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Cultivating Conscience: How Good Laws Make Good People Hardcover – October 24, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


"Cultivating Conscience is a blistering attack on the 'law and economics' school, which has had an enormous impact in the US legal academy. . . . But despite that focus, Cultivating Conscience is not only for a US readership: its clear and highly readable style, enlivened by real-life examples, also makes it accessible and of great interest on this side of the Atlantic. . . . Cultivating Conscience is lucid and stimulating."--Bill Bowring, Times Higher Education

"[D]uality in human nature, and the connection between conscience and public policy, is masterfully examined in this book by Lynn A. Stout. . . . Cultivating Conscience is a forceful and rational proposition for reasonable change."--John Michael Senger, ForeWord Reviews

"Stout makes the compelling case that conscience is neither a rare nor quirky phenomenon, but a vital force woven into our daily lives. . . . This book proves that if we care about effective laws and civilized society, the powers of conscience are simply too important for us to ignore."--Marshal Zeringue, Campaign for the American Reader blog

"Cultivating Conscience is one of those rare books--essentially a single-theme book, an apologia for the author's subject matter--that eruditely comingles several fields of knowledge, is clearly and succinctly written, holds the reader's full attention throughout, and whose contents affect the reader's thoughts at unsuspecting times and on various topics long after reading is complete. In short, it is well worth reading by both laypersons and professionals."--Cynthia C. Siebel, PsycCRITIQUES

From the Back Cover

"Lynn Stout's rich and thought-provoking book explores the full spectrum of human behavior, from selfishness to self-sacrifice. Her insights will fascinate anyone interested in the law, economics, psychology, and everyday human existence."--Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse

"With evident pride in their own tough-mindedness, rational choice theorists have long insisted that people are self-interested in the narrow sense. Lynn Stout's tough-minded book should persuade all but the most stubborn of them to rethink their skepticism. The rest of us will find useful guidance for how to restructure environments to help bring out the best in everyone."--Robert H. Frank, author of The Economic Naturalist

"This concise book makes meaningful linkages between social science work and basic areas of the law in ways that will engage and resonate with general readers. Cultivating Conscience offers much food for reflection."--Robert C. Clark, Harvard Law School

"This is a powerful book. Its argument is timely, not only theoretically but practically. Eloquently written, a truly engaging read. This should be widely read--and, more importantly, acted upon."--Edward F. Fischer, Vanderbilt University


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (October 24, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691139954
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691139951
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #529,374 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By K. Hobbs on March 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The author critiques the common assumption, taught not only in economics but also in law, politics, and more, that humans are "homo economicus," i.e. rationally selfish utility maximizers whose primary (or sole) motivation is our own profit and well-being. Narrowly used, this model works well to describe our actions in a well regulated market, where the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker offer their products and services not for the well-being of their customers but to make money for themselves, but in so doing they benefit those customers. However, emphasizing our natural selfishness, and organizing our economy, laws, and politics to provide primarily or only external material rewards for behaviors we want to encourage and only external material costs to discourage other behaviors, ignores and unintentionally undermines our natural altruistic tendencies. Yes, we are naturally selfish, but we are also naturally altruistic, and social situations, laws, and expectations can influence which tendencies tend to motivate us and how. The author outlines results from experimental behavioral science showing that unselfish, prosocial behavior is common, crucial, and can be effectively encouraged and cultivated. (Even the fact that people take the time and effort to write unpaid book reviews for the benefit of others demonstrates this.) Ignoring conscience, and emphasizing only external rewards and punishments, sends the implicit message that we are expected to be and supposed to be solely selfish, thereby becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, and undermining the prosocial altruistic behavior and trust that is a necessary condition for a well functioning and prosperous society, including that market in which the butcher's selfish desire to be paid incentivizes him to work for the benefit of his customer.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By twzreviews on November 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
These were probably our most lively discussions we've had (and highest attendance). So many great moments... revelations, societal and personal, stirred by this great take on a complex subject with remarkable clarity and rivet. I emphatically recommend to your book club.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A. J. Sutter on May 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
According to Lynn Stout (LS), the "homo economicus" model -- the rational, calculating selfishness that is presented as a universal trait of human behavior in modern economics -- is anything but universal. While we may exhibit this sort of behavior some of the time or in certain contexts, e.g. when trading on the stock market, most of us are actually unselfish a great deal of the time. We don't drop garbage onto freshly-cleaned floors, we line up patiently for ice cream on a hot day, we usually obey the law and expect others to, as well.

LS describes experiments with certain types of games, which show that this unselfishness is common across cultures. They also show that depending on the rules of the game, "unselfish prosocial behavior" can be encouraged or undermined. Financial incentives -- the favorite remedy of economists, and judges and lawyers who follow the "law and economics" school of thought -- can actually undermine unselfishness. She cites the famous example of the (Israeli) day-care center that decided to fine parents who were late to pick up their children: lateness was even more frequent than in the pre-fine regime, because parents' guilt was transformed into the feeling that they were paying a bit more for the convenience of showing up later. Certain aspects of American law take this unselfishness into account. For example, those who injure the person or property of others through negligence (an example of what's called a "tort," in legalese) aren't expected to pay the full amount of the victim's damage, while those who seem to have been deliberately callous might have to pay far more than that amount, in punitive damages.

The book makes many good points. The "H. economicus" model is certainly flawed.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By jwstudio on November 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a really interesting book that covers a lot of ground in a very readable fashion. Stout has some great ideas for straightening things out and getting our country back on track. I highly recommend everyone take note. Smart and inspiring.
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