The Mystique of Instrumentalism

Tom Tyler and Lindsay Rankin

in Ideology, Psychology, and Law

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199737512
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918638 | DOI:

Series: Series in Political Psychology

The Mystique of Instrumentalism

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Ideology includes a set of shared assumptions about “truths” which are widely perceived as self-evident. This chapter focuses upon a set of truths concerning human nature in relationship to the law and legal authority. Those truths are united by their exaggerated belief in the effectiveness of instrumental approaches to people. An instrumental approach is one that seeks to shape behavior by either providing people with incentives or threatening to (or actually) punishing them. In law, the focus is on the efficacy of threatening to (or actually) punishing people for rule breaking behavior. This chapter argues for several basic propositions. First, people within our society share the belief that instrumental mechanisms are effective ways of motivating people—that punishment “works.” Second, empirical evidence consistently contradicts that belief. Third, there are alternative approaches that work better. Finally, the persistence of flawed beliefs despite contradictory evidence suggests that these beliefs are part of a culturally transmitted and supported ideology. This chapter concludes by discussing some of the reasons that this ideology persists.

Keywords: punishment; legal authority; instrumentalism; utilitarianism

Chapter.  16046 words. 

Subjects: Social Psychology

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