Nudges and hard choices

Bioethics 36 (9):948-956 (2022)
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Nudges are small changes in the presentation of options that make a predictable impact on people's decisions. Proponents of nudges often claim that they are justified as paternalistic interventions that respect autonomy: they lead people to make better choices, while still letting them choose for themselves. However, existing work on nudges ignores the possibility of “hard choices”: cases where a person prefers one option in some respects, and another in other respects, but has no all‐things‐considered preference between the two. In this paper, I argue that many significant medical decisions are hard choices that provide patients with an opportunity to exercise a distinctive sort of “formative autonomy” by settling their preferences and committing themselves to weigh their values in a particular way. Since nudges risk infringing formative autonomy by depriving patients of this opportunity, their use in medical contexts should be sensitive to this risk.

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Sarah Zoe Raskoff
Vanderbilt University


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