Against Autonomy

Against Autonomy : Justifying Coercive Paternalism

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Since Mill's seminal work On Liberty, philosophers and political theorists have accepted that we should respect the decisions of individual agents when those decisions affect no one other than themselves. Indeed, to respect autonomy is often understood to be the chief way to bear witness to the intrinsic value of persons. In this book, Sarah Conly rejects the idea of autonomy as inviolable. Drawing on sources from behavioural economics and social psychology, she argues that we are so often irrational in making our decisions that our autonomous choices often undercut the achievement of our own goals. Thus in many cases it would advance our goals more effectively if government were to prevent us from acting in accordance with our decisions. Her argument challenges widely held views of moral agency, democratic values and the public/private distinction, and will interest readers in ethics, political philosophy, political theory and philosophy of law.
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Product details

  • Electronic book text
  • Cambridge University Press (Virtual Publishing)
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1139176102
  • 9781139176101

Review quote

'Sarah Conly's Against Autonomy is a bold and rigorous work, which seeks to demolish liberal defenses of rights and the value often believed to underlie them. I expect it to become a canonical consequentialist defense of paternalism. It is also a book with which all political and moral philosophers will have to contend, especially those who seek to resist its central thesis.' Corey Brettschneider, Brown University 'Sarah Conly has written the best book about paternalism since Mill, and the best philosophical defense of paternalism we have to date. Tough-minded, resourceful, precise, and informed by knowledge of both psychology and the regulatory state, the book issues a challenge to which, from now on, anyone who objects to paternalistic government policies will have to respond. A marvelous achievement.' Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, University of Chicago 'According to Mill, 'Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.' Sarah Conly disagrees. In this lively, accessible, sensible, and well argued book, Conly makes a case for coercive paternalism that critics of the 'nanny state' will have to take seriously.' Alan Wertheimer, Professor Emeritus, University of Vermont 'For generations paternalism has had a bad odor, and individual autonomy has reigned supreme. Sarah Conly's book will change all of that. She argues in favor of paternalism with rigor and gusto, and persuasively shows how shedding our reflexive aversion to paternalism will make people better off. Some will be persuaded and others not, but this book will forever change the nature of the debates about paternalism, autonomy, and the role of the state in individual well-being.' Frederick Schauer, University of Virginia 'This volume ... is a thought-provoking contribution (in every sense of the word provoking) both to general practical philosophy and to biomedical ethics in particular. [This book] should be studied by everyone who is interested in defending autonomy and liberty for finite human beings.' Michael Quante, Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 'Until now, we have lacked a serious philosophical discussion of whether and how recent behavioral findings undermine Mill's harm principle and thus open the way toward paternalism. Sarah Conly's illuminating book Against Autonomy provides such a discussion.' Cass R. Sunstein, New York Review of Books '... usefully illuminates the moral-ethical complexities and risks of community-based lawyering for pro bono attorneys who stand up in defense of impoverished communities.' Michigan Law Review
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Table of contents

Introduction; 1. Why value autonomy?; 2. Individuality; 3. Alienation, authenticity, and affect; 4. Misuse and abuse: perfectionism and preferences; 5. Misuse and abuse: punishment and privacy; 6. Applications; 7. Final justifications.
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