- Hardcover: 216 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (December 17, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1107024846
- ISBN-13: 978-1107024847
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #685,589 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism
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"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, David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Virginia
"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
"... careful, provocative, and novel, and it is a fundamental challenge to Mill and the many people who follow him ..."
Cass R. Sunstein, The New York Review of Books
"... Sarah Conly's book Against Autonomy is the first full-length, philosophical exploration and defense of a much broader, and coercive, paternalism ... This is a well-written, thoughtful, informed, treatment of its topic. One test of the quality of a book's argumentation is to see, when a doubt arises in one's mind about some claim, whether the author, at some point, addresses it. Conly passes this test with high marks ..."
Gerald Dworkin, University of California, Davis, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
"... a timely and important addition to the literature on paternalism ... this is a well-written, well-argued volume that will be of interest to undergraduates, graduate students, and researchers ... Highly recommended ..."
J. S. Taylor, The College of New Jersey, Choice
"... a concise and coherent argument worth considering by students and the lay public interested in the intersection of philosophy, politics, and psychology. It is written in plain language with minimal philosophical jargon, and is both accessible and eminently readable ... Overall, the book is coherent and generally very well-argued ..."
Matthew A. Butkus, Metapsychology
"... a thought-provoking contribution (in every sense of the word provoking) both to general practical philosophy and to biomedical ethics in particular ... this book is worth reading because it poses the right questions and does not shy away from consequences which may be drawn from this although violating political correctness at first sight ... should be studied by everyone who is interested in defending autonomy and liberty for finite human beings."
Michael Quante, Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy
"... 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
Sarah Conly rejects the idea of autonomy as inviolable and argues that laws that enforce what is good for the individual's well-being, or hinder what is bad, are morally justified. Of interest to students and researchers of political philosophy, political theory and philosophy of law.
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Conly first takes on the idea of autonomy itself: why do Western philosophers find it to be so valuable, such that we'd rather respect autonomy than help people actually live well? (Is it really better to respect autonomy by letting others drink themselves to death than to try and keep them alive by limiting their ability to buy alcohol?) Conly takes primary aim at John Stuart Mill's defense of liberty, arguing against Mill's idea that autonomy derives much of its value by allowing people to be heterodox and not have to conform to public opinion or authority. Conly points out that few of us actually use our autonomy to actually buck (rather than conform to) public opinion, and many people really do find too much autonomy to be a chore (as in the dieter who wishes they did not have to face the temptation of the donut). While this is the part of the book I most enjoyed, there are two flaws: first, Conly really only deals with Mill's defenses of autonomy (rather than approaches grounded in deontology or virtue ethics). Second, even if people use their autonomy to conform to the group, or some do find autonomy to be a chore, it is still not clear to me that this is an argument AGAINST having choice at all. (Maybe people need to toughen up and learn to deal with the burden of choice. And just because people will use choice to go with the group, that doesn't mean we shouldn't have autonomy to live that way if we choose.)
Next, Conly deals with the possibility of "abuse and misuse" by government. I find this section to be thin, and Conly's views on the nature of government and their decision making processes to be excessively optimistic. When she talks of coercive legislation being imposed, it is almost always "by society" rather than by government officials. She refers to government abuses as "errors" as if bad legislation (that not wholly motivated by the common good) is the deviation from the rule. To keep this part of the review short, I (in the vain of public-choicers like James Buchahan) believe that any policy which won't be just unless instituted by a government of angels isn't one we should give to governments. After all, Conly's argument that coercive paternalism can be justified MUST come with an argument that, therefore, we should give governments the power to write such legislation, and this means that they will be the judges of whether their legislation is reasonable (yes, because we live in a republic, not an Athenian democracy). So, if you are not comfortable with the worst congresspeople and presidents you can imagine able to write such legislation, this should be a large chink in Conly's case.
Conly's next chapter is about whether coercive paternalism is unjust because it punishes unjustly or incurs on privacy. On the latter, she is somewhat convincing; she acknowledges that privacy may be a problem, but insists that coercive legislation can often be written in a way that minimizes privacy. (Instead of weighing us in to make sure we are eating healthy, we can just outlaw certain bad foods.) She also writes (much less convincingly) that since government is acting in our best interest with their coercive legislation, incursion on privacy is not such a bad thing.
Conly is a utilitarian of sorts who, at all turns, argues that the justice of coercive legislation must be determined on a case-by-case basis, an honest assessment of costs and benefits. My main problem here is that a huge cost of coercive paternalism that Conly doesn't really address is the cost of enforcing laws outlawing transactions between willing participants, none of which wish to report the matter to the police. Part of why the drug war is so costly comes from the fact that neither dealers nor users have any incentive to report drug sales to the police (unless it is that of their competitors). Thus, governments spend oodles of time and money trying to monitor what transactors try hard to keep hidden. And, by extension, governments have to fight costly `wars' trying to quash black markets that thrive in proportion to how `black' they are! HUGE cost.
Lastly, Conly tries to appeal to our intuitions in order to argue the intuitive legitimacy of some coercive legislation. We acknowledge that John may stop Rebecca from drinking antifreeze she thinks is KoolAid but John knows is not. Okay, but that is not really the kind of analogy that reflects what Conly is arguing. A better analogy to what Conly argues in the book would be my taking away your donut because I judge you to be too obese, or your taking $50 from me because you don't think I am putting away enough money for the future. In both of THESE cases, I think, intuition DOES NOT support Conly, but these are precisely the kinds of coercion she finds justified when government does them. (Here, I find Michael Huemer's The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey to be particularly instructive. Why, he asks, do we allow governments to do things we would recognize as unjust if done by private actors?)
Anyhow, despite the problems I think exist, I did enjoy reading Conly's controversial case. I hope that those who think they will disagree with her case read her book because her well-articulated case provides a valuable way to think through why we value autonomy, why autonomy is more valuable than a person's long-term well-being, and how far government should be allowed to go in coercing us "for our own good."
As I see it, the major worry I have with Conly's proposal is that it burdens those who do not need paternalistic policies to thrive. Conly bases the need for paternalistic policies on the fact that, on average, most people will not thrive if left to their own devices. However, there will surely be outliers and exceptions to this rule, although few. These people who can thrive without a certain paternalistic policy imposed on them might feel that such paternalism is unjust. I think Conly could respond by saying that well-being is not so isolated. Even if a few people are unnecessarily inconvenienced by a paternalistic that they, personally, do not need, they will benefit from the policy so long as MOST people need the policy. They will benefit because there will be less of a collective burden from irrational choices and behaviors (e.g., the reduced cost of health care after imposing paternalistic policies that make it more difficult to make poor health choices). So, even if some people do not need paternalistic policies to thrive as an individual, they might need paternalistic policies to thrive in a community of people who, for the most part, DO need such paternalistic policies to thrive (and to relieve the public of their poor decision-making).
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