Paternalism and our Rational Powers

Mind 126 (501):123-153 (2017)
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According to rational will views of paternalism, the wrongmaking feature of paternalism is that paternalists disregard or fail to respect the rational will of the paternalized, in effect substituting their own presumably superior judgments about what ends the paternalized ought to pursue or how they ought to pursue them. Here I defend a version of the rational will view appealing to three rational powers that constitute rational agency, which I call recognition, discrimination, and satisfaction. By appealing to these powers, my version of the rational will view can rank the wrongfulness of paternalistic acts in terms of the extent to which such acts (a) amount to supplanting the paternalized individual’s identity as a rational agent with that of the paternalist, and (b) the degree of mistrust the paternalistic act shows in the paternalized individual’s rational agency. My rational powers account thus provides a more complete account of why paternalism is a powerful, but not decisive or absolute, objection to an act or policy. My rational powers account also provides powerful explanations of why rational suasion deflects charges of paternalism; why consenting to intercessions in one’s rational agency negates paternalism; why we ordinarily believe that strong paternalism is more objectionable than weak paternalism; and why we ordinarily believe that hard paternalism is more objectionable than soft paternalism.

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Michael Cholbi
University of Edinburgh


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