Paternalism and Exclusion

Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 26 (3) (2024)
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What makes paternalism wrong? I give an indirect answer to that question by challenging a recent trend in the literature that I call the exclusionary strategy. The exclusionary strategy aims to show how some feature of the paternalizee’s normative situation morally excludes acting for the paternalizee’s well-being. This moral exclusion consists either in ruling out the reasons for which a paternalizer may act or in changes to the right-making status of the reasons that (would) justify paternalistic intervention. I argue that both versions of the exclusionary strategy fail to explain the wrongness of paternalism and that they struggle to accommodate the mainstream view that paternalism is only pro tanto wrong. Their failure consists either in being implausibly strong expressions of antipaternalism or in struggling to spell out the scope of exclusion in an uncomplicated way. After discouraging this exclusionary strategy, I suggest we can capture what is appealing about it—as well as avoiding its pitfalls—by sketching a philosophical model in which we compare the weights of reasons for and against paternalistically interfering. To precisify this sketch, I introduce some conceptual tools from the literature on practical reasoning—in particular, the concept of modifiers—and suggest that these tools offer a better starting point for figuring out what makes paternalism (pro tanto) wrong.



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Kyle van Oosterum
Oxford University

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