Liberty and Paternalism Essay

1659 Words Oct 2nd, 1999 7 Pages
LIBERTY AND PATERNALISM

John Stuart Mill and Gerald Dworkin have distinctly opposing views on legal paternalism in that Mill is adamantly against any form of paternalism, whereas Dworkin believes that there do exist circumstances in which paternalism is justified. Both agree that paternalism is justified when the well being of another person is violated or put at risk. Mill takes on a utilitarian argument, explaining that allowing an individual to exercise his freedom of free choice is more beneficial to society than deciding for him what is in his best interests. Dworkin, on the other hand, feels that certain cases require the intervention of either society as a whole or its individual members. He breaks Mill's argument down into two
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One opposition to this reasoning is that an adult differs from a child in that it is presumed that the adult can understand the consequences of his action whereas a child cannot. This is where the examples slightly differ. However, there are two main reasons for an adult not wearing his seat belt. Either the person neglects to act in accordance with his actual preferences and desires or he attaches incorrect weights to some of his values, such as in the example already discussed in which a person doesn't wear a seat belt because of the inconvenience. Despite the fact that an adult may be aware of the consequences of not wearing his seat belt, it is also assumed that this person is not trying to injure himself, and values his life. Therefore, it can be understood that this person does not fully appreciate the risks in an emotionally genuine manner. The person does not understand the possible consequences enough to realize that they are in contradiction with his actual preferences and desires. If he were aware of this and was a rational person, he would wear a seat belt. Therefore, in this case as well, it is justifiable for the decision to be made for him.

Another real life example that this idea of justified paternalism can be applied to is the use of cigarettes. In this case, the government interferes with the free choice of the decision of whether or not to smoke in the lives of citizens under the age of eighteen. This

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