Paternalistic Approach

19/10/2020 0 By indiafreenotes

Paternalism is action that limits a person’s or group’s liberty or autonomy and is intended to promote their own good. Paternalism can also imply that the behavior is against or regardless of the will of a person, or also that the behavior expresses an attitude of superiority. Paternalism, paternalistic and paternalist have all been used as a pejorative.

The word paternalism is from the Latin pater “father” via the adjective paternus “fatherly”, which in Medieval Latin became paternalis. Some such as John Stuart Mill think paternalism to be appropriate towards children, saying: “It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that this doctrine is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties. We are not speaking of children, or of young persons below the age which the law may fix as that of manhood or womanhood. “Paternalism towards adults is sometimes thought of as treating them as if they were children.

Criteria for effective paternalism

Thomas Pogge argues that there are a number of criteria for paternalism.

  • The concept should work within human flourishing. Generally accepted items such as nutrition, clothing, shelter, certain basic freedoms may be acceptable by a range of religious and social backgrounds.
  • The criteria should be minimally intrusive.
  • The requirements of the criteria should not be understood as exhaustive; leaving societies the ability to modify the criteria based on their own needs.
  • The supplementary considerations introduced by such more ambitious criteria of justice must not be allowed to outweigh the modest considerations.


Soft and hard

Soft paternalism is the view that paternalism is justified only if an action to be committed is involuntary. John Stuart Mill gives the example of a person about to walk across a damaged bridge. We can’t tell the person the bridge is damaged as he doesn’t speak our language. According to soft paternalism, we would be justified in forcing him to not cross the bridge so we could find out whether he knows about the damage. If he knows and wants to jump off the bridge and commit suicide then we should allow him to. Hard paternalists say that at least sometimes we are entitled to prevent him from crossing the bridge and committing suicide.

Pure and impure

Pure paternalism is paternalism where the persons having their liberty or autonomy taken away are those being protected. Impure paternalism occurs when the class of people whose liberty or autonomy is violated by some measure is wider than the group of persons thereby protected.

Moral and welfare

Moral paternalism is where paternalism is justified to promote the moral wellbeing of a person(s) even if their welfare wouldn’t improve. For example, it could be argued that someone should be prevented from prostitution even if they make a decent living off it and their health is protected. A moral paternalist would argue that it is ethical considering they believe prostitution to be morally corrupting.