How Nudges Often Fail to Treat People According to Their Own Preferences

SOCIAL THEORY AND PRACTICE 41.4 (2015): 599-617

Abstract: I focus on “prima facie problematic” (PFP) nudges to argue that libertarian paternalism often fails in its promise to track target agents’ own normative standards. I argue that PFP nudges are unjustified to significant numbers of people by virtue of autonomy-based defeaters—what I call “self-determination” and “discretion.” I then argue that in many cases, we face informational constraints on what a person’s good really is. In such cases, these nudges may not even benefit a significant number of agents and so fail even to be paternalistic—where “paternalistic” is a success term—for those they fail to benefit.