Friday, March 17, 2023

Paternalistically enhancing autonomy

Sometimes you are about to tell someone something, and they say: “I don’t want to hear about it.” Yet in some cases, the thing one wanted to tell them is actually rationally relevant to a decision they need to make, and without the information their decision will be less truly theirs.

Imagine, for instance, you have a friend who needs an organ transplant and is planning to travel to China to get the organ transplant. You start to tell them that you read that China engages (or at least recently engaged) in forced organ harvesting among executed prisoners, but they try to shut you up. Yet you keep on speaking. In doing so, you are being paternalistic, but your paternalism enables them to make a more truly informed, and hence autonomous, decision.

It sounds strange to think of paternalism as supporting autonomy, but if we think of autonomy in a Kantian way as tied to genuine rationality, rather than in a shallow desire-fulfillment way, then we will realize that a person can (e.g., through deliberate ignorance) act against their own autonomy, and there may be room for a healthy paternalism in restoring them to autonomy against their own desires. This kind of thing should be rare (except in the case of literal parents!), but it is also the kind of thing friends need to do for friends at times.

No comments: