Evaluating the underlying assumptions in arguments for paternalism

In “Paternalism”, Gerald Dworkin provides various arguments for and against the use of paternalism and gives exceptions to when paternalism should be specifically allowed. One specific distinction that Dworkin makes is the difference between pure paternalism, which is the case in which the people whose freedom is restricted is identical to the people whose intended to benefit from such intervention, and impure paternalism, which is the case in which by trying to protect the welfare of one group, we also restrict the freedom of those other then who are granted the benefit.

Dworkin then observes that it is impure paternalism which is inherently evil as it restricts the will and autonomy of a person. With this fundamental assumption in mind, Dworkin gives fundamental several scenarios in which paternalism could be applied without rightfully preserving the will of a person.

However, before analyzing his claims, I firstly reject the assumption that personal autonomy should be preserved. Similar to how Plato suggests in his work “the republic”, I believe that attempting to preserve everyone’s right to choose their own value will hinder the society as a whole in pursuing what is know as the “common good” such as health, wellbeing and prosperity. If the society allows individuals to pursue values that go against these common goods without restriction, more people will be influenced and more likely to be influenced in a way that their “free will” chose values that harm the society’s values as stated in Hobbes “natural condition of mankind”.

On the other hand, if we accept this assumption, there are still faults in Dworkins theories. Although I agree with the notion that the burden of persuading the paternalistic measures should be imposed upon the government, a perfectly fair persuasion of the government on the many individuals would be practically impossible as it is absurd to physically consult with every individual’s interests. However, not doing so would oppose Mill’s idea that it is wrong to violate one’s autonomy.

Another claim Dworkin makes is that we are justified in pursuing paternalism if we know that an individual would agree with it after experiencing the situation himself, for instance, dying of lung cancer after smoking too many cigarettes. However, this claim is, again, absurd, as one cannot accurately predict the future, and even if they were to know surely, if the individual does not believe in that promised future, it still means that we are violating the autonomy of that person in the present. In this case, as Kant might say, the burden of death due to choosing to smoke cigarettes should not be in the concern of others, if it means that it violates ultimate values of autonomy, but we should instead fault the wisdom of the individual who chose such fate, even if the person valued a long and healthy life.

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