The ethics of nudging: An overview

Philosophy Compass 15 (4):e12658 (2020)
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Abstract

So‐called nudge policies utilize insights from behavioral science to achieve policy outcomes. Nudge policies try to improve people's decisions by changing the ways options are presented to them, rather than changing the options themselves or incentivizing or coercing people. Nudging has been met with great enthusiasm but also fierce criticism. This paper provides an overview of the debate on the ethics of nudging to date. After outlining arguments in favor of nudging, we first discuss different objections that all revolve around the worry that nudging vitiates personal autonomy. We split up this worry into different dimensions of autonomy, such as freedom of choice, volitional autonomy, rational agency, and freedom as nondomination. We next discuss worries that nudging is manipulative, violates human dignity, and prevents more important structural reform. Throughout, we will present responses that proponents of nudging can muster. On the whole, we conclude that the objections fail to establish that the nudge program as a whole should be rejected. At the same time, they give us important guidance when moving towards an ethical assessment of nudges on a case‐by‐case basis. Towards the end, we provide some possible ways forward in debates around the ethics of nudging.

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Author Profiles

Bart Engelen
Tilburg University
Andreas T. Schmidt
University of Groningen

References found in this work

Freedom of the will and the concept of a person.Harry G. Frankfurt - 1971 - Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):5-20.
Freedom of the will and the concept of a person.Harry Frankfurt - 2004 - In Tim Crane & Katalin Farkas (eds.), Metaphysics: a guide and anthology. Oxford University Press UK.
Just freedom: a moral compass for a complex world.Philip Pettit - 2014 - New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government.Philip Pettit - 1999 - Philosophical Quarterly 49 (196):415-419.
Debate: To nudge or not to nudge.Daniel M. Hausman & Brynn Welch - 2009 - Journal of Political Philosophy 18 (1):123-136.

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