On the Ethics of Public Nudging: Autonomy and Agency

26 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2015

Date Written: October 12, 2015


Nudges, i.e., low-cost interventions that steer people’s behavior without compromising their freedom of choice, are the key contribution of ‘Libertarian Paternalism’ (LP) to public policy. They typically work through either harnessing or responding to people’s cognitive biases and heuristics – which is why they have been criticized for being manipulative and for compromising personal autonomy. We argue, though, that (i) nudging hardly compromises autonomy, properly understood, and that (ii) it rather risks undermining people’s agency, i.e., their ability to engage in creative self-constitution over time. This reorientation has far-ranging implications for the ethics of behavioral policies in general and LP in particular.

Keywords: nudges, choice architecture, libertarian paternalism, autonomy, agency

JEL Classification: D03, D18, H11, I18

Suggested Citation

Schubert, Christian, On the Ethics of Public Nudging: Autonomy and Agency (October 12, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2672970 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2672970

Christian Schubert (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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