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Libertarian Paternalism and the Problem of Preference Architecture

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Johannes Kniess



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


People often fail to make the choices that best satisfy their preferences. The design of the social environment inevitably makes some choices easier than others. According to Libertarian Paternalists, these facts justify governments nudging people towards better choices through changes to the so-called choice architecture. This is a form of means paternalism. However, the social environment affects not only people's choices or means, but also the preferences they adopt in the first place. Call this the problem of ‘preference architecture’. This article argues that preference architecture constitutes a fundamental challenge to the justificatory basis of Libertarian Paternalism. More generally, it explores when, if ever, government paternalism that influences preference formation can be justified. While Libertarian Paternalism cannot provide a satisfactory answer, the author defends a contractualist account of paternalism based on a notion of primary goods and democratic deliberation.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Kniess J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: British Journal of Political Science

Year: 2021

Pages: Epub ahead of print

Online publication date: 25/01/2021

Acceptance date: 04/09/2020

Date deposited: 15/06/2021

ISSN (print): 0007-1234

ISSN (electronic): 1469-2112

Publisher: Cambridge University Press


DOI: 10.1017/S0007123420000630


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