The Ethics of Nudge

In Mats J. Hansson & Till Grüne-Yanoff (eds.), Preference Change: Approaches from Philosophy, Economics and Psychology. Berlin: Springer, Theory and Decision Library A. pp. 207-20 (2008)
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Abstract

In their recently published book Nudge (2008) Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein (T&S) defend a position labelled as ‘libertarian paternalism’. Their thinking appeals to both the right and the left of the political spectrum, as evidenced by the bedfellows they keep on either side of the Atlantic. In the US, they have advised Barack Obama, while, in the UK, they were welcomed with open arms by the David Cameron's camp (Chakrabortty 2008). I will consider the following questions. What is Nudge? How is it different from social advertisement? Does Nudge induce genuine preference change? Does Nudge build moral character? Is there a moral difference between the use of Nudge as opposed to subliminal images to reach policy objectives? And what are the moral constraints on Nudge?

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Author's Profile

Luc Bovens
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill