Research Methods in Consumer Law
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Research Methods in Consumer Law

A Handbook

Edited by Hans-W. Micklitz, Anne-Lise Sibony and Fabrizio Esposito

Consumer law is worthy of greater academic attention at a time when many new questions arise and old ones need new answers. This unique handbook takes the reader on a journey through existing literature, research questions and methods. It builds on the state of the art to offer a springboard for jumping to the heart of contemporary issues and equips researchers with a starter’s kit to weave together rich traditions, ranging from socio-economics to behavioural analysis.
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Chapter 3: Nudging and autonomy: a philosophical and legal appraisal

Philipp Hacker


While proponents of nudging claim that it respects basic liberal values such as freedom of choice, critics have mounted an ‘autonomy challenge’ to behaviorally informed interventions, portraying it as a menace to liberty, autonomy and dignity. This chapter sets out to assess the validity of these postulates with respect to human autonomy. Increasingly, the nudging literature is unpacking the procedural dimension of autonomous actions. However, what is lacking is a general theory describing autonomous processes which result in legally relevant actions. The chapter draws on contemporary philosophical conceptualizations of autonomy to propose such a coherent framework against which specific instances of nudging can be tested. This focus on the interference with autonomous cognitive processes allows a nuanced picture of nudges to be painted. In particular, they can be evaluated according to their degree of compliance with a cognitive ‘independent procedure requirement’. While many nudges are transparent enough – even in the specific ways in which they influence behavior – to pass muster under this test, others such as framing and default rules are found to limit individual autonomy. However, such limitations can be justified by appealing to a range of publicly defensible normative goals, such as public or individual health, greater equality or fairness. Only if such justification is unavailable or unconvincing, as in the case of subliminal advertisements, autonomy is in fact violated and the intervention must be rejected. In all other cases, measuring behavioral strategies against the yardstick of individual autonomy provides a necessary dimension of public control and accountability which, in turn, helps to reassert collective autonomy at the societal level.

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