Legal Paternalism

Joel Feinberg

in The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law Volume 3: Harm to Self

Published in print August 1989 | ISBN: 9780195059236
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199869473 | DOI:
Legal Paternalism

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There are a number of diverse meanings of “paternalism.” Feinberg attempts to bring some precision to the meaning of the term. He examines the liberal position, which maintains that prevention of harm (physical, psychological, or economic) to the actor himself is always a good reason for prohibition. Feinberg argues that legal paternalism is a “presumptively blameable” view because it implies that the state often can know the interests of individual citizens better than the citizens know them themselves. The most promising strategy for the antipaternalist is to construct a convincing conception of personal autonomy that can explain how that notion is a moral trump card.

Keywords: coercion; liberty; paternalism

Chapter.  11522 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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