The Ethics of Nudging

Are nudges inherently paternalistic? Can nudges also enhance individual autonomy?

Organisator Studium Generale

do 16 april 2015 20:00

Nudges are subtle changes in the choice architecture. For example: put the healthy product in the front of the supermarket shelf. Or place clear signs ‘stairs’ in an office building. The choice is guided, but not limited. You can still buy the unhealthy food, or take the elevator. In this series we explore the effectiveness of nudges, their usability for (health-)policy, and the ethics behind their use.

Nudges are not only promising interventions for public policy, they also raise ethical concerns, mainly due to their paternalist nature and due to the fact that they in certain ways bypass our faculties of reasoning. Thaler and Sunstein, who introduced the concept of nudging, hold that the nudges they propose are ethically acceptable, as they promote well-being while allowing freedom of choice. Such nudges are paternalist, but in a libertarian way. In this lecture, professor of Philosophy Marcel Verweij explores the key concepts at stake. What is paternalism and how does it relate to freedom and autonomy? Can nudges also enhance individual autonomy? And, on the other hand, is public health paternalism necessarily wrong? These issues are discussed in the context of specific public health policies.

Since May 2013, Verweij holds the Chair of Philosophy at Wageningen University. His research, teaching and consultation focus on ethical and philosophical questions about the connections between public health, food, environment and agriculture.