Paternalism and Libertarian Paternalism

Paternalism and Libertarian Paternalism

This workshop aims to further discussion on the two concepts of paternalism and libertarian paternalism. Contributions are welcomed on conceptual and general normative issues raised by these concepts.


Paternalism continues to be an important topic in moral and political philosophy/theory. But what it is? Most agree that it involves some sort of interference with a person motivated and/or justified by her good.  However, Seana Shiffrin has denied that paternalism need to have this rationale, and proponents of libertarian paternalism typically deny that it need be interfering. It seems even the two most basic elements – interference and benevolence – may not be so basic. What is the most constructive strategy in light of this controversy? Do we keep the conceptual discussion going or can we somehow get around it or do without it?

Libertarian paternalism is a recent political program founded on behavioural research. We now know that what we prefer depends on the context and not only the content of a choice. So our wellbeing can be promoted not only by restricting the content of our choices – blocking or discouraging harmful options, but also by designing or changing the context of our choices – making good options more salient, appealing or otherwise more likely to be chosen. Libertarian paternalists say we should use choice context to promote wellbeing, without restricting content. Can this distinction be maintained? Is libertarian paternalism a coherent strategy? How are pro and con positions on libertarian paternalism related to pro and con positions on paternalism proper?

Suggested topics:

Papers may deal with the importance or lack of importance of the concept of paternalism and/or libertarian paternalism, with the proper or most useful definition of either concept, with the various components of either or both concepts – including benevolence, interference and consent, with choice content versus choice context, or with the normative significance of either or both concepts.

Conceptual investigation of either concept should ideally have some normative use and normative investigation of either concept should ideally be conceptually informed.


Two 3,5 hour sessions. Room for six papers. Papers/drafts circulated in advance two weeks prior to workshop. Please send an abstract/proposal of 300-700 words to before (or on!) May 31st.


Kalle Grill (Umea)


Kalle Grill has written extensively on paternalism, with articles published in Res Publica, Public Reason, Public Health Ethics and the Journal of Medical Ethics. He contributed the entry on Paternalism to the recent 2d edition of the Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics. Kalle is now researching libertarian paternalism. He is associate professor in practical philosophy at Umeå University, Sweden.


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