Activities & Organizations

Duke professor talks use of incentives

Incentives can motivate people to commit both moral and corrupt actions, and the debate regarding how these motivators should be used is still under a critical eye.

“There are all kinds of incentives around us all of the time. Most of them are perfectly benign such as getting a free doughnut if your child gets an ‘A’ on their report card,” said Ruth Grant, author and political science professor at Duke University.

“Then there are some that seem clearly odious such as the NFL coaches that gave bonuses to their players if they would severely injure athletes on opposing teams.”

Grant hosted a lecture at 5 p.m. in the Honors College on Friday as a part of “What’s Fair? A Lecture Series on Justice and Desert in America.” Grant gave her perspective on the use of incentives and discussed their moral standing in society by tracing their history and presenting examples of incentives being utilized.

“I’ve always found some discomfort about the way incentives are used in certain situations,” Grant said.
“I hope this lecture will lead people to be more thoughtful about the use of incentives in our society.”

This event was attended by a mixture of students, faculty and members of the UH community who gave positive reactions to the lecture.

“I think the main point that incentives were a form of power was my favorite part. It really is so natural to us that I never thought of it in that way,” said political science and Spanish senior.

For some students, the lecture caused them to contemplate the current government.

“There is a real reason to question their current status in public policy,” said Krystafer Redden, political science, literature and history senior.

Susan Collins, co-director of the Phronesis program and sponsor of the lecture series, introduced the special guest and gave an overview of Grant’s work as an author and her interest in early modern philosophy and political ethics.

“I like that these lectures bring the opportunity — especially for our students — to meet these outside scholars and gather a range of perspectives on any particular issue. That’s why I always say you have to come to all of the lectures,” Collins said.

“I think it gives students insight into what’s going on at other universities and other think tanks around the country.”

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