Inaugural Lecture Prof.dr. P. Mascini: Law and behavioral sciences: Why we need less purity rather than more

Date and time – 11 March 2016, 4 pm
Location – Woudestein, Aula, Rotterdam

I will use the occasion of my inaugural lecture to reflect upon my position as a sociologist in the behavioral study of law. I will do this by positioning myself in relation to three such approaches: behavioral sociology, law and economics, and behavioral economics. Although few direct links exist between behavioral sociology and law and economics, they share a desire for purity in the behavioral study of law. With scientific purity I mean the deliberate choice to postulate a limited number of universally applicable behavioral principles. The guiding principle of behavioral sociology is that law behaves in correspondence to social space, while the guiding principle of mainstream law and economics is that individuals behave rationally. Behavioral economists have challenged the principle of the rational actor and, consequently, have also challenged the desire for scientific purity in law and economics.

I will defend a two-fold thesis: first, that the purification of sociology proposed by behavioral sociology is a blind alley that can only be exited by allowing impurity. Second, that the behavioral economics movement has offered mainstream law and economics an opportunity to reinvigorate by embracing impurity. The combination of the two parts of my thesis lead me to the claim that we need less purity in the behavioral study of law rather than more. I will end my lecture by stating that the introduction of impurity that has been started by behavioral economics needs to be extended in several respects. I will propose to replace the behavioral study of law by an approach that not only takes empirical research seriously, but also adopts a modest attitude by surrendering the ambition to come up with universally applicable predictions and by taking seriously meaningful behavior.

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