In this paper, I examine how nudges affect the autonomy and freedom of those nudged. I consider two arguments put forth by Thaler and Sunstein for the claim that these effects can only be minor. According to the first of these arguments, nudges cannot significantly restrict a person’s autonomy or freedom since they are easy to resist. According to the second argument, the existence of nudges is inevitable, and thus, pursuing libertarian paternalism by nudging people doesn’t make a relevant difference to people’s autonomy and freedom. After arguing that both of these arguments fail, I elucidate the general conditions in which, and the degrees to which, a person’s autonomy and freedom are affected by nudges. One focus of this discussion concerns how people’s autonomy and freedom are affected if—for example, due to progress in information technology—nudges become more effective, more individualized and more common, and affect more people.
I have presented a version of this article at a workshop at Boston University. I would like to thank the audience on this occasion for helpful discussion, as well as Kay Mathiesen for her comments on my talk. I would also like to thank three anonymous reviewers for this volume for comments. I am especially grateful to Zeynep Soysal for comments and discussions.
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