Paternalism and the Ill-Informed Agent

Journal of Ethics 16 (4):421-439 (2012)
Most anti-paternalists claim that informed and competent self-regarding choices are protected by autonomy, while ill-informed or impaired self-regarding choices are not. Joel Feinberg, among many others, argues that we can in this way distinguish impermissible “hard” paternalism from permissible “soft” paternalism. I argue that this view confronts two related problems in its treatment of ill-informed decision-makers. First, it faces a dilemma when applied to decision-makers who are responsible for their ignorance: it either permits too much, or else too little, intervention to satisfy its proponents. Second, the most promising rationales in favor of the view ignore the distinction between an agent’s voluntarily bringing about some state of affairs, on the one hand, and an agent’s voluntarily assuming a risk, on the other. I conclude that a decision-maker’s ignorance is irrelevant to the permissibility of intervention on her behalf. If it is permissible to intervene in a given ill-informed choice, it would be permissible to intervene in an otherwise similar but informed choice, at least provided that intervention would produce similar benefits in both cases. This shows that we should sometimes accept straightforwardly paternalistic rationales
Keywords Autonomy  Joel Feinberg  Intervention  Paternalism
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s10892-012-9128-4
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 24,392
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
Alan Wertheimer (1990). Coercion. Princeton University Press.
J. Trout (2005). Paternalism and Cognitive Bias. Law and Philosophy 24 (4):393-434.

View all 27 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Jason Hanna (2011). Paternalism and Impairment. Social Theory and Practice 37 (3):434-460.
Marion Smiley (1989). Paternalism and Democracy. Journal of Value Inquiry 23 (4):299-318.
Michael Cholbi (2013). Kantian Paternalism and Suicide Intervention. In Christian Coons Michael Weber (ed.), Paternalism: Theory and Practice. Cambridge University Press.
P. Allmark (2006). Choosing Health and the Inner Citadel. Journal of Medical Ethics 32 (1):3-6.
Simon Clarke (2002). A Definition of Paternalism. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 5 (1):81-91.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

30 ( #160,212 of 1,924,708 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

2 ( #308,186 of 1,924,708 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.