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“Don’t Tell Me What To Do” A Neorepublican Critique of Nudges by Dr. Ezechiel Thibaud
27 Mar 2023

Hybrid Research Seminar

In recent years, the concept of nudging, popularized by Thaler and Sunstein in their book Nudge (2008), has gained considerable attention. From all sides of the philosophical spectrum, the use and value of nudges have been meticulously analysed. Some see in them innocent, cost-effective tools that compensate for people’s natural difficulties in identifying their best interest. Others worry that nudges are nothing but a silent form of coercion that undermines autonomy. This polarization might be explained by the fact that Thaler and Sunstein define nudges as both libertarian and paternalistic, characteristics that traditionally, have always been in conflict. This paper starts with a brief review of nudges as described by Thaler and Sunstein, and looks at the justification for their libertarian-paternalist view. I argue that unfortunately, Thaler and Sustein’s arguments fail to provide a satisfactory account of nudges, and raise numerous concerns. My arguments in favor of nudge-caution are presented in two ways: First, I list the reasons that I have to think nudges, taken as a general concept, raise concerns regarding moral atrophy and autonomy. I argue that the main argument for their justification – which I call the easy-resistibility condition – is self-defeating, drawing caution on the claim that nudges are effective non-coercive tools. Secondly, I attempt to look at nudges in a more political light, by analysing them through neo-republican lenses. I finally argue that the very mechanism of nudges is at odds with the concept of freedom as nondomination, and ultimately fails to create the conditions required for the development of a healthy republican society.

Venue: LKK203, Leung Kau Kui Building, Lingnan University

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