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Fellow philosophers will no doubt be familiar with the curious book, Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. The book defends “libertarian paternalism” and a view of behavioural economics. While I have not been convinced by its arguments, it is a good read and I’ve half expected Nudge to be the subject of at least a small wave of papers in ethics and political philosophy. I’m not the only one who thought its ideas would find traction: the British government has also commissioned research into how it might “nudge” the public into healthier lifestyles, for example.

The strange thing is, well, I don’t think I’ve seen anything yet. So a question for readers: has interest in libertarian paternalism already passed? Or is it an area that will see new work soon?


  1. 1. Posted by Jeremy Snyder | July 20, 2011 10:03 pm

    I believe that the second edition of Stephen Holland’s Public Health Ethics will include a discussion of libertarian paternalism.

  2. 2. Posted by Dani Wenner | July 20, 2011 10:19 pm

    I actually discussed Thaler & Sunstein a good bit in my dissertation. Seeing this post gives me hope that my ambitions to publish some of my chapters may actually be realistic. I only defended about a month ago, though, so have patience with me! I’ll be working on revising a couple of chapters into a more publication-appropriate state over the next few months.

  3. 3. Posted by Regina Rini | July 21, 2011 12:38 am

    Yashar Saghai has been doing a lot of really interesting work in this area, although I don’t know how much has made it to publication yet. You can see a description of his project here:

  4. 4. Posted by Mark Alfano | July 21, 2011 12:38 am

    I, too, discussed a position closely related to libertarian paternalism in my dissertation, which should be under contract as a book in the not too distant future. In the meantime, I’ve tried to publish a couple chapters, but, to my dismay, in most cases referees have been extremely hostile to the encroachment of the empirical in ethics. We’ll see if that changes after the book comes out….

  5. 5. Posted by Paul Kelleher | July 22, 2011 6:23 pm

    The best philosophical paper I’ve read on this topic is:

    Daniel M. Hausman and Brynn Welch, “Debate: To Nudge or Not to Nudge,” Journal of Political Philosophy (18)1: 123–136.

  6. 6. Posted by Ezio Di Nucci | July 22, 2011 6:46 pm

    there was a conference on nudges in Manchester last summer:


    (I never got around to write up my own talk, but some of the other speakers may have)

  7. 7. Posted by Thom Brooks | July 22, 2011 11:47 pm

    These comments are most helpful. I’m unsurprised there is much new work being done in this area, but glad to see my suspicion confirmed. A pity I missed the Manchester event, but I hope there will be more such events in future soon.

  8. 8. Posted by Hanno Sauer | July 25, 2011 5:23 pm

    Joel Anderson has done a lot of interesting stuff on this topic. Check it out:

  9. 9. Posted by Yashar Saghai | July 26, 2011 3:26 pm

    As Regina Rini kindly mentioned, I’m writing a dissertation on the Ethics of Health Nudges at Georgetown. I combat libertarian paternalism, and propose an ethical framework for the defense of nudges on alternative grounds. I have several works in progress on nudges that I plan to submit for publication next year, and a paper co-written with Madison Powers and Ruth Faden on that topic (focused on coercive and non-coercive interventions in public health). The literature on nudges is ever-expanding. I would recommend two pieces that will stimulate philosophers (besides the Hausman and Welch contribution). Luc Bovens’ “The Ethics of Nudge” is excellent. Economists George Loewenstein and Emily Haisley have an interesting discussion of the welfare criterion needed for behavioral nudges in “The Economist as Therapist: Methodological Ramifications of ‘Light’ Paternalism.”

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