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This introductory chapter discusses some of the key aspects of the present-day discussion of paternalism. Interest in paternalism has been heightened recently by the publication of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's Nudge. They tout an approach to policy-making that is at once paternalistic but will not offend its traditional (libertarian) critics. At the heart of Thaler and Sunstein's defense of libertarian paternalism is a body of psychological research showing that people's choices are influenced by small and apparently insignificant aspects of the choice environment, or what they call the choice architecture. There is a well-known objection to utilitarianism: insofar as it aims to maximize good in the aggregate, individuals can be sacrificed for the greater good. Paternalistic nudges risk harming a portion of the population. Thaler and Sunstein would presumably object to stacking nudges because collectively they might constitute a shove.
Is it allowable for your government, or anyone else, to influence or coerce you 'for your own sake'? This is a question about paternalism, or interference with a person's liberty or autonomy with the intention of promoting their good or averting harm, which has created considerable controversy at least since John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. Mill famously decried paternalism of any kind, whether carried out by private individuals or the state. In this volume of new essays, leading moral, political and legal philosophers address how to define paternalism, its justification, and the implications for public policy, professional ethics and criminal law. So-called 'libertarian' or non-coercive paternalism receives considerable attention. The discussion addresses the nature of freedom and autonomy and the relation of individuals to law, policy and the state. The volume will interest a wide range of readers in political philosophy, public policy and the philosophy of law.
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