Banal Behavior: A Study of Non-Choice

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Penn Journal of Philosophy, Politics & Economics
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Social and Behavioral Sciences
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Harding, Lauren M

Both the classical and behavioral models of decision-making fall short of sufficiently explaining irrational individual decisions and paradoxical social phenomena. The theory of non-choice offers a more satisfying account of individual decision-making. A review of the deficiencies in the classical and behavioral models demonstrates the need for a new conception of choice. Drawing upon the philosophies of Hannah Arendt and Immanuel Kant, among others, choice is defined as the alignment of thought, will, and action. Stemming from this new model of choice is the theory of non-choice, defined as either the misalignment of the tripartite decision process or a decision made without thought. The new conceptions of choice and non-choice salvage human rationality and freedom in individuals’ decisions, even when the decision outcomes are against individuals’ self-interest. Redefining social norms as the collection of individual non-choices more thoroughly explains widespread, illogical social behavior. Cases of behavioral phenomena with negative externalities, including practices of female genital mutilation/cutting and foot-binding, are examined alongside those with positive externalities, including the voting paradox and organ donation. The concept of non-choice included in these case studies signals that individuals’ counter-preferential behavior is not necessarily caused by irrational decisions, nor motivated by evil or altruistic preferences; rather, it is banal behavior. The banality of evil and the banality of goodness on a large-scale have implications for assigning responsibility to individual action and for motivating pro-social decisions. Most significantly, the concept of non-choice offers normative guidance for the individual decision maker to salvage her rationality and freedom of choice amid the presence of coercive social norms.

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