The Problematic Welfare Standards of Behavioral Paternalism

Douglas Glen Whitman, Mario J. Rizzo

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Behavioral paternalism raises deep concerns that do not arise in traditional welfare economics. These concerns stem from behavioral paternalism’s acceptance of the defining axioms of neoclassical rationality for normative purposes, despite having rejected them as positive descriptions of reality. We argue (1) that behavioral paternalists have indeed accepted neoclassical rationality axioms as a welfare standard; (2) that economists historically adopted these axioms not for their normative plausibility, but for their usefulness in formal and theoretical modeling; (3) that broadly rational individuals might fail to satisfy the axioms for various reasons, making them unpersuasive as normative criteria; and (4) that even if their violation did constitute irrationality, that would not justify paternalists’ choosing among inconsistent preferences to define an individual’s “true” preferences.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)409-425
    Number of pages17
    JournalReview of Philosophy and Psychology
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Sep 27 2015

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
    • Philosophy


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