Good evening, Agnes.
Tonight, I'd like to start us nearer to legal phenomena and go from there, to
talk about what we think about that. So one example is a classic legal case
about fraud. Long ago, in the back of a magazine, there was an ad that said,
"Surefire Insect Killer." And if you sent off the money that it requested, you
got back in the mail two pieces of wood with instructions, place insect
between woods, squish; Surefire Killer. And this was ruled as fraud. And these
people were prosecuted under fraud, for having deceived their customers, even
though we might think it was literally true. It was not true enough for the
courts. That's one case.
My other case is a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that said that many states which
had made it illegal to lie about having military medals, which was a common
tactic to attract dates, you know, get people to go on a date with you and
maybe even have sex because you were a military hero. People have been lying
about that, states had made that illegal, criminal penalty and Supreme Court
said, "No, you have a free speech right to lie about military medals. And they
may not prohibit that unless it's something like the fraud statute where
somebody is getting money out of you."
So we have these contrasting attitudes toward lying, where on the one hand, if
it's business and some sort of money is at stake, then we are very aggressive
to prevent fraud. On the other hand, if it's about romance, and not only are
we not aggressive, we're going to assert your constitutional right to lie
about whatever it is, even if that leads to sex or other big consequences.
So that's the contrasting cases, we can start with to ponder what this says
about us. So I would see it says something about somehow we treat romance and
relationships as fundamentally a different sphere than business. And we want
law in dealing with business and apparently not with romance. But that's a
first way of framing it. But what do you think?
Yeah, I mean, I think it's going to depend, like, even in the romance, there
were cases like people not disclosing HIV status, right? Where that could
Right. So that, then health and business would be areas where we want law
involved, if – health maybe. So this is also true in cases of disclosure for
products. So if you have a house or a car and it has health risks, then you
are required to disclose those things. But if you buy an ugly dress, they're
not required to tell you it's ugly, or out of fashion. That's not a required
disclosure. But you know, and so, we again, have these different spheres.
Yeah, I mean, I was thinking about a case I saw I think, Bryan Caplan posted
on Twitter, what should be the punishment for students who disrupt a speaker,
behave disruptively? Like I can't remember the exact question but sort of
like, you know, suppose the students are like protesting a speaker, I guess,
but they like go so far as to actually disrupt it. That's what I took, like,
how that should be.
And what should be the punishment, right? And like most people said, you know,
something like warning or less, like, and then you know, there's this like
expulsion went up, but I was in the club of people who are not very severe.
And this is similar, right? Like how, how severe should we be – how should we
deal with this case of students behaving disruptively? And I guess my thought
is, in that case, in case of many – in many phenomena that verge on the
disciplinary inside of education, I'm like, well, I think we should educate
them instead of punishing them.
And I wonder whether our desire to use the law tracks the thought that
education is not a real prospect. So like a lot of lying, a lot of contexts in
which people might lie to us. We would like want them – we don't just want
them not to lie to us, like our loved ones. We don't just want them not to lie
to us. We want them not to lie to us for the right reasons. Like because they
care about telling us the truth, right? Because they care about us.
Whereas like, when we want like a company to behave in a certain way towards
us, with respect to like how it markets its products, maybe we are not caring
so much about its motive, we've accepted that it's like a profit motive and
they don't love us. And so there we're more willing to use the law to say,
"Let's just whip them into shape. And let's not hold out the prospect of
following the rules through a kind of understanding of the rightness of those
So there's clearly several different issues going on here. One is you could
have some sort of overall attitude or reluctance to punishment, and that could
be independent of topic. Another issue is firms versus individuals. But, you
know, I might say we also punish individuals when they have lie in ways that
produce health harms or financial harms, so it's not just about businesses.
And it does seem to me, for example, that people who wanted to make the
military medal lying, it's– I don't think anybody really was expecting these
liars to get educated in order, I mean, they think that they are encouraged
because they're gaining advantage, and they are going to continue to gain an
advantage. So there's no education program out there to train or teach people
who lie about military medals, and I think Supreme Court ruling didn't produce
that new program. It was just saying that you should be able to worry about
that and letting it be at that.
Right. But the point is not really about those specific cases, but about that
whole sphere of human activity. Right. So you have this like sphere of value,
which is like military honor, right? And there's people traffic in this value.
And it's desirable, that, in general, we comport ourselves in relation to this
value, by way of like, an inner understanding of its meaning and significance,
rather than, like a set of incentives that are not like directly related to
that, like, "I'll get in trouble if I behave like this."
So we set aside that sphere, the sphere of military honor, as being like a
sphere where we want that, in general, it's important enough to us that the
behavior in relation to it be regulated by an understanding of its meaning
that we're actually going to lose out, we're going to get some behavior that
doesn't get punished, in effect, as that we're willing pay that price. And the
same would might be true of romance.
But by paying this price, are we doing anything whatsoever to produce this
outcome? So, I...
Yes. It's sort of like, if you think about, like, suppose that in order to get
your kids to behave in a certain way, you'd have to hit them. And you could
get them to behave that way. Right? But you'd have to hit them. And you might
think I don't want to do that because that kind of messes with my relationship
with my kids. And I want them to behave in this way but I want them to behave
in that way from an understanding that that's the way that they should behave.
And if I hit them, it will be more effective. They behave that way more of the
time, right? But I still wouldn't really be getting what I want, which is that
at least some of the time they behave that way from an understanding that
that's the right way to behave.
And so, you might think similarly, with honor and romance that the relevant
values are ones where it's important enough to us that, in general, we be
pursuing them from an understanding of their value that we're like less
willing to employ this punishment system that would bring in external
So, if we take the example of your child, I would think, you know, at some
early age, when they can't understand you very well, you might well hit them,
or pull their hand away, just physically restrain them. But then on a later
age, you would perhaps hit them but then start to sort of instead of hitting
them, talk to them and send them to the room, or sit in a corner, or write
"I'm sorry" 20 times or whatever.
But that would seem to be mostly about their developmental age and your
relationship to them not about the particular thing they did wrong. It would
seem odd if you were to hit them about not coming to dinner on time, but not
hit them about doing their homework or something. I mean, I don't see why that
would really work as a way to promote value.
I mean, I think the thought is that in general, you want your kids to listen
to you in everything that you do out of a certain kind of like, love and
trust. And so it's not – we're not going to differentiate doing your homework
versus cleaning the room. I think that I don't think it's true that like, I
wasn't, I mean, I have never hit my kids but I wasn't more inclined to hit
them when they were young. If they're in physical danger, I will move them out
of the way and I sometimes use physical force to move them out of the way but
that's very different from punishing them. Punishing them would be like
inflicting pain on them in order to teach them a lesson, like physical pain on
them in order to teach them a lesson.
And I think that people are actually increasingly resistant to using even
emotional forms of punishment on their kids. Maybe if I could say, like, a
very similar– my intuition about when we're unwilling to use the legal system,
if I'm right about this, it should also track when we're unwilling to use
financial incentives. Right?
So like, sometimes we're willing to pay people to get the thing we want, and
sometimes we're not willing to pay, right? And if I'm right, that's going to
go along with when we care a lot about intrinsic motivation. That is, we care
that the person do the thing from a certain motivational state. And so, we're
not going to want them to avoid it merely to avoid punishment, and we're not
going to want them to do it merely to get paid. And so, I would predict that
like in romance, we are less inclined to use money as an incentive, whereas
like, with health, we'll be more OK to use it.
So, we do, for example, have laws against bigamy and other sorts of things. So
certainly, there are romantic-related things that we are willing to use other
kinds of force with. And it's again, the same person. So you might ask, Well,
don't you want the person who might sell you the two blocks of wood to stop
doing that for the right reasons? Why is it not an important for them to do
that for the right reasons, but for the people who lie about military records
to do that, why isn't just always, in general, good for people to do things
for the right reasons?
Yeah, I mean, I think that that's true. So, I think that you might think that
ideally, that then it's really like more like a margin that we're pushing.
Like, ideally, in the ideal society we're working towards, everyone will do
everything for the right reasons. Right? The question is just, and like, with
respect to laws, there have in the past been laws against adultery too, but
we, like, I suppose some of those laws, I think some of those laws still
exist, but they're not enforced anymore. Right?
We've had laws against homosexuality. And so like, you know, if the space of
romance is increasingly moving away from the space of law, then maybe the laws
against bigamy are not long for this world.
I mean, I agree with you that it does seem like there's a difference in
treatment. I'm just more skeptical that the difference in treatment is that
we're just trying harder to get people to do things for the right reasons.
That is, it looks like that seems a similar argument that would apply in both
cases, and roughly equally well. So it doesn't seem like a good candidate for
I think I don't care as much about what reasons someone has in selling me a
product or a marketing like what they're – I think that I view that
relationship as a more alienated one where like, for instance, they could be
replaced by like, often by like, an automated process, which there would be
any reasons at all, right? And I'd be OK with that. So, I do think there's a
real difference, and I think we don't care as much. And we don't expect as
much in a kind of transaction with someone you don't know to have access to
Just throwing in another example, there's a movie called The Talented Mr.
Ripley from maybe 20 years ago.
Yeah, I saw that a long time ago.
OK. And it's about this guy who pretends to be of a rich set hanging out with
a rich set, but he really isn't. And then, basically, he gets a lot of help
and resources from them, and treating them like one of their own, and then,
you know, he is fooling them by basically committing fraud to trick them into
Oh yeah, there's that like, Russian German heiress, I mean, non-heiress woman.
There's like a new version of that. I wish she didn't kill anyone.
Yes, right. So, it's also an example of like, well, should that be a legal
fraud? Should you be able to sue them for lying and gaining all this access
that you wouldn't otherwise gain? Right? And if through that process, we could
ask how far would you go? And so, you invite them to parties, you spend time
with them, you have sex with them, you marry them, you start a business with
them. And at what point would you say that it would be appropriate to punish
them more than just lecturing them and trying to tell them they should think
about things– they should take it to heart and be sorry.
Right. I mean, my thought, look, I think you were, you know, you're right that
the way I was initially putting this is that we – it sounded at least so, the
thought is that we want to educate the very person who is doing the wrong. I
do think like, yeah, ideally, yes, but I think that's not why. It's not
because we want to educate that person, that we will put this in the sphere of
the non legal. It's because we want that whole sphere to be non legal that is
we want that to be a sphere where motivation matters. And that means we're
going to get screwed over in some instances.
Say we teach our children that they shouldn't defraud people, not just because
there's a legal penalty, right? We do try to teach students and children that
they should, you know, their word is their bond, and that they should be
honest and not lie in business and in other contexts. I don't think we intend
to rely mainly and only on financial, or criminal penalties to keep our
children from lying in business either. I think we just – if that fails, we're
willing to impose other penalties.
And the question is, why aren't we willing to impose other penalties
elsewhere? So it is, I don't think – I think most people, in fact, won't
defraud other people in business. And the criminal penalties are not the thing
producing that. For most people, it is their sense of self-respect and honor
that would keep them from outright lying to sell things to people. But some
people it doesn't work for and then we have to ask what to do about the
I mean I do think we teach our children like not to lie, but like, I don't
think that I teach them the specifically like, commercial version of that. And
it sounds like...
But we don't need to, right? They don't have a commercial exception on their
head either. I mean...
Yes, but like, I guess I think that, in fact, in a commercial context, it's
often like a lot, like less clear, actually, what lying consists. And like
that example of the wooden blocks, right? Like, it's true, that it was a bug
killer. And like, what, you know, what acceptable business practices are,
right? I would take it something you learn in the course of actually doing
business. And it's not always obvious from just your moral intuitions.
Of course, and the acceptable way to treat a potential date is something you
also need to learn from the context of being in context where potential dates
are treated, and it's not something you're born with. So, you'll need to learn
how to treat people there. But I think most people would think your initial
parental education not to lie should have been sufficient to make you realize
you shouldn't be lying about the military medals, it's not some subtlety in
that context that you needed to learn.
Right. Well, the military medals is one that we've deemed like, extra legal,
right? So that would fit if... but the...
So the question is, how does not imposing penalties when people go to extremes
help people learn that that area is something they should have good
motivations for? So, I haven't seen – I'm not seeing the connection there.
Right? I get that, in general, the people around us, we presume they're good,
and we don't constantly monitor them for malfeasance. We do presume that our
immediate associates are telling the truth. And we teach our children and
everybody that that is a reasonable presumption about most people most of the
And we certainly emphasize that the main reason that you should be honest, and
treat people respectfully and well, isn't that there are legal penalties or
other penalties, it's that that's the right thing to do and you would want
them to treat you that way. But we still have to decide what to do when people
aren't sufficiently persuaded by that sort of framework that they go beyond
and do deceive each other and cheat each other. We have to decide what to do
And the question is, if in those cases we go farther to punish them, does that
somehow undermine the message that that was the wrong thing to do? It seems to
me, that seems somewhat odd. That is, I think most children get that if
there's a thing you did and your parents would scold you, then that's bad. If
there's a thing you did and your parent will scold you and that might put you
in jail, that's worse. I mean, society is giving you a pretty clear message
that that's a worst thing to do. And I think everybody gets that.
I don't see how that undermines the message. It's more shameful, I think for
almost everyone to not only do something that people scold you for and say bad
things about you, but that gets prosecuted and sent to jail or fined. I mean,
people don't like to admit to being an ex-con or to have been lost a lawsuit
where they defrauded someone. Those are the – if you heard about that about
someone you'd, hey, I was going to do business with them but I've heard they
got successfully sued for fraud. I mean, yeah, that would be a warning flag,
Oh, yeah. I'm not saying that this makes it like less serious. And certainly
it doesn't make people less inclined to not do it, it makes them more inclined
to not do it, I think it works.
But for the wrong reasons is somehow the threat. I mean, do you really think
that telling your children that if they steal something they might go to jail
somehow undermines they're doing it for the– you know, not doing it for the
right reasons that they would, you're somehow polluting or interfering with
the message that they just shouldn't steal period even if it weren't illegal?
I think a little bit yes. I mean, so I think for instance, like, suppose I'm
telling my – suppose one of my kids doesn't want to go to school one morning,
this has happened before. And like, it's, at one point, I remember saying
to... I can't remember even which kid it was like, "Well, it's actually the
law that you have to go to school." And then I'm like, I remember just
thinking my head, like, quickly following it up, just to make it clear, like,
there was no prospect of them going to jail for not going to school, because I
could feel that that was like the implication that I'm telling my kid, maybe
you'll go to jail if you don't go to school. Right?
And, and but like, imagine if I had that leverage, right? Of like, "Well, if
you don't go to school, you're going to go to jail." My kid would go school
quick, right? It's be really effective, get them into that school, right. But
there's something else that I want to achieve in like time to go to school.
I'm trying to get them to see, like, first of all, that if I'm telling them
they should go to school, I probably have a good reason. And even if they
don't feel like it, they should maybe do it. And then second, there actually
are good reasons for them to go to school. And so you could see that, like,
the very existence of that threat of jail, like counteracts the amount of work
that's being done and the amount of attention like that they're giving to
these other reasons, right?
So, here's another I mean, issue, if we think about, say, date rape. I mean, I
presume we would want people not to do that for the right reasons. But we are
willing to go beyond in punishing that. And there are fraud examples, like,
there are cases where say the police basically convince someone to have sex
with them by saying, "I'm the police and if you don't have sex with me, I will
prosecute you for this other thing." And we could want the police not to do
that for the right reasons, but we might want to prosecute them for that.
And there are people who fake being police and who get people to have sex with
them by lying about being police. Now, you know, that's kind of like lying
about the military medal. But do you want them to do that for the right
reason? Would you let that person off too, because you want to teach everybody
that they should be doing this for the right reasons? What's the difference
between lying about being a police and lying about a military medal?
I mean, I suspect that the issue there is not the – I mean, I think like,
yeah, I think lying about being police is a big, big deal independently. But
here, it's like, the rape context. So like, there are other cases that were
brought up in that thing you sent me of like, somebody who convinces somebody
else to blindfold themselves and poses as someone that they know, and then,
like, has sex with them. And so then the person who's blindfolded thinks
they're having sex with someone they know, where they're actually having sex
with a stranger, right? And that was considered rape. So there, you don't even
have to masquerade as police, you could just masquerade as someone they know.
Well, the question is, should it be considered rape? That is the question
You could have claimed that this using the military medal would be considered
rape. That is, it's using deceit to get sex. So...
The definition of the word is open here to our trying to decide which things
should get which sorts of punishments.
Right. I mean, I took it that the military medal thing, it was not specific to
sex, it was just making false claims about...
Right. But that is one of the applications.
Sure. But like, I don't – I mean, I, you know, I just read the Wikipedia page
you sent me but like I didn't – that application wasn't singled out as being
of special relevance, like it was really an examination of lying about
Right. But I'm asking you to consider that case deep in order to consider the
Right. Yeah, I mean, I don't know. That is, like I think you're right, that we
might want people to, like in a sexual context, to be motivated by the right
reasons that you would think that that would be very important to us.
Another example was, you know, somebody like a movie producer get somebody to
have sex with him by saying, "I might, you know, be find a movie for you." And
what if somebody lies about being a movie producer? And gets the same sort of
favorable treatment, right?
We're trying to produce a range of cases here so we can ask the question where
to draw a line, if any. You know, you want to say no, the person who lies
about me, but you should do it for the right reasons. We're trying to teach
everybody that that's a sphere where you need to do things for the right
reasons, therefore, we're not going to punish that guy. I'm just not seeing
the connection between our saying, like, you should be doing the right things
here for the right reasons and failing to punish people who do things that
seem pretty harmful.
Yeah, I mean, I think that there has to be, you know, just looking at the case
of the military medal versus the blindfold case, or military medal/movie
producer versus blindfold case, on the other hand, why, like, is the blindfold
case rape, but the other ones are not considered that? And it's like, I guess
there's just a variety of ways of having – of not really knowing who you're
having sex with. Right? And then at one extreme, it's like, who knows anything
about anyone else, right? And... but at a certain point of somebody having sex
with you under false pretenses, where we see that as like, the person hasn't
consented, right, in effect. And I don't know how we draw that line.
Well, I want to emphasize the point that if we just switch over to financial
harms, all of these cases would be considered fraud, and many more, right? So,
once we're talking about trying to get money out of people, we're not drawing
a line anywhere within this range, it's all wrong. And it's all this sort of
thing that you could sue for damages.
So to me, that distinction seems to be that it depends on the kind of damage.
So, the simple rule that stands out to me is, well, anytime you hurt someone
through a deceit, then whatever amount that you suffered, you should be able
to sue for compensation for those damages. That would be a way we would treat
these uniformly. And then the question would be, can you measure the amount of
damages? So, if that's the issue, we could go into that. You might...
So there is a stance that basically the law cares a lot more about money than
other things as a way to sort of avoid arguments about how much, how big were
losses. So, law is a little reluctant to do pain and suffering damages, for
example, or emotional anguish, because now you have to judge how big it was.
And so that might be an excuse for low balling the estimate, I think, sort of
looking, picking an estimate near the lower end of the plausible range. But
still, it seems to me not an excuse for making it zero damages. If, you
I think there are just very different kinds of basis for a lawsuit. And so, in
the case of the blindfold, the idea is not that there was some harm, I take
it, but that it's rape, which is to say that, like someone's consent was
violated. And, like, I mean, I get that you might want to translate that into
emotional harms or something, right? But, to me, that's very different from
In fact, for most of law, you need a combination of failing to do something
out of duty to do and they're being harmed. So merely failing to do a duty
without harm, it usually doesn't produce damages. And so it's an exception if
you want to treat it otherwise. So I was thinking in terms of that general
framework. You know, if I walk across your lawn I broke, I violated, your
property rights but if your lawn wasn't actually damaged, you can't actually
sue me for very much.
Yeah, I mean... I think that like with certain kinds of wrongs, like take
murder, right, killing someone, it's just really hard to understand that in
terms, I think, in terms of the harm to the person.
It seems very easy to me.
Like, so are you going to factor in like how old they were, because of how
much life you've deprived them off? If you done less of a wrong in murdering
an old person than a young person?
In fact, when we ask people about how severe a crime murder is, we do find it
peaking for, say a 20-year-old for whom, you know they have the most life to
live and the most investment has already been made in them and it declines for
killing a two-year-old is considered less of the harm or killing an
80-year-old is considered less of harm than killing a 20-year-old. So that's
in fact, how people feel about murder. That people do differentiate.
Well, wait a minute, why wouldn't it be even worse with a two-year-old? They
have even more life to live than the 20-year-old.
This is more in terms of like we didn't, also didn't put that much of an
investment in yet, you can just have another kid.
I see. Well, then you're thinking with the parent, you're not thinking about
the kid. They're always maximally invested in their life.
The point is just in order to understand people's intuitions, they are
apparently accounting for these two different factors. But the people do
distinguish between murders in terms of how bad they think it is. And of
course, people receive different penalties for murders. I mean, judges get
discretion to assign different numbers of years of jail, et cetera, for
different murders depending on the context. So we do allow differences.
Yeah, I mean, it does make sense to me that the penalty would be sensitive to
that, but the category of wrong seems different to me than just the category
of harm. Like, if somebody harmed you and they harmed you even unintentionally
but culpably, let's say, then they might like owe you compensations, right?
So there's a lot of issues that are mixed together when we were talking about
sort of things like crime and law and things like that. And we're not going to
be able to deal with all of them in one conversation. So, I would try to
bracket away most of them unless we can see that they're especially
irrelevant. I'd want to highlight the issue of OK, there's this difference in
treatment between one kind of harm and another. And that seems to be the most
And one way we can frame this is to say, if we don't want law to deal with
something, maybe that's because we instead want social norms to deal with it
instead. And to think of these things, in terms of multiple systems for
dealing with different things that can go wrong. So, for example, we can think
about the norm against squealing or telling on people. And often that norm is
applied to norms and to laws. And we could think of it that's a way that we
maybe want some local social group to deal with a problem rather than to air
dirty laundry in a wider public. And so we want that to be dealt with.
And I have a way, as I've discussed, with ways to lower the cost of using law
so that we can apply a law to more things. And my colleague, Bryan Caplan,
just mentioned to me a few days ago that he's mentioned that to his class
several times and consistently found what I found, which is people don't want
law to apply to more things. You know, at the moment, because the legal
process is expensive, that limits the size of the harm that we could deal
with. And we could actually allow the cost to come way down to use the legal
system to deal with smaller problems. And therefore we could allow law to deal
with more harms, like someone's scratching your car in a parking lot or things
like that. And it seems most people don't want that. So, and that's about just
financial harm. So even about financial harms, it seems that people want there
to be a legal system, and they want it to be dealing with big harms, but they
would rather it not deal with small harms.
Right. So, I guess my thought was that the idea that there are realms where we
want people to appreciate intrinsically, just be intrinsically motivated that
that was meant to explain why something like that would be the case. That is
that the reason why we would want to use social norms rather than law, is that
social norms are – they're less obviously punitive, like, I do think quite
often we're punishing but we often don't think of ourselves as punishing, we
often don't use the word punishing. So, I like when on social media, I tend to
hear the word accountability instead of punishment, right? People don't like
to think of themselves as punishing. They like the idea of accountability.
They want them to be fired or for them to be canceled from an event or things
And they don't want to see it as punishment. So like that is they don't use
the word punishment. They don't say "They should be punished." Right?
So I think that's striking. Avoidance of that word and the replacement. And I
want to grant to you that those cases are very punishment like, but if you
think of the functioning of social norms, it's going to be a spectrum, right?
Think of like punishing your kids, right? It's actually going to be a really
fine-grained spectrum, from just explaining that they did something wrong to
something that gets at the edge of punishment, right? And it's often just sort
of unclear where you are along that and we might want that. We want – we might
want the deniability of calling the thing punishment. And precisely because
that's going to track, this is a sphere of intrinsic value.
You could just decide not to call jail punishment, and then we could, you
know, avoid punishment everywhere if you want to, and we just– if we can just
freely not call things punishment.
I think that it's...
Because if we're teaching people about jail, in fact, that's a common thing
that people have long said, oh, we want is a jail that teaches people, that
rehabilitates people, we don't want to just punish them at jail.
I think that ideally, that is what people would want, and a lot of people who
want like prisons to be abolished. And that idea appeals to me as well, sort
of in the abstract. It's because it would be like the abolition of punishment.
And we have like, in a way, like, our next best thing is like that this system
happens mostly, like very much behind closed doors, so we at least don't have
to look at it. But I think it's hard to not think that like the leg...
So, regardless of what the word is, it's still how it works is the key
question. So think of a child who does something wrong, at least from the
parents point of view. And there's two, you know, there's several kinds of
punishment. One kind of punishment is you just have to listen to a long
lecture about it, right? Any children's point of view that they see that as
the main point, right?
But you can claim that's not a punishment, it's teaching. And of course,
sometimes you might say, when you make them apologize, right. And from their
point of view, that's also a punishment. It's very painful and they don't want
to do it, but you still make them go apologize, right? And now, you can also
say, well, that's teaching them about how to treat people differently, right?
But the question is, is that actually making them produce the right motives
about these things relative to the other thing we can do?
So again, the fundamental claim you're making is that if we were to find the
person who lied about a military medal, somehow that would not be teaching
them the proper thing. Because taking away money has a different kind of
teaching effect than taking away their time or taking away their pride. If you
give them a lecture, you take away their time. If you make them apologize, you
take away their pride. If you take away money – the question is how is taking
away money, more of a lesson about their proper motives than taking away their
time or their pride?
You mean how is it less of a lesson about their proper motives?
Yeah, the money, less of a lesson? Yes, I mean, how does it possibly, I mean,
produce less of a lesson because it would seem like it's a lesson.
Right. So as I said, I think that it's not the case that whenever we shy away
from this, it's because we think we're going to teach the wrongdoers. It might
be because we're willing...
I mean the rest of us learn a different lesson.
Yeah. So that I think the rest of us... so, but I do think in actually in the
parenting case, it is that the very person learns. So I think that...
But then the child would not learn if you took away some of their money.
Right. I think that we think that our children learn better when the incentive
for not doing the thing is like more closely related to the activity itself.
Then they learn that the activity itself.
If you get lecture – if you lose an hour listening to a lecture as opposed to
losing $10, neither of those are more directly connected to the thing you did
That's true. But the thought is, the hope is and if you're very bad at
lecturing to your kids, then this might not matter. But like the hope is that
they don't just see it is like, "All right, I got to sit here for an hour, I'm
going to ignore everything they say. And just view it as the cost of one hour
of sitting." Where that would be equivalent to just sit over in that corner
for an hour, right? If your lecture is that bad then I think they...
That's even worse. If they sit in the corner, they can at least daydream.
Exactly. Right. So like, if you know if you see the– like if the lecture comes
to be seen as just a form of like inflicting a certain kind of suffering on
the kid, right? Where there's nothing, no light is being shed on why the thing
was done wrong. And maybe most lectures are even like that. So maybe much of
the educational activity that we do with kids, telling ourselves that we're
teaching them intrinsic motivation that actually translates to punishment.
That just because of our false belief, beliefs about our ability to instill
This theory suggests that there should be a huge demand for replacing jail
with long, painful lectures, right? That is, we're wasting this huge
opportunity that we could be teaching everyone the lesson by making people who
are in jail spend most of their time listening to painful lectures.
I think that there's a lot of people who think that it would be better if jail
were just more like education. Yes. And I know people who, like... well, so I
mean, the issue is like, why would a given domain be in the space of intrinsic
motivation or not? And we might just have less hope with respect to someone
who's willing to like commit murder, that, you know, that like, in some sense,
if the idea of committing murder even shows up to you as a prospect, you're
like, you're outside of the space of intrinsic motivation, right? So that
would be the thought...
Let's talk about intrinsic motivation. So let me make a parallel. So, work
versus dating say, right?
So, you might be saying work as a context of extrinsic motivation, whereas
dating is a context of intrinsic motivation.
Some degree, yes.
And I might then try to draw the parallel of how they look pretty similar. So
I might say, for work, there are things you want to do with your time that you
enjoy, maybe being a musician, or maybe being an engineer, or something that
you like to do. But in order to get a job, you will have to learn what the
companies want and what other people want, and compromise on exactly how you
want to do it so that other people can work with you and find you more
productive. So you'll have to maybe wear a suit, sometimes go to an office,
have regular work hours, be polite, maybe type up your results. These are all
ways in which you're accommodating their extrinsic world in producing your
work life. But to a large degree, you are doing that job because you enjoy it.
Because you have an intrinsic satisfaction that's been shaped by this larger
Similarly, we could say people want to date. And they have a basic loneliness
and desire for attachment and friendship and sex, but then they also have to
shape themselves and change because the dating market doesn't like the way
they started. And they need to pay attention to other people and figure out
what they want and like and to be nice to them, or listen to their complaints
and understand them. And wash up sometimes, have to get their hair cut, maybe
get a job, you know, and be polite. These are all things people have to do
functionally if they're going to date. And so, dating is also a combination of
extrinsic constraints that you need to learn to adapt to including the other
person, what they're like, and the intrinsic desire to date. So in this story
I've just described, they are similar. They are both a similar mix of
intrinsic and extrinsic motivations.
I guess I think that they are both mixes. But there are just these slight
differences in like, for instance, we think of it as really important in
dating to like find the right match, right? And people spend all this time
searching for a good match.
Yes. And that's also for a job. People spend a lot of time...
It's not as true for jobs. Like people don't...
I think, no. People put a lot of work into finding a good job match.
I mean, people – people do put work into finding a good job match, but like
people spend years of their life maybe even a decade wouldn't be that unusual,
just searching in the dating...
And they do that for jobs. Yes. People don't take the first job for the rest
of their life. They take an initial job, they see what it's like, and then
they switch jobs. Same as with dating, people don't marry for life, the first
person they date. The way they search in dating is by trying different people
out and talking different people, just like with jobs, they try different jobs
out. And they also talk to other people who have different jobs, ask them how
it's – what is like, maybe visit them. In both cases, search is a big part of
the element. And it does take years, if not decades, to get the best of that.
I mean, I don't think that people have the story, you know, with jobs, like
they don't necessarily have a sort of , "Look, I'm looking for my permanent
job." Like they might be like, "Hey, I had this job. I'm glad I had it. It was
a great experience, but now I want a different job. You know, I don't want to
do job too long." So it's...
And that's how they talk about dating too.
No. I mean I think most people, in dating, are like looking for someone to
marry and then they're supposed to stick with that person. And then if they,
for instance, end up divorcing that person and trying to find someone else
that's seen as like a failure.
It sounds like, you're agreeing with me that when we look at it from a
distance, it's the same behavior, but you're just saying, ah, but in their
heads, in one case, they have the idea of perfection that they're searching
for. In the other case, they don't have the concept of perfection. But
perfection is never actually found. They are always actually compromising and
actually choosing between what they have now on the prospect of looking for
better. But in one case, they're just thinking about it in terms of
I mean, my... the distinction that I was drawing, was the distinction between
sort of this ideal of intrinsic motivation versus the absence of that ideal.
So in a way, that's just what I was saying, is that it's just the presence or
absence of an ideal of perfection. And you're going to see that being, you're
going to see that show up in behaviors, like whether we think there should be
sort of external punishments, or whether we sort of expect the punishing
activity to be substituted for by understanding. So yeah, I mean, in a way, I
think the difference is just the ideal of perfection whether it's fair enough.
Let's get clear on this, because I'm not sure I understand you. So the idea
is, when I'm actually dating, I actually have to compromise with my partner,
and I actually have to consider whether this is my best match, or whether I
should look for another one. And even if I get another one, it won't
necessarily be the match. But I think if I were to find the perfect match,
then there would be no extrinsic constraints, I would– it would be such a
perfect match, I wouldn't have to at all take them into account because what I
would do naturally would take them into account.
That is, with an imperfect match, I have to compromise that is, you know,
maybe they don't like movies, as much as I do. Maybe I like Thai food, they
like Chinese, and we're going to have to compromise in a real relationship.
But in a perfect match, I would never have to compromise on the kind of food I
wanted with them because we would want exactly the same kind of food. And
therefore all my natural intrinsic motivations would have no need to balance
against any extrinsic, taking them into account, because I would never need to
take them into account because we'd be a perfect match. Is that is that the
No. So I think that like, at least for a lot of the time with... this is true
for job too, by the way, but I think it's somewhat more true for romantic
relationships. A lot of the time, the way compromise looks, is that your sort
of tastes and desires evolved together, so that you want the same things. So
it's not really a compromise, you're not sacrificing what you want for what
they want, because you want the thing they want, because they want it and that
makes you happy.
But that's only in the true of some perfect limit. I mean, almost all real
relationships, people are completely well aware of compromises continuing all
the time, right?
I think that there is, at least, I mean I don't know, like, I don't know how
other people experience relationships, but... and I also have a weird job. So
like, but I think that... like with your job there are a lot of people you
interact with where you can't really – you don't expect to see eye to eye with
them. Like you have your territory, they have their territory, and then
there's compromises. And that's not really what a relationship is like. In the
case of a relationship, you can like come to see the thing the same way.
Well, so let's acknowledge that real relationships are usually with whole
groups of people. So if we just talk about the sphere of family, or even the
sphere of friendship, you know, maybe with the one person that you're closest
to, there is the least degree of compromise. But now when you think about
their parents, and in-laws, children, et cetera. Clearly, in this whole space
of relationships, there's a lot of compromise. And everyone is completely
aware of that, right? Even if you have the best possible spouse, your children
are not like, ideally matched to you and you're going to be making a lot of
compromises to accommodate your children and them to you.
And again, this is a lot like work. So again, it seems to me that the actual
fact of family life and work are similar in the sense that you search for
matches. And you could always switch but, and whatever you stick with won't be
a perfect match. And you will have to be making a lot of accomodations and
compromises, which are extrinsic motivations. And that's true, roughly equally
in both domains. And the main thing is maybe we just want to talk about one in
more idealized terms as if there were no compromises to make there.
I think in the case of work, if you just completely hated it, like if you
hated everything about it, if every aspect of it made you utterly miserable,
you'd still be getting paid. And so, you'd still have something of value that
you could take away.
And that's true in relationships as well.
I don't think it is true. I think if you hated everything about your spouse,
if every moment you spent with them was just complete agony. If every shared
activity made you...
If you were married, for example, and they were working and you were not
working, if you had shared property, I mean, there's still going to be costs
of breaking up. And that's true for leaving a job. So again...
Sure. Sure, but that's not – the primary benefit of a job, at least, like in
many cases is that you make money. The primary benefit of a romantic
relationship is not that you have a shared house, and sometime in the past, it
might have been, but that's not the way most people see it.
But even in relationships that have gone quite badly, people basically have
the connection, and they're reluctant to give it up. That is, they, you know,
they would be lonely and alone if they broke off the connection. And that's a
thing they value even when the rest of it isn't so great. And that seems to be
And again, I don't see why even this extreme case should be that determined
about how we treat these whole spheres. Again, the whole – the point is how we
seem to treat these whole spheres differently and not just in these extreme
cases. Look at the middle of the distribution out here, in the middle of the
distribution, you got a similar mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations.
And a similar way in which we use, you know, law and lectures and social
pressure to get people to try to focus more on the intrinsic motivation. That
happens at work and in families.
I guess it just doesn't seem true to me. You're getting paid, so intrinsic
motivation doesn't matter as much. But in relationships, you're not getting
paid. The value of it comes from the joy of it, which is only really there. If
you have an – are intrinsically motivated.
Again, you're going to some extreme case, like look at the middle in this
No. On any like, like ordinary case, like in an ordinary– in most jobs, if
people stopped getting paid, they wouldn't do the job anymore, I would think.
So they're kind of mainly doing it to get paid. But in the family life, there
isn't that counterpart, like, yes, it may be that like, if in the case where
you would become destitute, if you were to leave your spouse, you would leave
though. But that's not the ordinary normal case.
I'm not even thinking about the money, I'm thinking, you're in a relationship,
and you're getting things out of the relationship. It's not a perfect
relationship. But you have to compromise with the other person is what I'm
talking about. When I talk about extrinsic motivations, it's having to take
them and their constraints into account is what counts as extrinsic, getting
just what you want without the constraints is intrinsic. And you are taking
those extra things as pretty important in relationships. You can't just do
whatever you want, whenever you want to, you have to account for them. Just
like in a job, you have to account for what the employer wants, and what your
customers wants, et cetera. You can't just do the job just the way you would
I mean, I guess I just think that in the case of relationships, there's also
just a different– there aren't just extrinsic motivations, which is like them
getting their way, and intrinsic, which is you getting your way, right? But
there is a large territory, and it's not all of the territory, sometimes you
do just have to let them get their way, right? But there's a large territory
of things where you're both getting your way precisely because of the way in
which the relationship has allowed you to develop to that state. And there may
be some of that in a job, but there's a lot less of it. So it doesn't need to
be that much of it, because you're getting paid.
I think there is typically a lot of that. And again, I still don't see how
this is the basis for this huge distinction between these areas. Again, we go
even with the wooden blocks, we call that fraud, even if it's literally true,
so we go pretty far to take anything pretty mildly deceptive and call it
fraud. And then in the case of romance, we take clear lying of large
consequence and we say, that's a constitutional right. So, I see this large
difference here. And it doesn't seem to be proportional to some, you know,
modest degree of differences in proportion of intrinsic versus extrinsic
Here's one thought, I mean, in the business case, it might be that we couldn't
– it might be that the default is social norms rather than laws, for any kind
of infraction. But that in a lot of business cases, we wouldn't know how to do
it. We wouldn't like know how to...
Like, take the case...
How not to lie?
No, not how not to lie, how to like, enforce and teach the norms. Like, I...
Think of Yelp, right? At the moment, if you were unhappy with any particular
business, you could make a bad Yelp review. And that would be sort of a norm
kind of enforcement. Or you could take them to court. We could say now that
there's Yelp, we don't need ever anyone to sue for fraud, because you could
just make a bad Yelp review. But we don't – we're not doing that, right? We're
Maybe we will eventually. I mean, maybe that's the way in which the social
norms will take over that legal space. Like, if, you know, I could sort of see
that. I could see that if Yelp just... like if the whole reviewing system just
becomes kind of universal enough, that doesn't seem unthinkable to me. And
like, versus like, the wooden block thing. It's like, we all know that there's
advertising and the advertising is designed in some ways to deceive us. And so
it's hard to know what the limits of that are supposed to be.
So here's one potential account of when you might want to use law versus
norms. You might say, say, in a small town, if some business did bad by you,
you could pass rumors to other people in the town who are also their
customers. And that would be, could be pretty effective about the business.
But in a large nation, where you have mail order catalogs, you know, it's just
going to be very hard for you to influence other customers much. And
therefore, you might want this more distance, hands off law.
And then you might say, well, in a world of dating, where people know each
other that is, people are meeting, people who are socially connected them,
they might, then if somebody treated them badly, say, by lying about a
military medal, they could send gossip about that person and tell people and
that could discipline them enough, if they're a small enough, well enough
connected world of social connections.
But if they sort of went to another town on travel, and went into a bar, then
that sort of relationship would not be very disciplined by this gossip. And
then you might say, well, the norms are fine for the small community, but they
don't work for these long-distance relationships. But that would seem to imply
that we should penalize lying about a military medal for someone you meet in
another town who isn't connected via social network, maybe at a conference or
something. And– but we would need to worry about it so much in a tighter
network of people.
So this is a kind of difference you could focus and you can say maybe more
often business is done with parties who aren't in your social network. And
more often, romance is done through people you meet through a closer network
of people, but it's still only, you know, a difference of degree there. But
that's at least a candidate sort of thing you could point to as an explanation
for when we want to use norms versus law.
I mean, then you would expect that the advent of like, Tinder and all of that
would lead us to become more inclined to use the law.
Right. Because they're no longer in a smaller network of connections. Unless
Tinder itself would be a law in some sense, if it would impose rules and
punish people in its system or something.
Yeah, I mean, the idea that you would use the law for the distant transaction
would go along with the idea that the norm is the default. Right? And that we
go to the law only when we have to. And that would also correspond to like
what you've had, you know, experience from your students, which is they don't
want to move more stuff into law. The law is like the last resort.
So here's, I mean, we're running out of time here, but I'll just raise one
last thing, just to think about it, which is play versus serious. So
interestingly, romance often happens in contexts that are framed as play. And
in play, where it's supposed to be safe, and you're not supposed to need to
impose real rules. And so, if you took the rules of play seriously, we only
play in a context where I'll feel safe, and then we only pretend to hurt each
other, nobody really gets hurt. And so then we don't really need legal
punishments, because nobody is ever really getting hurt. And that if somebody
really gets hurt, then it's a violation of the play norms.
And so that's the way we treat play versus serious things. But interestingly,
we tend to treat romance as play, even though romance is very important. But
it could be that the play norms are setting up this idea that law shouldn't
get involved because that would you know, that's serious, like business.
Business is serious. And in business, you have to be literal and honest and
there are consequences because it's serious. And then somehow, romance isn't
serious. Romance is play. And so, we do seem to celebrate and try to produce
initial and even lasting romantic relationships in some sort of a play mode.
Some sort of play, fun, leisurely mode and maybe that's part of what's going
on is that it's just a violation of play, to sort of hold people to exact
words and to have strong punishments.
So I mean, I don't think that the like, the military medal case doesn't
support that. Just because it's not fundamentally an example of something
about romance. It's an example of something about the military. It has a
romantic application, but there's no indication that that application is like
of special importance. Right?
I mean if you read – I'm sorry, you probably haven't read news stories or
something. But the main source of the complaints about military medals was
about its use in dating. That was the main source of the complaint. It wasn't
that they were declaring it to the world that...
OK. But like, is there any indication that like, when the Supreme Court made
this decision, they were thinking about those cases, that that was like the
issue? Because I mean, as I said, describe the...
That's why the laws were passed, that is people pass these laws and the
Supreme Court knocked down the law. The Supreme Court used other
considerations to knock down the laws, but that was why the laws existed.
I see, OK, I mean, like, there are these other romantic cases where, like the
blindfold case, right, so...
It's not play?
Well, the point is, I mean, I'm suggesting that we just have this idea that in
general, romance should be in play mode. That romance is part of play. And
once we frame it that way, then we don't want formal rules and laws coming
into the play.
But it's a hypothesis. But I mean, the point is just to show that there's a
range of things we could explore to think about. And what we've done here
mainly, is to just explore some puzzles. And we didn't expect to resolve it
here. But I do think it's interesting, you know, it's interesting and
productive here to take some concrete phenomena, and engage it. Because in
some sense, you can't go too wrong if you take real phenomena, and try to
think about it.
Let me just sit and relate this to like our last podcast – so we talked about
James's The Will to Believe. And in that essay, he talks about the Pascalian
reasons for believing in God, right? Where you make this calculation, saying,
even if it's very improbable that God exists, you should believe in God
because the reward is huge. And like the punishment for having gotten it
wrong, it's like pretty small. And James does not accept this mode of like,
will to believe, right?
And you might– I think that the difference here of sort of like, what kind of
mode should you be in when you come to believe in God, and that it should not
be a mechanical calculation, as James says about the Pascal case. It's
actually very similar to the way we view romance. Right? And I don't think
it's play versus serious. I think it's like, so James – James doesn't think
it's play, like to take the leap of faith, it's not play.
But what is characteristic of this kind of activity, I think that the leap in
the dark is that you're not fully aware of what you're doing while you're
doing it. I think it's important to us that there are activities where we're
not self-aware as we're doing it, we don't have full composure, and we can't
perform the sort of calculations that Pascal wanted to do in his case. I think
that's how we see romance, not as play but as that.
So the general hypothesis here, if we can just abstract from the details is to
say, we see our lives in the world that's divided into different spheres. And
we see different styles of thought and analysis as appropriate for the
different spheres. And that's something of a contradiction to sort of a
simple, a decision theory framework, which says there is a one single style of
thought appropriate for all spheres. And that makes it interesting as a
counter to that usual claim.
You know, the question would then be, what are these different styles of
thought? How could they each be coherent if we have the one best style of
thought? And what could justify us having different styles of thought for
different spheres? So that's obviously not something we can do, but sets up an
interesting further conversation.
All right. Well, till we talk again then.