Lunch seminar with Ingo Venzke

With the benefit and bias of hindsight: looking back at the path of international law

Abstract:
The paper takes aim at the understanding of past judicial decisions. International lawyers tend to acknowledge that legal decisions are contingent. Other decisions could have been taken. But due to the bias of hindsight, international lawyers they exaggerate their beliefs about the likelihood of past decisions. What is more, hindsight bias even increases the degree to which international lawyers agree with a judicial decision—the mere fact that a specific decision was taken makes that decision seem more just.

The paper discusses the reasons for hindsight bias and emphasizes the problems that it creates. It argues that, above all, hindsight bias makes international lawyers give too much credit to reality. It renders reality more natural and more just. Hindsight bias solidifies what has happened and makes it less amenable to change. Turning to strategies in response, the paper tests the debiasing potential of thinking about alternative outcomes. It shows that thinking about alternative outcomes disentangles mental processes that are otherwise conflated in making sense of what has happened. The paper thus seeks to shake the path on which international law depends.

All interested are welcome to attend. Registration is not necessary.