakers simply add further information to their deliberations about policy choices they already have to make about matters that promise to strongly influence the way people choose to live. I suggest that it is a crucial element of policy that aspires to enable citizens better to achieve their values.

Bio: Haybron was educated at Rutgers University (PhD, Philosophy, 2001) and has been teaching in the Department of Philosophy at Saint Louis University since 2002.  His work is primarily in the psychology of well-being and its connections with issues in ethical and political thought.  He has written Happiness: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2013) and The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being (Oxford University Press, 2008), and he was recently named as the principal investigator on Happiness and Well-Being: Integrating Research Across the Disciplines, a $5.1 million project funded by the John Templeton Foundation (see http://www.happinessandwellbeing.org/ for more details).

Additional Panelists for this Session:

Gerald Dworkin
Distinguished Professor of Philosophy (Emeritus) 
University of California Davis

Moti Gorin 
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Colorado State University

Timothy Houk 
Ph.D candidate
Department of Philosophy 
University of California Davis


11:30 am - 1:30 pm Lunch Break

Please visit one of the dining establishments serving campus in the University Union or Riverfront Center.


1:30pm - 3:30 pm Session #4: Nudge? Nudge? Think. Think.

video icon Click to view entire session (YouTube; 1 hour 46 min)

Main Speaker: Gerald Dworkin, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy (Emeritus), University of California Davis

Abstract: Why should you not call yourself a libertarian paternalist? Why might nudging be bad? Even if nudging is not always bad, still, when might nudging be criticized? Unlike paternalism, which, when wrong, has a clear explanation of why it is wrong--because it interferes with liberty or autonomy--nudges, when wrong, may be wrong for lots of different reasons which have no obvious unifying explanation.

Bio: Dworkin was educated at UC Berkeley (PhD, Philosophy, 1966) and taught at Harvard, MIT, the University of Illinois Chicago, and then for many years in the Department of Philosophy at UC Davis until he retired as Distinguished Professor in 2011. His work in moral and political philosophy includes many reflections on paternalism, where someone attempts to restrict another's freedom for the alleged benefit of the one whose freedom is restricted. Among his many writings are his books Morality, Harm, and the Law (Westview Press, 1984), The Freedom and Practice of Autonomy (Cambridge University Press, 1988) and (co-authored with R. G. Frey and Sissela Bok) Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide: For and Against (Cambridge University Press, 1998).

Additional Panelists for this Session:

Moti Gorin
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Colorado State University

Dan Haybron
Professor of Philosophy
St. Louis University

Timothy Houk 
Ph.D candidate 
Department of Philosophy 
University of California Davis


3:30 pm: Reception, Light Refreshments

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

Academic Technology and Creative Services, Sacramento State 
Visiting Scholars Program, Sacramento State
Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium
Wagenlis Foundation