Acting for Others: Towards a Theory of Paternalism

Dissertation, University of Minnesota (1982)

Mary Ellen Waithe
Cleveland State University
The central goal of this essay is to develop a theory of justified paternalism that will be useful in evaluating and designing paternalistic public policies. The theory is designed for a society that promotes the development of characteristics of autonomy in its members. In the opening chapter I analyze widely-held legal, familial and philosophic conceptions of paternalism, discuss the inadequacies of each of those conceptions and develop a "unified" conception of paternalism. In Chapter II I analyze what it means to be "morally responsible" and base this analysis on the legal, psychological and psychiatric accounts of responsibility that inform an autonomist society. From these analyses I develop two principles which inform an autonomist society: Respect for Others and Non-Interference and discuss the restraints on justifiable paternalism entailed by them. In Chapter III I discuss the roles of voluntariness and consent in the legal, phychiatric and philosophic concepts of moral responsibility and turn to an analysis of the disappointing treatments of these concepts in traditional philosophic justifications for paternalism. I argue that "unencumbered consent" is an appropriate concept of consent to utilize in any philosophic justification for paternalism that would be consistent with the concepts of moral responsibility and autonomy and the principles of respect for others and of non-interference. Chapter IV offers a decision-theoretic model justifying acting paternalistically for others. Each of the necessary conditions for justified paternalism is drawn from the aforementioned concepts and principles. In Chapter V, I show that if Rawls is to be consistent, he must adopt a theory of paternalism similar to mine, and I argue that my theory of paternalism overcomes libertarian, utilitarian and statistical arguments against it. I then apply the theory to specific forms of paternalism including involuntary commitment and guardianship, mandatory blood transfusions, flouridation of public water supplies, mandatory motorcycle helmets and seatbelts, social security taxation, mandatory education of children and suicide intervention. A 267-entry bibliography is appended.
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