Paternalism: Its scope and limits

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Alan H. Goldman, Committee Chair


Paternalism involves a situation in which A interferes with B primarily to protect B from the harmful consequences of his own actions. To determine if such intervention can be justified a detailed analysis of paternalism is necessary. This is provided in the first chapter.In the second chapter possible strategies of justification are examined. Employing Mill's essay On Liberty as a source from which a principle of justification takes shape, I maintain that he advocates paternalism where it furthers individuality, as opposed to mere freedom; and I try to show how such acts are consistent with, even if not derived solely from, utilitarianism.The meaning and value of individuality are considered in chapter three. Individuality is understood in terms of one's having a value ordering and the capacity to choose and act accordingly. Personal value orderings, in turn, provide a sense of identity and esteem so far as they issue from a process that invokes personal traits. I then apply these findings to various forms of strong paternalism.Weak paternalism is discussed in chapter four. Here I explain how proponents employ the relationship between consent, voluntary agency, and self-determination in attempting to justify certain interventions and to proscribe others, some of which are sanctioned by strong paternalism.My next task is to elaborate on the significance of consent. After reviewing various consent modes appealed to at the level of justification--prior, subsequent, and hypothetical--I conclude that only prior consent functions in this way, and even then only in a small minority of cases in which intervention seems plausible. The implications for competing versions of paternalism are then considered.The final chapter consists in adjudicating the strong/weak paternalist polemic. In effecting a compromise I argue that weak paternalists fix too narrowly the moral limits of self-determination while strong paternalists fix them too widely. A concluding summation follows.



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