Behavioral biology, the rational actor model, and the new feminist agenda

June Carbone, Naomi Cahn

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


This chapter incorporates gender consciousness into critiques of the rational actor model by revisiting Carol Gilligan's account of moral development. Economics itself, led by the insights from game theory, is reexamining trust, altruism, reciprocity, and empathy. Behavioral economics further explores the implications of a more robust conception of human motivation. We argue that the most likely source for a comprehensive theory will come from the integration of behavioral economics with behavioral biology, and that this project depends on the insights from evolutionary analysis, genetics, and neuroscience. Considering the biological basis of human behavior, however, and, realistically considering the role of trust, altruism, reciprocity, and empathy in market transactions requires a reexamination of the role of gender in the construction of human society. First, we revisit Gilligan, and argue that her articulation of relational feminism faltered, in part, because she could not identify the source of the stereotypically feminine. Second, we consider the ways in which the limitations of the rational actor model meant that law and economics could also not resolve the relational concerns that Gilligan raised. Third, we discuss the rediscovery of gender that is emerging from the gendered results of game theory trials and the new research on the biological basis of gender differences. Finally, we conclude that incorporating the insights of this new research into law and the social sciences will require a new methodology. Instead of narrow-minded focus on the incentive effects in the marginal transaction, we argue that reconsideration of stereotypically masculine and feminine traits requires an emphasis on balance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationResearch in Law and Economics
EditorsRichard Zerbe, John Kirkwood
Number of pages47
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameResearch in Law and Economics
ISSN (Print)0193-5895


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