Paternalism and Evidence of Incapacity: Taking Reasons Seriously

Soo Jin Suzie Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One of the most salient objections against paternalism is that it is motivated by a negative judgment about other people’s capacity to advance their own goals and interests. Such a negative judgment, according to this objection, is morally wrong because it denies others the status of moral equals who can rationally set and pursue their own conception of the good. Despite the popularity of this objection, I argue that it misfires because rendering a negative judgment about others’ capacities does not deny them equal moral status when there is sufficient evidence for that judgment. However, I argue that in order to determine if there is sufficient evidence of the agent’s incapacity, we must understand the agent’s reasons for action through a rational discursive exchange with them, instead of taking perceived facts about their behavior as sufficient grounds for a negative (or positive) judgment of their capacities. In fact, I argue that if the outcome of the discursive exchange supports a negative judgment of the agent’s capacities, there is a pro tanto case in favor of paternalistic interference.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)683-704
Number of pages22
JournalRes Publica
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • Discursive exchange
  • Equal respect
  • Evidence
  • Moral encroachment
  • Paternalism
  • Rational interpretation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Law


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