Behaviour, knowledge, policy. The philosophy of science perspective on the applications of the behavioural sciences to policymaking.

Description

The project is pursued within Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship and it addresses philosophical problems emerging from the application of the behavioural sciences to policymaking. These applications refer to research in cognitive psychology, behavioural economics, decision theory and are supposed to provide the knowledge necessary to make policy that is effective. The objectives of the research project are to 1) analyse and assess the epistemic dimension of the applications of the behavioural sciences to policy, 2) bring the novel perspective from the philosophy of science to advance the current debate on the reliance on the behavioural findings in policy.
I argue that the current debate on bringing the behavioural sciences to bear on policy overlooks three important points. First, there is a lack of understanding that behavioural research is subject to interpretation and selective reading in policy settings. Second, the debate is mostly based on the presumption that the behavioural sciences explain the relevant causes of behaviour and that if one knows these causes, one can then influence behaviour through policies. However, this simplistic understanding of behavioural research fails to pay attention to how causal factors and behaviours are operationalized, and to what the behavioural sciences offer the knowledge of. Finally, in the analysis of behaviourally-informed regulations there is a lack of broader perspective on the relationship between the type of knowledge provided by the behavioural sciences, and the pragmatic aims the behavioural research is intended to advance.
My project addresses these missing points in the debate. It shows that when reflecting on reliance on scientific findings (behavioural sciences) in policy settings, it is important not only to analyse when a policy works (is effective). For it is equally consequential to understand what type of knowledge the behavioural research provides. Only then are we able to understand why we are facing the current behavioural turn in public policy, and what type of advice is – and can be – expected from the behavioural sciences in the science-based approach to policy-making.
The analysis advanced in the project follows the methodology pioneered by Helen Longino in her philosophical work on studying human behaviour. The project is pursued at the University of Helsinki (TINT) and Stanford’s Philosophy Department.

Layman's description

Scientific findings change our worldview, question our common sense intuitions and give new justifications for our practices. However, the relationship between science and its practical implications is not always as straightforward. The proponents of bringing the recent behavioural sciences to policy believe that these sciences provide us with new important insights about human behaviour that should be taken into account by policymakers. But upon inspection we find out that the relationship between the behavioural sciences and policy is more nuanced. It is not only novel “behavioural” knowledge that leads to new applications in policymaking. It is also the change in the ways of regulating behaviour in advanced democracies that triggers the developments in the behavioural sciences. My project provides a philosophical analysis of the interplay between the behavioural sciences and the pragmatic aims they intend to advance.
AcronymEPISTEMEBEHAVIOUR
StatusActive
Effective start/end date01/09/2018 → …