Nudges and other moral technologies in the context of power: Assigning and accepting responsibility

In David Boonin (ed.), Handbook of Philosophy and Public Policy. Palgrave (forthcoming)
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Strawson argues that we should understand moral responsibility in terms of our practices of holding responsible and taking responsibility. The former covers what is commonly referred to as backward-looking responsibility , while the latter covers what is commonly referred to as forward-looking responsibility . We consider new technologies and interventions that facilitate assignment of responsibility. Assigning responsibility is best understood as the second- or third-personal analogue of taking responsibility. It establishes forward-looking responsibility. But unlike taking responsibility, it establishes forward-looking responsibility in someone else. When such assignments are accepted, they function in such a way that those to whom responsibility has been assigned face the same obligations and are susceptible to the same reactive attitudes as someone who takes responsibility. One family of interventions interests us in particular: nudges. We contend that many instances of nudging tacitly assign responsibility to nudgees for actions, values, and relationships that they might not otherwise have taken responsibility for. To the extent that nudgees tacitly accept such assignments, they become responsible for upholding norms that would otherwise have fallen under the purview of other actors. While this may be empowering in some cases, it can also function in such a way that it burdens people with more responsibility that they can (reasonably be expected to) manage.
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