Paternalism and Evaluative Shift

Ben Davies 1
  • 1 Department of Philosophy, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, Bloomsburg, USA
Ben Davies


Many people feel that respecting a person’s autonomy is not sufficiently important to obligate us to stay out of their affairs in all cases; but the ground for interference may often turn out to be a hunch that the agent cannot really be competent, or cannot really know what her decision implies; for if she were both of these things, surely she would not make such a foolish decision. This paper suggests a justification of paternalism that does not rely on such appeals. I argue that in cases where an agent will undergo a significant alteration in their evaluative outlook – ‘evaluative shift’ – three central, persuasive objections to paternalism lose their force, and offer a prima facie case for paternalism in some of these cases. I then suggest that we can extend this argument to some cases where evaluative alteration is not predictable, but where the risk and harm are both significant. In such cases, paternalism may be justified.

  • Arneson, R. (2005). ‘Joel Feinberg and the justification of hard paternalism’, Legal Theory 11: 259–284.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Bou-Habib, P. (2011). ‘Distributive justice, dignity, and the lifetime view’, Social Theory and Practice 37: 285–310.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Buchanan, R. T. (2014). ‘Right to die: Belgian doctors rule depressed 24-year-old woman has right to end her life’, The Independent, 2nd July 2015,

  • Conly, S. (2013). Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

  • Cranor, C. (1997). ‘The Normative nature of risk assessment: features and possibilities’, Risk: Health, Safety & Environment 8: 123–136.

  • Dworkin, G. (2014). ‘Paternalism’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

  • Feinberg, J. (1984). The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law: Vol. 1, Harm to Others (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

  • Frankfurt, H. (1987). ‘Equality as a moral ideal’, Ethics 98: 21–42.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Hansson, S.O. (2004). ‘Weighing risks and benefits’, Topoi 23: 145–152.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Huseby, R. (2009). ‘Sufficiency: restated and defended’, Journal of Political Philosophy 18: 178–197.

  • Mill, J.S. (1859). ‘On liberty’, in M. Warnock (ed.). (2003). Utilitarianism and On Liberty (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing), pp. 88–180.

  • Shields, L. (2012). ‘The prospects for sufficientarianism’, Utilitas 24: 101–117.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Shiffrin, S. (2000). ‘Paternalism, unconscionability doctrine, & accommodation’, Philosophy & Public Affairs 29: 205–251.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Shrader-Frechette, K. (1991). Risk and Rationality. Philosophical Foundations for Populist Reforms (Berkeley: University of California Press).

  • Sunstein, C. and Thaler, R. (2008). Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Yale: Yale University Press).

  • Tännsjö, T. (1999). Coercive Care: Ethics of Choice in Health & Medicine (London: Routledge).

  • Waldron, J. (2014). ‘It’s all for your own good’, New YorkReview of Books, 9th October,

  • Wallace, R. Jay. (2013). The View from Here. On Affirmation, Attachment, and the Limits of Regret (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.

Log in with your institution

Journal + Issues