Department of Political Science

On the Possibility (and Acceptability) of Paternalism towards Future People

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This article argues that it is possible to act paternalistically towards future people, as long as the following requirements are met: (1) the act/choice is not such that it will prevent the future person from coming into existence; (2) the action/choice is such that it can be taken by the future person herself without significant disadvantage to her; and (3) the act/choice is not such that there is significant uncertainty at the time of choice about the preferences of the future person. I argue that the possibility of acting paternalistically towards future people is of practical as well as theoretical importance. This is true since some of the policies we might choose to pursue on behalf of future people are paternalistic, in particular constitutional policies implemented because we do not trust future people to choose wisely. I end the paper by pointing out why it is valuable to approach intergenerational issues through both the paternalistic prism and the prism of theories of justice.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEthical Theory and Moral Practice
Pages (from-to)13-25
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019

    Research areas

  • Constitutional policies, Future people, Intergenerational obligations, Paternalism

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