Resisting the nudge
"Behavioral scientists have discovered that people predictably behave in ways unlike perfectly rational agents or utility maximizers. For example, it has been found that when people make choices, the degree to which they best pursue their own welfare or conception of the good is often influenced by the circumstances surrounding that choice. Cass Sunstein, Richard Thaler, and many others have proposed that these circumstances be consciously shaped to take advantage of these predictable patterns of behavior to get people to make choices that are best for the chooser. Put otherwise, many have suggested that choosers be "nudged" into making better choices. Perhaps more importantly, governments have made policy in line with these proposals. Most notably the US and the UK have attempted to incorporate these findings of behavioral economics by creating what are popularly known as "Nudge Units".(1) The UK's unit (the Behavioral Insights Team) has been credited with "getting the unemployed back into work faster, helping smokers give up tobacco, and motivating procrastinators to be more punctual in paying their taxes".(2) Many are uncomfortable with the use of nudges. Detractors describe their use as manipulative, paternalistic, or violations of autonomy or self-authorship. I share many of these concerns. In this dissertation, I look to raise two new ways of objecting to the use of nudges. The chapters will proceed as follows. In this chapter, I clarify what counts as a nudge and respond to the objection that nudging is inevitable. In the next chapter, I argue on republican grounds that the use of nudges places choice architects in a position of domination over choosers. In case some degree of domination is permissible, I will also explore what elements would distinguish permissible from impermissible nudges on republican grounds. In chapter 3, I argue that nudges can threaten the status of our actions from qualifying as achievements; and for those that still qualify, the use of nudges can make them less valuable as achievements. In the penultimate chapter, I respond to a particular defense of the use of nudges: nudges are permissible because they help one to appreciate the reasons that one has. To respond to this defense, I adopt a contemporary account of reasons to show that one either does not have reason to do what one is nudged into doing or the nudge is causally redundant in helping one to appreciate reasons. I conclude by considering how the insights that motivate the nudge project can be permissibly used."--Chapter 1.
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