14th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Kniess

Johannes Kniess

Nudge with a catch: the problem of preference architecture

Libertarian paternalists argue that governments are justified in influencing people’s misguided means by “nudging” them in the right direction, as long as they don’t override their ends. In the most recent and sophisticated normative justification of this position, Cass Sunstein presents two arguments in favour of it. First, nudges improve welfare while respecting people’s ends. Second, it is inevitable that governments influence people’s choices anyway. In this paper, we argue that this second argument can be used to justify nudges to shape people’s choices, but also nudges to change their ends – a phenomenon we call “preference architecture.” By parity of reasoning, if the inevitability of nudges justifies means paternalism, the same must be true of ends paternalism.