We know that we are fallible creatures, liable to cognitive bias. Yet, we also have a strong and stubborn tendency to overestimate our reasoning capacities. This presents a problem for any attempt to help us reason in more accurate ways: While we might see the point of others heeding intellectual advice and relying on reasoning aids, each and every one of us will tend not to see the point of doing so ourselves. The present book argues that the solution to (...) this problem lies in accepting a form of epistemic paternalism. Accepting such paternalism is to accept that we are sometimes justified in interfering with the inquiry of another without his or her consent but for his or her own epistemic good. Because when it comes to our freedom to conduct inquiry in whatever way we see fit, more is not always better. In fact, less is quite often more. (shrink)
From the outset, critical social theory has sought to diagnose people’s participation in their own oppression, by revealing the roots of irrational and self-undermining choices in the complex interplay between human nature, social structures, and cultural beliefs. As part of this project, Ideologiekritik has aimed to expose faulty conceptions of this interplay, so that the objectively pathological character of what people are “freely” choosing could come more clearly into view. The challenge, however, has always been to find a way of (...) doing this without arrogantly assuming special access to what is good for people. And this danger of paternalism is one to which social theorists have all too often fallen prey. In this brief essay, I focus on contemporary instances of clearly self-defeating behavior in contexts of complex choices. I begin by discussing a recent attempt to diagnose and solve these failures of choices, namely the public policy recommendations of behavioral economist Richard Thaler and reform-minded legal theorist Cass Sunstein. Their influential “libertarian paternalist” approach is particularly interesting, both in what it includes (attention to the socially constructed nature of choice situations and the roots of the problems in human nature) and in what it leaves out (an understanding of the social construction of human nature and an adequate appreciation of the value of autonomy). After discussing it, I consider a broadly perfectionist alternative, to the effect that the problem lies in a failure to adequately appreciate the importance of developing autonomy. I then turn to sketching the outlines of a new approach, based on the concept of “autonomy gaps,” which approaches overly demanding policies in relational and action-theoretical terms. In the final section, I show how this provides the basis for an analysis both in terms of a critique of ideology and of social pathology. (shrink)
This article considers the application of utilitarian and deontological theories to questions that arise in the conduct of government, including whether a government may mislead the public without actually lying, how far civil servants should maintain political neutrality, whether civil servants should leak information to the press, and whether a government should avoid getting legal advice that it might not like.
Although there is no more iconic, stalwart, and eloquent defender of liberty and representative democracy than J.S. Mill, he sometimes endorses non-democratic forms of governance. This article explains the reasons behind this seeming aberration and shows that Mill actually has complex and nuanced views of the transition from non-democratic to democratic government, including the comprehensive and parallel material, cultural, institutional, and character reforms that must occur, and the mechanism by which they will be enacted. Namely, an enlightened despot must cultivate (...) democratic virtues such as obedience, industriousness, spirit of nationality, and resistance to tyranny in the population and simultaneously prepare the way for his own demise and secure his own legitimacy by transitioning to the rule of law. This challenges recent scholarship that paints Mill’s non-democratic views as crudely and uncritically imperialist, because it fails to recognize and engage seriously with his sophisticated (if ultimately problematic) theory of individual and institutional development under enlightened colonialism. (shrink)
Abstract In political culture, Hong Kong has undergone dramatic changes in recent decades. When Hong Kong was a British colony, its people were largely concerned to maintain the status quo so that they could be left alone; the ideal government was perceived as a paternalistic one which would maintain law and order. With their increasing involvement in political parties and pressure groups, more Hong Kong people are prepared to fight for their rights and demand ?freedom and democracy?; they want a (...) more representative government in the form of a widely elected Legislative Council. The return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 and ?one country, two systems? means that the Hong Kong people have to learn to administer their own affairs. Yet this is within a context in which China is suspicious of a democratic regime in Hong Kong on the grounds that it threatens her rule over the territory. This paper considers the implications of this situation for civic education in Hong Kong, which was promoted in schools after the publication of the Guidelines in 1985. With July 1997 looming, it is timely to review the programme's objectives, achievements and prospects. (shrink)
I first provide an analysis of Joel Feinberg’s anti-paternalism in terms of invalidation of reasons. Invalidation is the blocking of reasons from influencing the moral status of actions, in this case the blocking of personal good reasons from supporting liberty-limiting actions. Invalidation is shown to be distinct from moral side constraints and lexical ordering of values and reasons. I then go on to argue that anti-paternalism as invalidation is morally unreasonable on at least four grounds, none of which presuppose that (...) people can be mistaken about their own good: First, the doctrine entails that we should sometimes allow people to unintentionally severely harm or kill themselves though we could easily stop them. Second, it entails that we should sometimes allow perfectly informed and rational people to risk the lives of themselves and others, though they are in perfect agreement with us on what reasons we have to stop them for their own good. Third, the doctrine leaves unexplained why we may benevolently coerce less competent but substantially autonomous people, such as young teens, but not adults. Last, it entails that there are peculiar jumps in justifiability between very similar actions. I conclude that as liberals we should reject anti-paternalism and focus our efforts on explicating important liberal values, thereby showing why liberty reasons sometimes override strong personal good reasons, though never by making them invalid. (shrink)
The Australian Productivity Commission and a Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform have recommended implementation of a mandatory pre-commitment system for electronic gambling. Organizations associated with the gambling industry have protested that such interventions reduce individual rights, and will cause a reduction in revenue which will cost jobs and reduce gaming venue support for local communities. This article is not concerned with the design details or the evidence base of the proposed scheme, but rather with the fundamental criticism that a (...) mandatory pre-commitment policy is an unacceptable interference with the liberty of the individual, and of organizations. It is argued that the concept of paternalism is a useful lens with which to study the interactions between business and society on this issue. It is contended that the benefits of a pre-commitment system to problem gamblers and society are socially and economically significant, and the cost to recreational gamblers, particularly the cost in terms of interference with the liberty of the individual, is minimal. Pre-commitment also requires gambling businesses to act in a more socially responsible manner. It is concluded that the proposed legislation constitutes a paternalistic intervention by government on the interaction between business and society, and that this is justified. (shrink)
This essay argues that Dworkin, Feinberg and others who claim exceptions against the principle of paternalism for the sake of preventing seroius physical harm are forced to treat mature adults as mental incompetents and that they are forced to do so by the prevailing concept of paternalism itself. The essay then shows how we can get around this dilemma by re-thinking paternalism as part of distinctly paternal relationships of domination and inequality.
In "Behavioral Law and Economics: The Assault on Consent, Will, and Dignity," Mark D. White uses the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant to examine the intersection of economics, psychology, and law known as "behavioral law and economics." Scholars in this relatively new field claim that, because of various cognitive biases and failures, people often make choices that are not in their own interests. The policy implications of this are that public and private organizations, such as the state and employers, can (...) and should design the presentation of options and default choices in order to "steer" people to the decision they would make, were they able to make choices in the absence of their cognitive biases and failures. Such policies are promoted under the name "libertarian paternalism," because choice is not blocked or co-opted, but simply "nudged." White argues that such manipulation of choice is impossible to conduct in people's true interests, and any other goal pursed by policymakers substitutes their own ends, however benevolent they may be, for people's true ends. Normatively, such manipulation should not be conducted because it fails to respect the dignity and autonomy of persons, what some hold to be the central idea in Kant's ethical system, and which serves to protect the individual from coercion, however subtle, from other persons or the state. (shrink)