Graduation Year

Spring 2012

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Rivka Weinberg

Reader 2

Julie Tannenbaum

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Rights Information

© 2012 Ilona K. Phipps-Morgan


I wish to determine when one is justified in paternalistic interferences that override a subject’s autonomy. In order to lay the groundwork for discussing paternalistic interferences with autonomous decisions, I first consider different conceptions of autonomy, welfare, and paternalism, and determine which I mean to use. In particular, I proceed with Dworkin’s characterization of autonomy as a combination of authenticity and self-determination; Nussbaum’s capabilities theory in order to determine welfare; and a definition of paternalism as being an interference with a subject’s liberty or autonomy that is motivated exclusively by consideration for that subject’s own good or welfare.

Once I have working definitions for autonomy, welfare, and paternalism, I consider arguments justifying paternalistic interferences. Because I especially wish to determine when paternalistic interferences that conflict with a subject’s autonomous decision are justified, I begin with Scoccia’s arguments for using hypothetical consent — which is based on what would maximize the subject’s welfare — to justify paternalistic acts. Using Scoccia’s argument, I consider a few cases in which concerns for welfare may justify paternalistic acts overriding the subject’s autonomy.

However, hypothetical consent does not go very far in justifying paternalistic acts. Therefore, I also consider arguments justifying paternalism in cases where the subject is not necessarily fully autonomous when making or acting upon a decision. For example, Carter argues that paternalistic acts are justified if autonomy has been waived through prior or subsequent consent. Additionally, I look at justifying paternalism when the subject’s autonomy is compromised through involuntariness or incompetence.