Friday, November 12, 2021

Ethics of Behavioural Science Policy: Nudge FORGOOD

This is one of a series of "living posts" that will updated periodically. See more examples on the right-hand side-bar of the blog. 

The post below has been developed since 2015 to keep tabs on various discussions about ethical aspects of behavioural science and policy. I will continue to update this post through the next three years. The paper linked here (abstract below), co-authored with Leonhard Lades and published in Behavioural Public Policy, is an attempt to summarise what has become a very large literature on ethics into a framework that is useful for project development and training. We have also developed a website with resources, including powerpoint slides and graphics to help people looking to integrate this area into their training and project development activities. The FORGOOD framework summarises seven key ethical considerations when nudging behaviour. The aim of FORGOOD is to reduce the unintentional misusage of behavioural science in applied policy settings by encouraging voluntary ethical reflection in a systematic way.
Insights from the behavioural sciences are increasingly used by governments and other organizations worldwide to ‘nudge’ people to make better decisions. Furthermore, a large philosophical literature has emerged on the ethical considerations on nudging human behaviour that has presented key challenges for the area, but is regularly omitted from discussion of policy design and administration. We present and discuss FORGOOD, an ethics framework that synthesizes the debate on the ethics of nudging in a memorable mnemonic. It suggests that nudgers should consider seven core ethical dimensions: Fairness, Openness, Respect, Goals, Opinions, Options and Delegation. The framework is designed to capture the key considerations in the philosophical debate about nudging human behaviour, while also being accessible for use in a range of public policy settings, as well as training.
The ethical aspects of behavioural science and policy have been discussed in many formats in our research groups over the years, See the link here for a workshop we conducted in this area joint with Stirling Behavioural Science Centre and Newcastle University Law School. The readings below gives a sense of the interest in the ethical implications of nudging. More generally, ethical issues are always worth thinking about when devising and evaluating interventions that will impact upon people. Sunstein, in particular, has been responding at length to various ethical critiques of Nudge and if you haven't got time to get through the hundreds of pages below his recent paper on this is a good and readable way of getting into the debate and also his recent book here. Suggestions on other papers and streams of research in this area welcome - see a reading list I prepared here on the broader policy implications.Please check if you are using any of the below whether a more recent version is available and also check on the precise citation. This is a blogpost intended to give people a sense of the extent of the literature not a formal review.

Akerlof, George A. and Robert J. Shiller, 2015, Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Ever since Adam Smith, the central teaching of economics has been that free markets provide us with material well-being, as if by an invisible hand. In Phishing for Phools, Nobel Prize–winning economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller deliver a fundamental challenge to this insight, arguing that markets harm as well as help us. As long as there is profit to be made, sellers will systematically exploit our psychological weaknesses and our ignorance through manipulation and deception. Rather than being essentially benign and always creating the greater good, markets are inherently filled with tricks and traps and will "phish" us as "phools." Phishing for Phools therefore strikes a radically new direction in economics, based on the intuitive idea that markets both give and take away. Akerlof and Shiller bring this idea to life through dozens of stories that show how phishing affects everyone, in almost every walk of life. We spend our money up to the limit, and then worry about how to pay the next month's bills. The financial system soars, then crashes. We are attracted, more than we know, by advertising. Our political system is distorted by money. We pay too much for gym memberships, cars, houses, and credit cards. Drug companies ingeniously market pharmaceuticals that do us little good, and sometimes are downright dangerous. Phishing for Phools explores the central role of manipulation and deception in fascinating detail in each of these areas and many more. It thereby explains a paradox: why, at a time when we are better off than ever before in history, all too many of us are leading lives of quiet desperation. At the same time, the book tells stories of individuals who have stood against economic trickery—and how it can be reduced through greater knowledge, reform, and regulation.

Aggarwal et al (2014). “Nudge” in the clinical consultation – an acceptable form of medical paternalism? BMC Medical Ethics 2014, 15:31.

Overall the extremes of autonomy and paternalism are not compatible in a responsive, responsible and moral health care environment, and thus some compromise of these values is unavoidable. Nudge techniques are widely used in policy making and we demonstrate how they can be applied in shared medical decision making. Whether or not this is ethically sound is a matter of continued debate but health care professionals cannot avoid the fact they are likely to be using nudge within clinical consultations. Acknowledgment of this will lead to greater self-awareness, reflection and provide further avenues for debate on the art and science of clinical communication.

Alemanno (2016). The Future of Behavioural Change: Balancing Public Nudging vs Private Nudging. 2nd AIM Lecture, May 6, 2015.

Public authorities, including the European Union and its Member States, are increasingly interested in exploiting behavioral insights through public action. They increasingly do so through choice architecture, i.e. the alteration of the environment of choice surrounding a particular decision making context in areas as diverse as energy consumption, tax collection and public health. In this regard, it is useful to distinguish between two situations. The first is that of a public authority which seeks to steer behaviour in the public interest, taking into account one or more mental shortcuts. Thus, a default enrollment for organ donation leverages on the power of inertia to enhance the overall prevalence organ donors. Placing an emoticon (sad face) or a set of information about average consumption on a prohibitive energy bill has the potential to nudge consumers towards less energy consumption. I call this pure public nudging. The second perspective is when public authorities react to exploitative uses of mental shortcuts by market forces by regulating private nudging. I call this 'counter-nudging'. Pure public nudging helps people correct mental shortcuts so as to achieve legitimate objectives (e.g. increased availability of organs, environmental protection, etc.), regardless of their exploitative use by market forces.

It is against this proposed taxonomy that the 2nd AIM Lecture examines whether also private companies may nudge for good. Are corporations well-placed to nudge their customers towards societal objectives, such as the protection of the environment or the promotion of public health? This is what I call benign corporate nudging.

Their record is far from being the most credible. Companies have used behavioural inspired interventions to maximize profits, what led them to sell more and in turn to induce citizens into more consumption. Yet corporate marketing need not always be self-interested. An incipient number of companies are using their brand, generally through their packaging and marketing efforts, to 'nudge for good'. By illustrating some actual examples, this lecture defines the conditions under which companies may genuinely and credibly nudge for good. It argues that benign corporate nudging may have – unlike dominant CSR efforts – a positive long-term, habit-forming effect that influences consumers' future behaviour 'for good'.

Alemanno & Sibony (2015). Nudge and the Law: A European Perspective. Oxford & Portland: Hart.

Behavioural sciences help refine our understanding of human decision-making. Their insights are immensely relevant for policy-making since public intervention works much better when it targets real people rather than imaginary beings assumed to be perfectly rational. Increasingly, governments around the world are keen to rely on those insights for reshaping public interventions in a wide range of policy areas such as energy, health, financial services and data protection. When policy-making meets behavioural sciences, effective and low-cost regulations can emerge in the form of default rules, smart disclosure and simplification requirements. While behaviourally-informed intervention has a huge potential for policymaking, it also attracts legitimacy and practicability concerns. Nudge and the Law takes a European perspective on those issues and explores the legal implications of the emergent phenomenon of behavioural regulation by focusing on the challenges and opportunities it may offer to EU policy-making and beyond.

Arneson (2015). Nudge and Shove. Social Theory and Practice, Volume 41, Issue 4, October 2015.

This essay reexamines the idea of paternalism and the basis for finding it objectionable in light of recent writings on “libertarian paternalism.” Suggestion: to qualify as paternalistic, an interference that restricts someone’s liberty or interferes with her choice-making with the aim of helping the individual must be contrary to that very individual’s will. A framework for determining the justifiability of paternalistic action is proposed, under the assumption that the individual has a personal prerogative, up to a point, to engage in less than maximally beneficial action. Beyond that point, the content of the will of the individual disposed against interference can extinguish the presumptive wrongness of paternalism.

Ashcroft (2012). Doing good by stealth. J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-101109.

Axtell-Thompson (2012). Nudge Ethics for Health Plans. AM. J. Bioethics, 12, 24

Baldwin (2015). Nudge: Three Degrees of Concern. LSE Law - Policy Briefing Paper No. 7.

Nudging is hugely popular with governments but it is a practice that raises both conceptual and controversial issues. Three degrees of nudge can be distinguished and these raise different
concerns. When contemplating nudging, moreover, it is essential to be clear and open about the philosophical basis for such action and to be aware that clashes between different modes of
intervention may threaten not only effectiveness but also the serving of representative and ethical ends.

Baldwin (2014). From Regulation to Behaviour Change: Giving Nudge the Third DegreeThe Modern Law Review77(6), 831-857.

Behaviour change strategies such as ‘nudge’ have become hugely popular with administrations on both sides of the Atlantic. The practice of nudging, however, raises conceptual and controversial issues which must be addressed in examining the conditions under which nudging can be used effectively and acceptably. A key to a clear conceptual understanding of nudge-related issues is to distinguish between three degrees of nudge. These three degrees raise different, and identifiable, concerns and it is possible to assess the extent to which these can be responded to in positive terms. The compatibility of nudging with other control devices cannot be assumed and, when contemplating nudging, it is essential to be transparent about its philosophical basis, as well as to be aware that different modes of intervention may operate with clashes of logic that threaten not only effectiveness but also the serving of representative and ethical ends.

Barton & Grüne-Yanoff (2015). From Libertarian Paternalism to Nudging—and Beyond
Review of Philosophy and psychology6(3), 341-359.

Berthet, V. & Ouvrard, B. (2019) Nudge: Towards a Consensus View?. Psychology and Cognitive Science, 5. 1-5.

This article presents a particular viewpoint on how nudge should be understood. The concept of nudge has generated considerable interest among academics and policymakers. However, ten years later, what is meant exactly by “nudge” is still a matter of debate. In fact, there is a fundamental discrepancy between the (original) narrow definition of Thaler and Sunstein (nudge in the narrow sense, NN) and the (later) broad definition of Sunstein (nudge in the broad sense, NB). These two definitions differ regarding the instrumental use of rationality failures, and accordingly whether the provision or disclosure of information counts as a nudge or not. From a pragmatic perspective, the paper argues for a position that consists of adopting the broad definition of a nudge while acknowledging several types of nudges, which we provide in an integrative view. We suggest that future research should assess the effectiveness of these different types of nudges separately.

Blumenthal-Barby & Burroughs (2012). Seeking Better Health Care Outcomes: The Ethics of Using the “Nudge”. A.M.J Bioethics, 12, 2.

Policymakers, employers, insurance companies, researchers, and health care providers have developed an increasing interest in using principles from behavioral economics and psychology to persuade people to change their health-related behaviors, lifestyles, and habits. In this article, we examine how principles from behavioral economics and psychology are being used to nudge people (the public, patients, or health care providers) toward particular decisions or behaviors related to health or health care, and we identify the ethically relevant dimensions that should be considered for the utilization of each principle.

Bell (2013). Nudging Without Ethical Fudging: Clarifying Physician Obligations to Avoid Ethical Compromise
A.M.J Bioethics, 13, 6.

Borenstein & Arkin (2016). Robotic Nudges: The Ethics of Engineering a More Socially Just Human BeingScience and engineering ethics22(1), 31-46.

Robots are becoming an increasingly pervasive feature of our personal lives. As a result, there is growing importance placed on examining what constitutes appropriate behavior when they interact with human beings. In this paper, we discuss whether companion robots should be permitted to “nudge” their human users in the direction of being “more ethical”. More specifically, we use Rawlsian principles of justice to illustrate how robots might nurture “socially just” tendencies in their human counterparts. Designing technological artifacts in such a way to influence human behavior is already well-established but merely because the practice is commonplace does not necessarily resolve the ethical issues associated with its implementation.

Bovens (2009). The Ethics of NudgeIn Preference change (pp. 207-219). Springer, Dordrecht.

Bovens (2013). Why couldn't I be nudged to dislike a Big Mac? Journal of Medical Ethics, 39(8), 495-496.

Brehm & Brehm (1981). Psychological Reactance: a Theory of Freedom and Control. New York: Academic Press. 

Brooks (2013). Should We Nudge Informed Consent? The American Journal of Bioethics
Volume 13(6), 22-23. 

Bruns, H., Kantorowicz-Reznichenko, E., Klement, K., Jonsson, M. L., & Rahali, B. (2018). Can nudges be transparent and yet effective?. Journal of Economic Psychology, 65, 41-59.

Nudges receive growing attention as an effective concept to alter people’s decisions without significantly changing economic incentives or limiting options. However, being often very subtle and covert, nudges are also criticized as unethical. By not being transparent about the intention to influence individual choice they might be perceived as limiting freedom of autonomous actions and decisions. So far, empirical research on this issue is scarce. In this study, we investigate whether nudges can be made transparent without limiting their effectiveness. For this purpose we conduct a laboratory experiment where we nudge contributions to carbon emission reduction by introducing a default value. We test how different types of transparency (i.e. knowledge of the potential influence of the default, its purpose, or both) influence the effect of the default. Our findings demonstrate that the default increases contributions, and information on the potential influence, its purpose, or both combined do not significantly influence the default effect. Furthermore, we do not find evidence that psychological reactance interacts with the influence of transparency. Findings support the policy-relevant claim that nudges (in the form of defaults) can be transparent and yet effective.

Blumenthal-Barby, J. S., & Burroughs, H. (2012). Seeking better health care outcomes: the ethics of using the “nudge”. The American Journal of Bioethics, 12(2), 1-10.

Policymakers, employers, insurance companies, researchers, and health care providers have developed an increasing interest in using principles from behavioral economics and psychology to persuade people to change their health-related behaviors, lifestyles, and habits. In this article, we examine how principles from behavioral economics and psychology are being used to nudge people (the public, patients, or health care providers) toward particular decisions or behaviors related to health or health care, and we identify the ethically relevant dimensions that should be considered for the utilization of each principle.

Bozzo-Rey, Malik (2020). Ethics of Influence as Behavioural Applied Ethics. Rowman & Littlefield International.

This book critically analyses the role of behavioural sciences in public policy and challenges the belief that they provide sufficient evidence to build policy from. Through highlighting the ethical, political legal questions around nudges, the author examines the impact of their influence on our society.

Busch, J., Madsen, E. K., Fage-Butler, A. M., Kjær, M., & Ledderer, L. (2021). Dilemmas of nudging in public health: an ethical analysis of a Danish pamphlet. Health Promotion International, 36(4), 1140-1150.

Nudging has been discussed in the context of public health, and ethical issues raised by nudging in public health contexts have been highlighted. In this article, we first identify types of nudging approaches and techniques that have been used in screening programmes, and ethical issues that have been associated with nudging: paternalism, limited autonomy and manipulation. We then identify nudging techniques used in a pamphlet developed for the Danish National Screening Program for Colorectal Cancer. These include framing, default nudge, use of hassle bias, authority nudge and priming. The pamphlet and the very offering of a screening programme can in themselves be considered nudges. Whether nudging strategies are ethically problematic depend on whether they are categorized as educative- or non-educative nudges. Educative nudges seek to affect people’s choice making by engaging their reflective capabilities. Non-educative nudges work by circumventing people’s reflective capabilities. Information materials are, on the face of it, meant to engage citizens’ reflective capacities. Recipients are likely to receive information materials with this expectation, and thus not expect to be affected in other ways. Non-educative nudges may therefore be particularly problematic in the context of information on screening, also as participating in screening does not always benefit the individual.

Bubb & Pildes (2014). How Behavioral Economics Trims Its Sails and Why. Harvard Law Review, Vol. 127. 

The preference of behavioral law and economics (BLE) for regulatory approaches that preserve “freedom of choice” has led to incomplete policy analysis and inefficient policies. BLE has been broadly regarded as among the most promising new developments in public policymaking theory and practice. As social science, BLE offers hope that better understanding of human behavior will provide a sounder foundation for policy design. As politics, BLE offers a possible political consensus built around minimalist forms of government action — “nudges” — that preserve freedom of choice. These two seductive dimensions of BLE are, however, in deep tension. Put simply, it would be surprising if the evidence documenting the failure of individual choice implied a turn toward regulatory tools that preserve individual choice.
Developing BLE fully along its social-scientific dimension would reveal two categories of recurring limitations in BLE. First, BLE often artificially excludes traditional regulatory tools, such as direct mandates, from its analysis of policy options. However, BLE’s preferred nudges are, in important cases, not likely to be effective — ironically, for reasons BLE itself identifies. BLE has also neglected the ways in which behavioral failures interact with traditional market failures and the implications of this interaction for policy design. A more complete framework generates policy recommendations beyond both nudges and neoclassical economic prescriptions. Second, BLE does not properly evaluate, at times, how its own regulatory tools actually function. Many of these seemingly choice-preserving tools are not nearly as light touch as advertised. The default rules so central to BLE are often better viewed as preserving the formality of choice while, for many individuals, functioning as effective mandates. The view that people can always rationally opt out has led policymakers to set these powerful defaults at the wrong levels, resulting in counterproductive policies. We illustrate the costs of BLE’s commitment to freedom of choice by analyzing three of the most important areas for current policy: retirement savings, consumer credit, and environmental protection.

Camerer, C., Issacharoff, S., Loewenstein, G., O'donoghue, T., & Rabin, M. (2003). Regulation for Conservatives: Behavioral Economics and the Case for" Asymmetric Paternalism". University of Pennsylvania law review, 151(3), 1211-1254.

This paper examines the regulatory implications of behavioral economic insights. The central effect of behavioral economics in the legal literature to date has been to challenge the premise of formal economic theory that individuals understand their preferences and work to maximize these preferences. Behavioral economics has gathered increased attention in the economic analysis of law because of its demonstration that individual decision-making is prone to numerous biases and heuristics, and that as a result individuals may not act to realize their best interests. Part of the enthusiasm for behavioral economics in the legal literature has come from the apparent compatibility of the behavioral insights with proposals for paternalistic regulation. By pointing out some of the ways that human behavior falls short of perfect rationality, behavioral economics can potentially expand the scope of beneficial paternalistic policies that constrain individual choice. However, such policies should be implemented cautiously, given differences in opinion about what behaviors are irrational and concerns about costs imposed on people who are rational. In response to these concerns, we propose a principle for developing and evaluating regulatory policies that we term "asymmetric paternalism." Asymmetrically paternalistic regulations benefit those who would otherwise make poor decisions, but impose little or no costs on those who behave optimally. As such, they challenges both opponents and supporters of regulation by setting forth a disciplined set of criteria by which to judge the costs and benefits of regulatory proposals. The article explores the application of this principle to several specific sources of flawed decision making identified by behavioral economics in such diverse areas as retirement savings, consumer protection, and family law, and suggests examples of already existing regulations in these fields that seem to embody the principle of asymmetric paternalism.

Christine Clavien (2018) Ethics of nudges: A general framework with a focus on shared preference justifications, Journal of Moral Education, DOI: 10.1080/03057240.2017.1408577

Nudges are soft interventions designed to influence human behaviour. They are increasingly used by policymakers around the world and generate heated controversies over their ethical acceptability. In this article, I depict nudges as science-based technologies, point to new ethical responsibilities they raise—when they are used but also when they are not used—and to the necessity of establishing clear evaluation criteria. I then elaborate a four-level framework for evaluating the acceptability of particular nudges. The second part of the article focuses specifically on ‘shared preference justifications’ (SPJ), that is, arguments of the sort ‘nudges help people make better choices as judged by themselves’. I explain why constructing SPJs is important but difficult and propose a framework for doing so. This framework takes autonomy concerns seriously without overstating them and provides a conceptual basis for the development of nudge evaluation procedures easily applicable by decision-makers.

Cohen (2013). Nudging and Informed Consent. The American Journal of Bioethics,13 (6). 

Libertarian paternalism's notion of “nudging” refers to steering individual decision making so as to make choosers better off without breaching their free choice. If successful, this may offer an ideal synthesis between the duty to respect patient autonomy and that of beneficence, which at times favors paternalistic influence. A growing body of literature attempts to assess the merits of nudging in health care. However, this literature deals almost exclusively with health policy, while the question of the potential benefit of nudging for the practice of informed consent has escaped systematic analysis. This article focuses on this question. While it concedes that nudging could amount to improper exploitation of cognitive weaknesses, it defends the practice of nudging in a wide range of other conditions. The conclusion is that, when ethically legitimate, nudging offers an important new paradigm for informed consent, with a special potential to overcome the classical dilemma between paternalistic beneficence and respect for autonomy.

Nudging Health: Health Law and Behavioral Economics. Edited by I. Glenn Cohen, Holly Fernandez Lynch, and Christopher T. Robertson. John Hopkins University Press, 2016.

Behavioral nudges are everywhere: calorie counts on menus, automated text reminders to encourage medication adherence, a reminder bell when a driver’s seatbelt isn’t fastened. Designed to help people make better health choices, these reminders have become so commonplace that they often go unnoticed. In Nudging Health, forty-five experts in behavioral science and health policy from across academia, government, and private industry come together to explore whether and how these tools are effective in improving health outcomes. Behavioral science has swept the fields of economics and law through the study of nudges, cognitive biases, and decisional heuristics—but it has only recently begun to impact the conversation on health care. Nudging Health wrestles with some of the thorny philosophical issues, legal limits, and conceptual questions raised by behavioral science as applied to health law and policy. The volume frames the fundamental issues surrounding health nudges by addressing ethical questions. Does cost-sharing for health expenditures cause patients to make poor decisions? Is it right to make it difficult for people to opt out of having their organs harvested for donation when they die? Are behavioral nudges paternalistic? The contributors examine specific applications of behavioral science, including efforts to address health care costs, improve vaccination rates, and encourage better decision-making by physicians. They wrestle with questions regarding the doctor-patient relationship and defaults in healthcare while engaging with larger, timely questions of healthcare reform. Nudging Health is the first multi-voiced assessment of behavioral economics and health law to span such a wide array of issues—from the Affordable Care Act to prescription drugs.

Cohen, S. (2018). Manipulation and deception. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 96(3), 483-497.

This paper introduces the category of ‘non-deceptive manipulation that causes false beliefs’, analyzes how it narrows the traditional scope of ‘deception’, and draws moral implications.

Conly, S. (2013). Coercive paternalism in health care: Against freedom of choice. Public Health Ethics, 6(3), 241-245.

I argue that it can be morally permissible to coerce people into doing what is good for their own health. I discuss recent initiatives in New York City that are designed to take away certain unhealthy options from local citizens, and argue that this does not impose on them in unjustifiable ways. Good paternalistic measures are designed to promote people's long-term goals, and to prevent them from making short-term decisions that interfere with reaching those, and New York's attempts to ban the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces and the use of trans fats fall within those parameters. Given our tendency to cognitive bias, we need help in making choices that truly instantiate our values.

Clavien, C. (2020). An ethical evaluation of presumed consent for organ donation in Switzerland. Revue medicale suisse, 16(682), 370-373.

Public servants around the world have embraced nudges. Using nudges, public servants can encourage individuals towards a particular choice by changing the way the decision is presented. There are now over 200 institutions applying behavioral insights to public policy, with dedicated behavioral insights teams in countries such as Japan, Singapore, UK, Australia, and Germany. It is so popular that the approach has been described as a “policy movement” and the “default policy option.” Advocates argue that by using nudges and behavioral insights, public servants can help people make better decisions. Yet critics from both academia and the public claim that the use of nudges is unethical. It is seen as a manipulation of people’s choice, and contradicts ideals of transparency in government. This chapter explores the ethical challenges to using nudges and behavioral insights and asks – should an ethical public servant nudge? The chapter first looks at the concepts of nudge and behavioral insights and their increasing use in public policy then explores the debates around the ethics of nudge. The chapter concludes by arguing that many of the ethical issues relate to particular interpretations of nudge and behavioral insights and considers if it is ever appropriate for public servants to nudge.

Clavien, C. (2018). Ethics of nudges: A general framework with a focus on shared preference justifications. Journal of Moral Education, 47(3), 366-382.

Nudges are soft interventions designed to influence human behaviour. They are increasingly used by policymakers around the world and generate heated controversies over their ethical acceptability. In this article, I depict nudges as science-based technologies, point to new ethical responsibilities they raise—when they are used but also when they are not used—and to the necessity of establishing clear evaluation criteria. I then elaborate a four-level framework for evaluating the acceptability of particular nudges. The second part of the article focuses specifically on ‘shared preference justifications’ (SPJ), that is, arguments of the sort ‘nudges help people make better choices as judged by themselves’. I explain why constructing SPJs is important but difficult and propose a framework for doing so. This framework takes autonomy concerns seriously without overstating them and provides a conceptual basis for the development of nudge evaluation procedures easily applicable by decision-makers.

Conly (2012). Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Since Mill's seminal work On Liberty, philosophers and political theorists have accepted that we should respect the decisions of individual agents when those decisions affect no one other than themselves. Indeed, to respect autonomy is often understood to be the chief way to bear witness to the intrinsic value of persons. In this book, Sarah Conly rejects the idea of autonomy as inviolable. Drawing on sources from behavioural economics and social psychology, she argues that we are so often irrational in making our decisions that our autonomous choices often undercut the achievement of our own goals. Thus in many cases it would advance our goals more effectively if government were to prevent us from acting in accordance with our decisions. Her argument challenges widely held views of moral agency, democratic values and the public/private distinction, and will interest readers in ethics, political philosophy, political theory and philosophy of law.

Coons & Weber (2014). Manipulation: Theory And Practice. Oxford University Press.

In all groups ― from couples to nation-states ― people influence one another. Much of this influence is benign, for example giving advice to friends or serving as role models for our children and students. Some forms of influence, however, are clearly morally suspect, such as threats of violence and blackmail. A great deal of attention has been paid to one form of morally suspect influence, namely coercion. Less attention has been paid to what might be a more pervasive form of influence: manipulation. The essays in this volume address this relative imbalance by focusing on manipulation, examining its nature, moral status, and its significance in personal and social life.
They address a number of central questions: What counts as manipulation? How is it distinguished from coercion and ordinary rational persuasion? Is it always wrong, or can it sometimes be justified, and if so, when? Is manipulative influence more benign than coercion? Can one manipulate unintentionally? How does being manipulated to act bear on one's moral responsibly for so acting? Given various answers to these questions, what should we think of practices such as advertising and seduction?

Department of Health, Ireland (2015) "Nudging in Public Health – An Ethical Framework A Report by the National Advisory Committee on Bioethics".

Devine, C. M., & Barnhill, A. (2018). The ethical and public health importance of unintended consequences: the case of behavioral weight loss interventions. Public Health Ethics, 11(3), 356-361.

Behavioral weight loss interventions (BWLIs) that promote healthy eating as a way to achieve and maintain healthy weights do not work for most people. Most participants encounter significant challenges to behavior change and do not lose weight or maintain meaningful weight loss. For some, there may be negative consequences of participating in a BWLI, including social, psychological and economic costs. The literature is largely silent on these negative unintended consequences, but they are important for both practical and ethical reasons. If efforts to eat healthier have too many negative consequences for individuals and groups, then these efforts are unlikely to be effective, and promoting them may not always be ethical; this would boost the case for moving away from individual-focused efforts as part of healthy eating efforts. Alternatively, if we can make BWLI interventions more effective and more ethical by mitigating these unintended consequences, then it may be too soon to give up on individual-focused efforts. We make a case for systematic assessment and reporting of the unintended consequences of BWLI. This could contribute to more effective and ethical BWLI and inform obesity interventions and policies more broadly.

Dewaele, H. (2020). Is the GDPR’s Data Protection by Default Rule an Ethical Nudge?. Interdisciplinary Study of Law.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has undoubtedly been the most exciting development in data protection law in many years. Although it has increased public awareness of data protection (rights), many important rules stay unnoticed and unknown. The Data Protection by Default (DPbDf) rule is one of those, despite its impact on day-to-day life. Therefore, the article will answer how to ethically motivate the DPbDf-rule. It firstly considers the legal obligations installed by DPbDf. In second instance, it points out that the DPbDf-rule is a nudge installed by the European lawmakers. Thirdly, it turns to the discipline of ethics to reflect on the possible ethical justifications for a nudge, in particular for the DPbDf-rule. Finally, the legal and ethical considerations are synthesized in actual and poignant observations.

Darwall (2006). The Value of Autonomy and Autonomy of the Will. Ethics, 116, 263–284.

Disilvestro (2012). What Does Not Budge for Any Nudge? The American Journal of Bioethics, 12, 2.

Dworkin (2013). Lying and nudging. Journal of medical ethics, 39(8), 487-493.

Eyal (2014). Nudging by shaming, shaming by nudgingInternational journal of health policy and management, 3(2), 53.

Eyal (2008). Motivating Prevention: from Carrots and Sticks to “Carrots” and “Sticks”. AMA Journal of Ethics, 10, 11: 756-762.

Einfeld, C. (2020). Should an Ethical Public Servant Nudge?. The Palgrave Handbook of the Public Servant, 1-17.

Public servants around the world have embraced nudges. Using nudges, public servants can encourage individuals towards a particular choice by changing the way the decision is presented. There are now over 200 institutions applying behavioral insights to public policy, with dedicated behavioral insights teams in countries such as Japan, Singapore, UK, Australia, and Germany. It is so popular that the approach has been described as a “policy movement” and the “default policy option.” Advocates argue that by using nudges and behavioral insights, public servants can help people make better decisions. Yet critics from both academia and the public claim that the use of nudges is unethical. It is seen as a manipulation of people’s choice, and contradicts ideals of transparency in government. This chapter explores the ethical challenges to using nudges and behavioral insights and asks – should an ethical public servant nudge? The chapter first looks at the concepts of nudge and behavioral insights and their increasing use in public policy then explores the debates around the ethics of nudge. The chapter concludes by arguing that many of the ethical issues relate to particular interpretations of nudge and behavioral insights and considers if it is ever appropriate for public servants to nudge.

Engelen, B. (2019). Ethical criteria for health-promoting nudges: a case-by-case analysis. The American Journal of Bioethics, 19(5), 48-59.

Health-promoting nudges have been put into practice by different agents, in different contexts and with different aims. This article formulates a set of criteria that enables a thorough ethical evaluation of such nudges. As such, it bridges the gap between the abstract, theoretical debates among academics and the actual behavioral interventions being implemented in practice. The criteria are derived from arguments against nudges, which allegedly disrespect nudgees, as these would impose values on nudgees and/or violate their rationality and autonomy. Instead of interpreting these objections as knock-down arguments, I take them as expressing legitimate worries that can often be addressed. I analyze six prototypical nudge cases, such as Google’s rearrangement of fridges and the use of defaults in organ donation registration. I show how the ethical criteria listed are satisfied by most—but not all—nudges in most—but not all—circumstances.

Engelen, B., & Nys, T. (2020). Nudging and autonomy: Analyzing and alleviating the worries. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 11(1), 137-156.

One of the most pervasive criticisms of nudges has been the claim that they violate, undermine or decrease people’s (personal) autonomy. This claim, however, is seldom backed up by an explicit and detailed conception of autonomy. In this paper, we aim to do three things. First, we want to clear up some conceptual confusion by distinguishing the different conceptions used by Cass Sunstein and his critics in order to get clear on how they conceive of autonomy. Second, we want to add to the existing discussion by distinguishing between ‘autonomy’ as the ability to set your own ends and ‘autocracy’ as the ability to actually realize those ends (which is what most of the current discussion is actually focusing on). This will allow for a more careful ethical evaluation of specific nudge interventions. Third, we will introduce the idea of ‘perimeters of autonomy’ in an attempt to provide a realistic account of personal autonomy and we will argue that it can alleviate most of the worries about nudging being autonomy-undermining.

Engelen, B., & Schmidt, A. (2020). The Ethics of Nudging: An Overview. Philosophy Compass.

So-called nudge policies utilize insights from behavioral science to achieve policy outcomes. Nudge policies try to improve people's decisions by changing the ways options are presented to them, rather than changing the options themselves or incentivizing or coercing people. Nudging has been met with great enthusiasm but also fierce criticism. This paper provides an overview of the debate on the ethics of nudging to date. After outlining arguments in favor of nudging, we first discuss different objections that all revolve around the worry that nudging vitiates personal autonomy. We split up this worry into different dimensions of autonomy, such as freedom of choice, volitional autonomy, rational agency, and freedom as nondomination. We next discuss worries that nudging is manipulative, violates human dignity, and prevents more important structural reform. Throughout, we will present responses that proponents of nudging can muster. On the whole, we conclude that the objections fail to establish that the nudge program as a whole should be rejected. At the same time, they give us important guidance when moving towards an ethical assessment of nudges on a case-by-case basis. Towards the end, we provide some possible ways forward in debates around the ethics of nudging.

Felsen & Reiner (2015). What can Neuroscience Contribute to the Debate Over Nudging? Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 6(3), 469-479.

Strategies for improving individual decision making have attracted attention from a range of disciplines. Surprisingly, neuroscience has been largely absent from this conversation, despite the fact that it has recently begun illuminating the neural bases of how and why we make decisions, and is poised for further such advances. Here we address empirical and normative questions about “nudging” through the lens of neuroscience. We suggest that the neuroscience of decision making can provide a framework for understanding how nudges work, and how they can be improved. Towards this end, we first examine how nudges can be incorporated into a leading model of decision making supported by neurobiological data, and use the model to make predictions about the relative effectiveness of different classes of nudges. We then use the model to demonstrate how nudges can both infringe upon and promote autonomy. Finally, we explore the normative implications of the converging consensus from neuroscience and related fields that many everyday decisions are susceptible to covert external influences.

Felson et al (2013). Decisional enhancement and autonomy: public attitudes towards overt and covert nudges. Judgment & Decision Making, 8(3). 

Ubiquitous cognitive biases hinder optimal decision making. Recent calls to assist decision makers in mitigating these biases—via interventions commonly called “nudges”—have been criticized as infringing upon individual autonomy. We tested the hypothesis that such “decisional enhancement” programs that target overt decision making—i.e., conscious, higher-order cognitive processes—would be more acceptable than similar programs that affect covert decision making— i.e., subconscious, lower-order processes. We presented respondents with vignettes in which they chose between an option that included a decisional enhancement program and a neutral option. In order to assess preferences for overt or covert decisional enhancement, we used the contrastive vignette technique in which different groups of respondents were presented with one of a pair of vignettes that targeted either conscious or subconscious processes. Other than the nature of the decisional enhancement, the vignettes were identical, allowing us to isolate the influence of the type of decisional enhancement on preferences. Overall, we found support for the hypothesis that people prefer conscious decisional enhancement. Further, respondents who perceived the influence of the program as more conscious than subconscious reported that their decisions under the program would be more “authentic”. However, this relative favorability was somewhat contingent upon context. We discuss our results with respect to the implementation and ethics of decisional enhancement.

In this article we develop a taxonomy of behavioral policy measures proposed by Thaler and Sunstein (2008). Based on this taxonomy, we discuss the ethical legitimacy of these measures. First, we explain two common reservations against nudges (choice architecture) rooted in utilitarian and Kantian ethics. In addition to wellbeing, we identify freedom of action and freedom of will (autonomy) as relevant ethical criteria. Then, using practical examples, we develop a taxonomy that classifies nudges according to the psychological mechanisms they use and separately discuss the legitimacy of several types of behavioral policy measures. We hope to thereby make a valuable contribution to the debate on the ethical legitimacy of behavioral policy making.

Floridi (2015). Tolerant Paternalism: Pro-ethical Design as a Resolution of the Dilemma of Toleration. Science and Engineering Ethics, 1-20.

Toleration is one of the fundamental principles that inform the design of a democratic and liberal society. Unfortunately, its adoption seems inconsistent with the adoption of paternalistically benevolent policies, which represent a valuable mechanism to improve individuals’ well-being. In this paper, I refer to this tension as the dilemma of toleration. The dilemma is not new. It arises when an agent A would like to be tolerant and respectful towards another agent B’s choices but, at the same time, A is altruistically concerned that a particular course of action would harm, or at least not improve, B’s well-being, so A would also like to be helpful and seeks to ensure that B does not pursue such course of action, for B’s sake and even against B’s consent. In the article, I clarify the specific nature of the dilemma and show that several forms of paternalism, including those based on ethics by design and structural nudging, may not be suitable to resolve it. I then argue that one form of paternalism, based on pro-ethical design, can be compatible with toleration and hence with the respect for B’s choices, by operating only at the informational and not at the structural level of a choice architecture. This provides a successful resolution of the dilemma, showing that tolerant paternalism is not an oxymoron but a viable approach to the design of a democratic and liberal society.

Ghesla, C., Grieder, M., & Schmitz, J. (2019). Nudge for good? Choice defaults and spillover effects. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 178.

Policy makers increasingly use choice defaults to promote “good” causes by influencing socially relevant decisions in desirable ways, e.g., to increase pro-environmental choices or pro-social behavior in general. Such default nudges are remarkably successful when judged by their effects on the targeted behaviors in isolation. However, there is scant knowledge about possible spillover effects of pro-social behavior that was induced by defaults on subsequent related choices. Behavioral spillover effects could eliminate or even reverse the initially positive effects of choice defaults, and it is thus important to study their significance. We report results from a laboratory experiment exploring the subsequent behavioral consequences of pro-social choice defaults. Our results are promising: Pro-social behavior induced by choice defaults does not result in adverse spillover effects on later, subsequent behavior. This finding holds for both weak and strong choice defaults.

Gigerenzer (2015). On the Supposed Evidence for Libertarian Paternalism. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 6 (3), 361-383.

Can the general public learn to deal with risk and uncertainty, or do authorities need to steer people’s choices in the right direction? Libertarian paternalists argue that results from psychological research show that our reasoning is systematically flawed and that we are hardly educable because our cognitive biases resemble stable visual illusions. For that reason, they maintain, authorities who know what is best for us need to step in and steer our behavior with the help of “nudges.” Nudges are nothing new, but justifying them on the basis of a latent irrationality is. In this article, I analyze the scientific evidence presented for such a justification. It suffers from narrow logical norms, that is, a misunderstanding of the nature of rational thinking, and from a confirmation bias, that is, selective reporting of research. These two flaws focus the blame on individuals’ minds rather than on external causes, such as industries that spend billions to nudge people into unhealthy behavior. I conclude that the claim that we are hardly educable lacks evidence and forecloses the true alternative to nudging: teaching people to become risk savvy.

Glaeser (2005). Paternalism and Psychology. NBER Working Paper No. 11789

Glod (2015). How Nudges Often Fail to Treat People According to Their Own Preferences. Social Theory & Practice, 41(4), 599-617. 

I focus on “prima facie problematic” (PFP) nudges to argue that libertarian paternalism often fails in its promise to track target agents’ own normative standards. I argue that PFP nudges are unjustified to significant numbers of people by virtue of autonomy-based defeaters—what I call “self-determination” and “discretion.” I then argue that in many cases, we face informational constraints on what a person’s good really is. In such cases, these nudges may not even benefit a significant number of agents and so fail even to be paternalistic—where “paternalistic” is a success term—for those they fail to benefit.

Gold & Lichetenburg (2012). Don't Call Me “Nudge”: The Ethical Obligation to Use Effective Interventions to Promote Public Health. The American Journal of Bioethics, 12 (2).

Goodwin (2012). Why We Should Reject ‘Nudge’. Politics, 32(2), 85–92.

This article argues that the use of ‘nudge’ tactics in UK policymaking ought to be rejected. Nudge contravenes the coalition government's aspirations to promote ideas such as empowerment, freedom and fairness. Moreover, it is not an effective strategy for bringing about the kind of behavioural changes required to solve society's ‘big problems’– problems around climate change and public health, for example. The article mines political theory in a way that is distinctly absent from the current literature on ‘nudging’ and brings a fresh and insightful perspective to the nudge debate.

Grüne-Yanoff & Hertwig (2015). Nudge Versus Boost: How Coherent are Policy and Theory? Minds and Machines, 1-35.

If citizens’ behavior threatens to harm others or seems not to be in their own interest (e.g., risking severe head injuries by riding a motorcycle without a helmet), it is not uncommon for governments to attempt to change that behavior. Governmental policy makers can apply established tools from the governmental toolbox to this end (e.g., laws, regulations, incentives, and disincentives). Alternatively, they can employ new tools that capitalize on the wealth of knowledge about human behavior and behavior change that has been accumulated in the behavioral sciences (e.g., psychology and economics). Two contrasting approaches to behavior change are nudge policies and boost policies. These policies rest on fundamentally different research programs on bounded rationality, namely, the heuristics and biases program and the simple heuristics program, respectively. This article examines the policy–theory coherence of each approach. To this end, it identifies the necessary assumptions underlying each policy and analyzes to what extent these assumptions are implied by the theoretical commitments of the respective research program. Two key results of this analysis are that the two policy approaches rest on diverging assumptions and that both suffer from disconnects with the respective theoretical program, but to different degrees: Nudging appears to be more adversely affected than boosting does. The article concludes with a discussion of the limits of the chosen evaluative dimension, policy–theory coherence, and reviews some other benchmarks on which policy programs can be assessed.

Guala & Mittone (2015). A Political Justification of Nudging. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 385-395.

Thaler and Sunstein justify nudge policies from welfaristic premises: nudges are acceptable because they benefit the individuals who are nudged. A tacit assumption behind this strategy is that we can identify the true preferences of decision-makers. We argue that this assumption is often unwarranted, and that as a consequence nudge policies must be justified in a different way. A possible strategy is to abandon welfarism and endorse genuine paternalism. Another one is to argue that the biases of decision that choice architects attempt to eliminate create externalities. For example, in the case of intertemporal discounting, the costs of preference reversals are not always paid by the discounters, because they are transferred onto other individuals. But if this is the case, then nudges are best justified from a political rather than welfaristic standpoint.

Guldborg Hansen et al (2016). Making Healthy Choices Easier: Regulation versus Nudging. Annual Review of Public Health, Review in Advance, first posted online on January 6, 2016.

In recent years, the nudge approach to behavior change has emerged from the behavioral sciences to challenge the traditional use of regulation in public health strategies to address modifiable individual-level behaviors related to the rise of noncommunicable diseases and their treatment. However, integration and testing of the nudge approach as part of more comprehensive public health strategies aimed at making healthy choices easier are being threatened by inadequate understandings of its scientific character, its relationship with regulation, and its ethical implications. This article reviews this character and its ethical implication with a special emphasis on the compatibility of nudging with traditional regulation, special domains of experience, and the need for a more nuanced approach to the ethical debate. The aim is to advance readers’ understanding and give guidance to those who have considered working with or incorporating the nudge approach into programs or policies aimed at making healthful choices easier.

Hagman et al (2015). Public Views on Policies Involving Nudges. Review of Philosophy and Psychology,  Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 439-453.

When should nudging be deemed as permissible and when should it be deemed as intrusive to individuals’ freedom of choice? Should all types of nudges be judged the same? To date the debate concerning these issues has largely proceeded without much input from the general public. The main objective of this study is to elicit public views on the use of nudges in policy. In particular we investigate attitudes toward two broad categories of nudges that we label pro-self (i.e. focusing on private welfare) and pro-social (i.e. focusing on social welfare) nudges. In addition we explore how individual differences in thinking and feeling influence attitudes toward nudges. General population samples in Sweden and the United States (n = 952) were presented with vignettes describing nudge-policies and rated acceptability and intrusiveness on freedom of choice. To test for individual differences, measures on cultural cognition and analytical thinking were included. Results show that the level of acceptance toward nudge-policies was generally high in both countries, but were slightly higher among Swedes than Americans. Somewhat paradoxically a majority of the respondents also perceived the presented nudge-policies as intrusive to freedom of choice. Nudge-polices classified as pro-social had a significantly lower acceptance rate compared to pro-self nudges (p < .0001). Individuals with a more individualistic worldview were less likely to perceive nudges as acceptable, while individuals more prone to analytical thinking were less likely to perceive nudges as intrusive to freedom of choice. To conclude, our findings suggest that the notion of “one-nudge- fits-all” is not tenable. Recognizing this is an important aspect both for successfully implementing nudges as well as nuancing nudge theory.

Hanna (2015). Libertarian Paternalism, Manipulation, and the Shaping of Preferences. Social Theory and Practice, Volume 41, Issue 4. 

“Libertarian paternalism” aims to harness cognitive biases in order to improve prudential decision-making. Some critics have objected that libertarian paternalism is wrongly manipulative. I argue that this objection is mostly unsuccessful. First, I point out that some strategies endorsed by libertarian paternalists can help people to better appreciate reasons. Second, I develop an account of manipulation according to which an agent manipulates her target by worsening the target’s deliberative position. The means of influence defended by libertarian paternalists—for instance, the judicious use of default rules—are not manipulative in this way.

Hansen & Jespersen (2013). Nudge and the Manipulation of Choice
A Framework for the Responsible Use of the Nudge Approach to Behaviour Change in Public Policy. European Journal of Risk Regulation.

In Nudge (2008) Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein suggested that public policy-makers arrange decision-making contexts in ways to promote behaviour change in the interest of individual citizens as well as that of society. However, in the public sphere and Academia alike widespread discussions have appeared concerning the public acceptability of nudgebased behavioural policy. Thaler and Sunstein’s own position is that the anti-nudge position is a literal non-starter, because citizens are always influenced by the decision making context anyway, and nudging is liberty preserving and acceptable if guided by Libertarian Paternalism and Rawls’ publicity principle. A persistent and central tenet in the criticism disputing the acceptability of the approach is that nudging works by manipulating citizens’ choices. In this paper, we argue that both lines of argumentation are seriously flawed. We show how the anti-nudge position is not a literal non-starter due to the responsibilities that accrue on policy-makers by the intentional intervention in citizens’ life, how nudging is not essentially liberty preserving and why the approach is not necessarily acceptable even if satisfying Rawls’ publicity principle. We then use the psychological dual process theory underlying the approach as well as an epistemic transparency criterion identified by Thaler and Sunstein themselves to show that nudging is not necessarily about “manipulation”, nor necessarily about influencing “choice”. The result is a framework identifying four types of nudges that may be used to provide a central component for more nuanced normative considerations as well as a basis for policy recommendations.

Hansen, P. G. (2019). Tools and Ethics for Applied Behavioural Insights: The BASIC Toolkit. Paris: OECD.

Behavioural insights (BI) are lessons derived from the behavioural and social sciences, including decision making, psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, organisational and group behaviour. Public bodies around the world are increasingly using BI to design and implement better public policies based on evidence of the actual behaviour and biases of citizens and businesses. This toolkit provides practitioners and policy makers with a step-by-step process for analysing a policy problem, building strategies, and developing behaviourally informed interventions.

Hansen, P. G. (2019). The concepts of nudge and nudging in behavioural public policy. In Handbook of Behavioural Change and Public Policy. Edward Elgar Publishing.


In 2008 Thaler and Sunstein coined the concept ‘nudge’ in their book carrying the same name. Since then the concept of nudge as well as the derivate concept ‘nudging’ have been main drivers in the emergence of Behavioural Public Policy. From the outset, however, confusion has reigned as to what exactly is to be understood by these two concepts and their role within Behavioural Public Policy with direct implications for its evaluation as an acceptable policy approach. This chapter provides an introduction to the theoretical foundations of behavioural public policy, a revised definition of nudge that cleans up conceptual mess and locates nudging amongst three strings of behavioural public policy: push, clear and nudge. Finally, ‘nudging’ is defined as the systematic and evidence-based development and implementation of nudges in creating behaviour change and some concerns about nudging in public policy are addressed.

Hofmann, B., & Stanak, M. (2018). Nudging in screening: Literature review and ethical guidance. Patient education and counseling, 101(9), 1561-1569.



Nudging is the purposeful alteration of choices presented to people that aims to make them choose in predicted ways. While nudging has been used to assure high uptake and good outcome of screening programs, it has been criticized for being paternalistic, undermining free choice, and shared decision making. Accordingly, the objective of this study is to explore a) nudging strategies identified in screening, b) arguments for and against nudging; and on basis of this, to c) suggest a tentative conclusion on how to handle nudging in screening.


Literature searches in Ovid MEDLINE and PsycINFO for combinations of screening and nudging. Screening based on content analysis of titles, abstracts, and articles.


239 references were identified and 109 were included. Several forms of nudging were identified: framed information, default bias, or authority bias. Uptake and public health outcome were the most important goals. Arguments for nudging were bounded rationality, unavoidability, and beneficence, while lack of transparency, crowding out of intrinsic values, and paternalism were arguments against it. The analysis indicates that nudging can be acceptable for screenings with (high quality) evidence for high benefit-harm ratio (beneficence), where nudging does not infringe other ethical principles, such as justice and non-maleficence. In particular, nudging should not only focus on attendance rates, but also on making people “better choosers.”

Practice implications

Four specific recommendations follow from the review and the analysis: 1) Nudging should be addressed in an explicit and transparent manner. 2) The means of nudging have to be in proportion to the benefit-harm ratio. 3) Disagreement on the evidence for either benefits or harms warrants special care. 4) Assessing and assuring the intended outcome of nudging appears to be crucial, as it can be context dependent.

Häußermann, J. J. (2020). Nudging and participation: A contractualist approach to behavioural policy. Philosophy of Management, 19(1), 45-68.

As behavioural economics reveals, human decision-making deviates from neoclassical assumptions about human behaviour and people (often) fail to make the ‘right’ welfare-enhancing choice. The purpose of Sunstein and Thaler’s concept of ‘nudge’ is to improve individual welfare. To provide normative justification, they argue that the only relevant normative criterion is whether the individual is ‘better off as judged by themselves’, so that the direction in which people are to be nudged is defined by their own preferences. In light of behavioural findings, however, people’s choices do not provide a sound basis for eliciting preferences and thus for assessing welfare. In this paper, I aim to challenge Sunstein and Thaler’s normative view, arguing that it is unreasonable to rely on conventional welfare economics, particularly considering the given context. Sunstein and Thaler depend on an approach of ‘preference purification’ which assumes informed, latent, and true preferences: As a result they face crucial methodological, epistemological, and practical objections, and cannot show how their approach enhances individual welfare. By building on the concepts of R. Sugden and C. Schubert, I develop an alternative normative framework for behavioural public policy, based on a contractualist perspective in which people may consent to collective choice rules in order to align future behaviour with values, to achieve particular goals or to preserve personal integrity. Individual consent and citizens’ participation and deliberation are crucial to this approach. This contractualist approach may provide a normative justification for behavioural public policy, and help to reconcile behavioural and normative economics.

Hausman & Welch (2010). Debate: to nudge or not to nudge? Journal of Political Philosophy Volume 18, Issue 1, pages 123–136.

One of the hottest ideas in current policy debates is “libertarian paternalism,” the design of policies that push individuals toward better choices without limiting their liberty. In their recent book, Nudge, 1 Richard Thaler and then Obama advisor (now head of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs), Cass Sunstein, suggest several ways in which government agencies and private organizations might “nudge” individuals toward actions that are better for them.2 They hope to promote libertarian paternalism as “a promising foundation for bipartisanship—a way of maintaining our firm commitment to freedom of choice while also helping people make better decisions for themselves” (p. 14). They suggest “that libertarian paternalism offers a real Third Way—one that can break through some of the least tractable debates in contemporary democracies” (p. 252/255). In this article,we address questions both about paternalism—whatisit, and could there be a variety that does not limit freedom?—and about nudges—what are they, and should those who value freedom find them unobjectionable? We deny libertarian paternalism is both libertarian and paternalist and that it is as benign as Thaler and Sunstein maintain.3 We argue that some of their proposals constitute a distinctive variety of paternalism, whose libertarian credentials are dubious, even though their implementation would not be coercive4 and would not significantly limit freedom of choice. Our focus is on their concepts, not their policies. After a first section that clarifies what Thaler and Sunstein take libertarian paternalism to be, section II addresses the question of what constitutes paternalism. In our view, what makes some of the policies Thaler and Sunstein call “libertarian paternalism” paternalistic is that they push people to make choices that are good for themselves by taking advantage of imperfections in human decision-making abilities. Section III then addresses the broader question concerning what limits there ought to be on nudges—that is, the use of flaws in human judgment and choice to influence people’s behavior.

Hayek (1958). Freedom, Reason, and Tradition. Ethics, Vol. 68, No. 4 (Jul., 1958), pp. 229-245. 

Hokamp, E. G., & Weimann, J. (2021). Nudging openly–An experimental analysis of nudge transparency in a public goods setting. German Economic Review.

Around the world, policy makers and public authorities are increasingly turning to behaviorally informed interventions (“nudges”) in order to help tackle important contexts of public policy. Despite their impressive merit record, these policy tools have been heavily criticized as being obscure and manipulative, thus facing challenges for their legitimate assertion in the regulatory toolkit. In this study, we seek to assess whether transparency over the use of such interventions may constitute a viable way of addressing these ethical concerns, and focus particularly on the potentially moderating role of something we call “status quo experience”, i. e. subjects’ understanding of the behavioral consequences of different choice architectures. We conduct a laboratory experiment, whereby subjects play three rounds of a public good game, the first of which defaults them towards a fully non-cooperative contribution, while the rest default them towards a fully cooperative one. Subjects in our treatment groups further receive an “informational shock” at varying points in time, disclosing how and why a fully cooperative default contribution is being used. We find that providing subjects with informational disclosure about the nudge intervention did not result in significantly different aggregate behavioral measurements between control and treatment groups. This seems to be independent of status quo experience and of the timing of transparency provision. We nonetheless find some indication that the latter could help sustain cooperation over time.

Huang et al (2012). Nudge Ethics: Just a Game of Billiards? The American Journal of Bioethics, Volume 12, Issue 2.

Ivanković, V., & Engelen, B. (2019). Nudging, transparency, and watchfulness. Social Theory and Practice, 43-73.

Nudges have been criticized for working 'in the dark', influencing people without their full awareness. To assess whether this property renders nudging an illegitimate policy tool in liberal democracies, we argue that in scrutinizing nudge transparency, we should adequately divide our focus between nudging techniques, the nudgers employing them, and the nudgees subjected to them. We develop an account of what it means for nudgees to be 'watchful', a disposition that enables them to resist and circumvent nudges. We argue that such 'watchfulness' should be cultivated if we want to implement nudges in legitimate, accountable, and democratic ways.

John, P., (2018) "How Far to Nudge? Assessing Behavioural Public Policy", Elgar.

This book addresses the wave of innovation and reforms that has been called the nudge or behavioural public policy agenda, which has emerged in many countries since the mid-2000s. Nudge involves developing behavioural insights to solve complex policy problems, such as unemployment, obesity and the environment, as well as improving the delivery of policies by reforming standard operating procedures. It reviews the changes that have taken place, in particular the greater use of randomised evaluations, and discusses how far nudge can be used more generally in the policy process. The book argues that nudge has a radical future if it develops a more bottom up approach involving greater feedback and more engagement with citizens.

Kapsner & Sandfuchs (2015). Nudging as a Threat to Privacy. Review of Philosophy and Psychology
September 2015, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 455-468.

Nudges can pose serious threats to citizens’ privacy. The essay discusses several examples of nudges that must appear problematic to anyone valuing privacy. The paper also re-draws a well established connection between privacy and autonomy and argues that insofar as nudges incur too great a loss of privacy, they are incompatible with the libertarianism that libertarian paternalism is committed to by virtue of its very name.

Kasperbauer, T. J. (2017). The permissibility of nudging for sustainable energy consumption. Energy Policy, 111, 52-57.

Abstract: Nudges modify decision frameworks in order to steer people's choices in particular directions. Modifying energy consumption choices through nudging has shown significant promise for promoting sustainable consumption behaviors. However, policy makers have been reluctant to embrace nudges, due to concerns over potential ethical objections. This paper argues that the major ethical objections to nudging are not ultimately convincing when applied to energy production and consumption. The most common ethical objections claim that nudging is paternalistic and reduces human autonomy. It is argued here that energy production and consumption are “massively architectured,” which means that they are strongly influenced by factors external to individuals. The infrastructure and framework for producing and consuming energy is largely determined prior to human decision-making. As a result, it is not clear how nudging for sustainable energy consumption could be paternalistic or autonomy-reducing. Ethical objections should thus not be a deterrent for policy makers pursuing nudges for sustainable energy consumption.

Kelman, H. C. (1965). Manipulation of human behavior: An ethical dilemma for the social scientist. Journal of Social Issues, 21(2), 31-46.

The paper describes a 2-horned dilemma confronting social scientists: any manipulation of human behavior inherently violates a fundamental value of human freedom, but there is no formula for structuring an effective change situation so that such manipulation is totally absent. This dilemma has implications for practitioners, applied researchers, and basic researchers in the social sciences. In order to promote the enhancement of freedom of choice as a positive goal, research should focus on the conditions favoring a person's ability to exercise choice and to maximize his/her individual values.

Kendler, H. H. (1993). Psychology and the ethics of social policy. American Psychologist, 48(10), 1046-1053.

Psychology's ability to resolve or moderate social conflicts stemming from competing moral positions depends on whether psychology is conceptualized as a mental or behavioral science. Knowledge claims from the direct observation of consciousness cannot yield consensual agreement about valid ethical principles or correct social policies. As a behavioral science, psychology is unable to validate moral principles because of the logical impossibility of inferring ethical imperatives from empirical data. Behavioral evidence can nevertheless assist society in choosing among competing social policies by revealing their empirical consequences. To do this successfully, psychology must use natural science methodology with the aim of seeking empirical and theoretical truth, not political goals or ethical ideals.

Leggett (2012). The politics of behaviour change: nudge, neoliberalism and the state. Policy & Politics, Volume 42, Number 1, pp. 3-19(17). 

Behaviour change is increasingly central to policy and politics. The exemplar of nudge, and its relationship to behavioural economics and psychology, is outlined. Nudge's claim to libertarian paternalism is evaluated in the context of the neoliberal state. A sociological critique of behavioural economic assumptions enables a still wider account of shifting state–citizen relations. Foucauldian analyses of such relations, as well as deliberative 'think' perspectives, are assessed. A more explicitly political, social-democratic model of the behaviour change state is advocated. This would be more attuned to the socioeconomic context of behaviour, and also be prepared to defend citizens against ubiquitous attempts to shape their subjectivity.

Lepenies & Małecka (2015). The Institutional Consequences of Nudging – Nudges, Politics, and the Law. Review of Philosophy and Psychology. Volume 6, Issue 3 , pp 427-437.

In this article we argue that a widespread adoption of nudging can alter legal and political institutions. Debates on nudges thus far have largely revolved around a set of philosophical theories that we call individualistic approaches. Our analysis concerns the ways in which adherents of nudging make use of the newest findings in the behavioral sciences for the purposes of policy-making. We emphasize the fact that most nudges proposed so far are not a part of the legal system and are also non-normative. We propose two ideal types: “law-as-normative” and “law-as-instrumental”, that allow us to understand and evaluate the relation of nudges and the law. We stress the importance of law as a safeguard for the possible negative consequences of nudges and conclude with proposals that could complement nudging policies.

Lepenies R., Małecka M. (2018), Ethics of behavioural public policy, [in:] Poama A., Lever A., Routledge Handbook of Ethics and Public Policy, Routledge.

Public policy is increasingly informed by insights from the behavioural sciences. We highlight three aspects of behavioural public policy which can be incompatible with democratic ethics. First, policy-makers use behavioural instruments such as nudges to steer citizens’ behaviour without giving reasons and by relying on non-participatory research methods. Second, behavioural public policy is frequently implemented in the form of administrative discretion by organizations which are not under direct democratic control. Third, behavioural public policy currently relies on a partial and narrow view of the behavioural sciences and is inattentive about value judgments already embedded in the research it draws upon.

Lepenies, R. and Małecka, M., 2019. The ethics of behavioural public policy. In The Routledge Handbook of Ethics and Public Policy (pp. 513-525). Routledge.


Public policy is increasingly informed by insights from the behavioural sciences. We highlight three aspects of behavioural public policy which can be incompatible with democratic ethics. First, policy-makers can use behavioural instruments such as nudges to steer citizens’ behaviour without giving reasons and by relying on nonparticipatory research methods. Second, behavioural public policy is frequently implemented in the form of administrative discretion by organisations which are not under direct democratic control. Third, behavioural public policy currently relies on a partial and narrow view of the behavioural sciences and is inattentive about value judgements already embedded in the research it draws upon.

Lin, Y., Osman, M., & Ashcroft, R. (2017). Nudge: concept, effectiveness, and ethics. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 39(6), 293-306.

Nudges are psychologically informed tools designed to promote behavioral change in order to improve health and well-being. In this review, we focus on three areas of concern: theory, evidence base, ethics. We begin by discussing the problems arising from the theoretical framework that nudges are based on and propose an alternative framework that helps to classify nudges into two types (Type 1 and Type 2). We then evaluate the evidence for nudges in the health domain, drawing attention to critical empirical issues (internal and external reliability) that explain the limited evidence base for their effectiveness. The review ends with an examination of the implications of the theoretical and empirical issues we discussed with respect to current debates regarding the ethics of nudge. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)

Lodge & Wegrich (2016). The Rationality Paradox of Nudge: Rational Tools of Government in a World of Bounded Rationality. Law & Policy, Volume 38, Issue 3, pages 250–267, July 2016.

Nudge and the wider behavioral economics approach has become increasingly dominant in contemporary political and policy discourse. While much attention has been paid to the attractions and criticisms of nudge (such as liberal paternalism), this article argues that nudge is based on a rationality paradox in that it represents an approach that despite its emphasis on bounded rationality, does not reflect on its own limits to rationality. The article considers the implications of this paradox by considering mechanisms that influence government decision making and mechanisms that lead to unintended consequences in the context of policy interventions.

Loewenstein, G., Bryce, C., Hagmann, D., & Rajpal, S. (2015). Warning: You
are about to be nudged. Behavioral Science & Policy, 1(1), pp. 35–42.

Presenting a default option is known to influence important decisions. That includes decisions regarding advance medical directives, documents people prepare to convey which medical treatments they favor in the event that they are too ill to make their wishes clear. Some observers have argued that defaults are unethical because people are typically unaware that they are being nudged toward a decision. We informed people of the presence of default options before they completed a hypothetical advance directive, or after, then gave them the opportunity to revise their decisions. The effect of the defaults persisted, despite the disclosure, suggesting that their effectiveness may not depend on deceit. These findings may help address concerns that behavioral interventions are necessarily duplicitous or manipulative.

Lunze &, Paasche-Orlow (2013). Financial incentives for healthy behavior: ethical safeguards for behavioral economics.American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 44(6):659-65.

MacKay, D. (2017). Nudges, Autonomy, and Organ Donor Registration Policies: Response to Critics. The American Journal of Bioethics, 17(2), W4-W8.

MacKay, D. (2019). Basic Income, Cash Transfers, and Welfare State Paternalism. Journal of Political Philosophy, 27(4), 422-447.

Much of the discussion concerning the permissibility of government paternalism has focused on laws and policies that either (1) ban or mandate the use or purchase of particular products;2 or (2) structure choice contexts to “nudge” people to make one choice rather than another.3 Examples of the former include existing laws that mandate the use of seatbelts or ban the possession of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, as well as proposed laws to ban cigarettes or prohibit the purchase of sugar‐sweetened beverages over 16 fl. oz (US). An example of the latter includes opt‐out retirement savings plans which make the “best” choice the default choice, thus taking advantage of people’s status quo bias.

However, commentators have also suggested that governments act paternalistically in the design of their welfare programs. Some claim that welfare programs that place conditions on the receipt of cash transfers or in‐kind benefits—for example, work, training, and/or substance‐abuse screening requirements—are paternalistic insofar as they direct citizens to lead “traditional bourgeois lives.”4 Others point to proposed and existing policies that place restrictions on the types of goods recipients can purchase with their in‐kind benefits, for example, proposed policies to prohibit people from using their “food stamps” to purchase sugar‐sweetened beverages.5 Still others argue that the mere provision of in‐kind benefits rather than cash is paternalistic, since it rests on the judgment that citizens cannot be trusted to use cash transfers wisely to promote their own interests.6 Matt Zwolinski nicely summarizes these concerns:

The conditional welfare state is not only invasive, it is heavily paternalistic . Restrictions on eligibility are imposed in order to encourage welfare recipients to live their lives in a way that the state thinks is good for them: don’t have kids out of wedlock, don’t do drugs, and get (or stay) married. And benefits are often given in‐kind rather than in cash precisely because the state doesn’t trust welfare recipients to make what it regards as wise choices about how to spend their money.7

The anti‐paternalistic nature of cash transfers, Zwolinski and others argue further, is a strong reason in favor of a basic income guarantee, as opposed to the provision of in‐kind benefits.8

In this article, I explore the claim that governments often act paternalistically in the design of their welfare programs. I first provide a definition of welfare state paternalism and suggest that welfare policies are not necessarily paternalistic simply because they offer recipients in‐kind benefits rather than cash or place conditions on the receipt of benefits. I then investigate whether welfare policies that satisfy the definition of welfare state paternalism are objectionably paternalistic and so therefore impermissible. I argue that they are not, and provide a framework policy makers may use to determine when such policies are morally permissible and when they are not.

The principal conclusion of my article is that welfare policies that provide in‐kind benefits or place conditions on the receipt of benefits are neither as paternalistic, nor as objectionably paternalistic, as some commentators might think. The charge of paternalism is thus not always a reason in favor of unconditional cash transfers or a basic income guarantee. Whether proposed or existing welfare policies are objectionably paternalistic requires careful empirical and normative analysis.

MacKay, D., & Robinson, A. (2016). The ethics of organ donor registration policies: Nudges and respect for autonomy. The American Journal of Bioethics, 16(11), 3-12.

Governments must determine the legal procedures by which their residents are registered, or can register, as organ donors. Provided that governments recognize that people have a right to determine what happens to their organs after they die, there are four feasible options to choose from: opt-in, opt-out, mandated active choice, and voluntary active choice. We investigate the ethics of these policies' use of nudges to affect organ donor registration rates. We argue that the use of nudges in this context is morally problematic. It is disrespectful of people's autonomy to take advantage of their cognitive biases since doing so involves bypassing, not engaging, their rational capacities. We conclude that while mandated active choice policies are not problem free—they are coercive, after all—voluntary active choice, opt-in, and opt-out policies are potentially less respectful of people's autonomy since their use of nudges could significantly affect people's decision making.
McCrudden & King (2015). The Dark Side of Nudging: The Ethics, Political Economy, and Law of Libertarian Paternalism. SSRN working paper.

McPherson & Smith (2008). Nudging for Liberty. Social Science Research Network.

Marteau, Theresa M. and Oliver, Adam and Ashcroft, Richard E. (2009) Changing behaviour through state intervention: when does an acceptable nudge become an unacceptable shove? British Medical Journal, 337 (a2543). 121-122. ISSN 0959-8138

Ménard (2010). A ‘Nudge’ for Public Health Ethics: Libertarian Paternalism as a Framework for Ethical Analysis of Public Health Interventions? Public Health Ethics, 3 (3): 229-238.

Is it possible to interfere with individual decision-making while preserving freedom of choice? The purpose of this article is to assess whether ‘libertarian paternalism’, a set of political and ethical principles derived from the observations of behavioural sciences, can form the basis of a viable framework for the ethical analysis of public health interventions. First, the article situates libertarian libertarianism within the broader context of the law and economics movement. The main tenets of the approach are then presented and particular attention is given to its operationalization through the notion of a ‘nudge’. Essentially, a ‘nudge’ consists in an intervention, which aims to suggest one choice over another by gently steering individual choices in welfare-enhancing directions yet without imposing any significant limit on available choices. Finally, the article concludes that, while it fails as an overreaching framework of ethical analysis, libertarian paternalism nonetheless constitutes a valuable addition to the conceptual toolbox of public health ethics.

Meyer, M., (2018). "Ethical Considerations When Companies Study–and Fail to Study–Their Customers" The Cambridge Handbook of Consumer Privacy.

Experimentation has been a hallmark of science for 400 years, but only recently–since the
advents of the computer and the Internet–have relatively quick, inexpensive experiments at
scale become feasible for businesses. Today, the practice of companies studying their
customers is ubiquitous. In 2011, Google ran 100–200 experiments per day on its products,
services, algorithms, and designs. 1 By 2016, it was running over 10,000 experiments per
year. 2 If you are a Bing user, on any given day, you are participating in some fifteen
experiments out of the company's 200 or so concurrent daily experiments, each of which
exposes several million users to experimental conditions. 3 And if you are a Facebook user,
you are a subject in some ten experiments at any given time. 4 Yet frameworks for thinking
about the ethical conduct of research–long a mainstay of research throughout the …

Mills, S. (2020). Nudge/sludge symmetry: on the relationship between nudge and sludge and the resulting ontological, normative and transparency implications. Behavioural Public Policy, 1-24.

A recent development within nudge theory is the concept of sludge, which imposes frictions on decision-making. Nascent literature adopts a normative interpretation of sludge: nudge good, sludge bad. However, this normative interpretation leaves much to be desired. A clear definition and treatment of sludge remains absent from this literature, as is a complete understanding of ‘frictions’. Furthermore, the relationship between nudges and sludges is unclear. This paper proposes the concept of nudge/sludge symmetry in an attempt to advance the conceptual understanding of sludge. Building from the definition of a nudge, three types of friction permissible under nudge theory are identified: hedonic, social and obscurant. Sludge is then positioned, in terms of frictions, relative to nudge: nudges decrease relative frictions, sludges increase relative frictions. A consequence of this proposition is nudge/sludge symmetry – where a nudge decreases the frictions associated with a specific option, sludge is simultaneously imposed on all other options available to a decision-maker. Nudge/sludge symmetry subsequently challenges the normative interpretation of sludge, and so a new framework drawing on the literature on nudges in the private sector is offered, with the choice architect placed at the centre. This new approach to sludge and emphasis on the role of the choice architect, in turn, reaffirms the importance of transparency in public policy interventions.

Mills (2013). Why Nudges Matter: A Reply to Goodwin. Politics Volume 33, Issue 1, pages 28–36.
This article argues that, contrary to Goodwin's recent arguments, nudges are compatible with the coalition government's stated aspiration to further self-empowerment. This is because, despite its libertarian roots, nudging is compatible with the promotion of personal autonomy and thus can be used to promote self-empowerment in a non-paternalistic fashion. Further, I argue that nudging may play a valid role in tackling large-scale social problems in tandem with other traditional policy measures. Consequently, Goodwin is wrong to reject choice architecture for these reasons.

Mitchell (2005). Libertarian Paternalism Is an Oxymoron. FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 136; FSU College of Law, Law and Economics Paper No. 05-02.

This essay considers the concept of libertarian paternalism recently advanced by Sunstein and Thaler and argues that, on close inspection, this attempt to reconcile the traditionally opposed concepts of libertarianism and paternalism fails to succeed. Most significantly, Sunstein and Thaler neglect alternative approaches to dealing with irrational choice behavior that are more consistent with libertarian principles and that make choice-framing paternalism evitable, they would subjugate the liberty of irrational individuals to a central planner's paternalistic welfare judgments, and they fail to deal with the redistributive consequences of libertarian paternalism. Libertarian paternalism, as currently formulated, is not designed to liberate individuals from their irrational tendencies but to capitalize on irrational tendencies to move citizens in directions that the paternalistic planner deems best. Libertarian paternalism does leave rational persons a way out of the central planner's paternalism, but often the exit will not be costless, as the paternalistic costs of trying to improve the welfare of irrational persons are shifted to the rational persons. While fidelity to libertarian principles leaves little room for the government to regulate irrational behavior, there are some forms of irrationality regulation more congenial to libertarian principles than Sunstein and Thaler's version of libertarian paternalism, examples of which are discussed here.

Moles (2015). Nudging for Liberals. Social Theory and Practice, Volume 41, Issue 4, October 2015. 

In this article I argue that anti-perfectionist liberals can accept nudging in certain areas: in particular, they can accept nudges aimed at helping people to discharge their nonenforceable duties, and to secure personal autonomy. I claim that nudging is not disrespectful since it does not involve a comparative negative judgment on people’s ability to pursue their plans, and that the judgments that motivate nudging are compatible with treating citizens as free and equal. I also claim that despite being sometimes manipulative, nudging is easy to resist and so it can be employed to pursue legitimate goals.

Mols et al (2015). Why a nudge is not enough: A social identity critique of governance by stealth. European Journal of Political Research, Volume 54, Issue 1, pages 81–98, February 2015.

Policy makers can use four different modes of governance: ‘hierarchy’, ‘markets’, ‘networks’ and ‘persuasion’. In this article, it is argued that ‘nudging’ represents a distinct (fifth) mode of governance. The effectiveness of nudging as a means of bringing about lasting behaviour change is questioned and it is argued that evidence for its success ignores the facts that many successful nudges are not in fact nudges; that there are instances when nudges backfire; and that there may be ethical concerns associated with nudges. Instead, and in contrast to nudging, behaviour change is more likely to be enduring where it involves social identity change and norm internalisation. The article concludes by urging public policy scholars to engage with the social identity literature on ‘social influence’, and the idea that those promoting lasting behaviour change need to engage with people not as individual cognitive misers, but as members of groups whose norms they internalise and enact.

Nagatsu (2015). Social Nudges: Their Mechanisms and Justification. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 481-494.

In this paper I argue that the use of social nudges, policy interventions to induce voluntary cooperation in social dilemma situations, can be defended against two ethical objections which I call objections from coherence and autonomy. Specifically I argue that the kind of preference change caused by social nudges is not a threat to agents’ coherent preference structure, and that there is a way in which social nudges influence behavior while respecting agents’ capacity to reason. I base my arguments on two mechanistic explanations of social nudges; the expectation-based and frame-based accounts. As a concrete example of social nudges I choose the “Don’t Mess With Texas” anti-littering campaign and discuss in some detail how it worked.

Nilsson, A., Erlandsson, A., Västfjäll, D., & Tinghög, G. (2020). Who are the opponents of nudging? Insights from moral foundations theory. Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology, 1-34.

ABSTRACT: To be able to implement nudges in an effective and ethically defensible manner, it is important to understand why some persons find nudges objectionable. Drawing on moral foundations theory, we investigated the moral roots of attitudes to pro-self nudges (which benefit the agent) and pro-social nudges (which benefit society). This registered report is based on a preregistered replication and extension (N = 607) of a first non-preregistered study (N = 629) with diverse samples of Swedish adults. We found that (a) individualizing moral intuitions concerning harm prevention and fairness were associated with the perceived acceptability of the nudges, (b) binding moral intuitions concerning in group loyalties, traditions, and sanctity were associated with the perception that nudges infringe on the agent’s freedom, and (c) individualist concern with freedom from the government’s interference in human lives, and with liberty in general, was associated with the perception that nudges restrict the agent’s freedom and are not acceptable. Opponents of nudging identified through cluster analysis exhibited high concern with liberty and low concern with individualizing and egalitarian values. These results were similar across studies and nudges, and they were consistent with our hypotheses, although individualist concern with freedom from the government specifically was the most robust unique predictor of opposition to nudges. Taken together, our findings suggest that opposition to nudges is rooted in attitudes concerning the conflict between public promotion of social goals, such as well-being, justice, or equality, and respect for the individual’s freedom from interference from the government.

Nys, Thomas RV and Bart Engelen, 2017, “Judging Nudging: Answering the Manipulation Objection”, Political Studies, 65(1): 199–214. doi:10.1177/0032321716629487

Is it ever justified to ‘nudge’ people towards their own health? In this article, we argue that it is. We do so by arguing (1) that nudges are not necessarily – as is commonly thought – manipulative; (2) that even those nudges that are manipulative can be justified, for instance, when they preserve rather than violate people’s autonomy; and (3) that even if nudges can be said to violate some people’s autonomy, they can still be the legitimate outcome of genuinely democratic procedures. While we do not regard nudging as the solution to all or even most public health problems, we argue for a piecemeal approach that carefully considers its benefits and downsides in light of the various values involved and the alternatives at hand.

Noggle, R. (2018). Manipulation, salience, and nudges. Bioethics, 32(3), 164-170.

Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler recommend helping people make better decisions by employing ‘nudges’, which they define as noncoercive methods of influencing choice for the better. Not surprisingly, healthcare practitioners and public policy professionals have become interested in whether nudges might be a promising method of improving health‐related behaviors without resorting to heavy‐handed methods such as coercion, deception, or government regulation. Many nudges seem unobjectionable as they merely improve the quality and quantity available for the decision‐maker. However, other nudges influence decision‐making in ways that do not involve providing more and better information. Nudges of this sort raise concerns about manipulation. This paper will focus on noninformational nudges that operate by changing the salience of various options. It will survey two approaches to understanding manipulation, one which sees manipulation as a kind of pressure, and one that sees it as a kind of trickery. On the pressure view, salience nudges do not appear to be manipulative. However, on the trickery view (which the author favors), salience nudges will be manipulative if they increase the salience so that it is disproportionate to that fact's true relevance and importance for the decision at hand. By contrast, salience nudges will not be manipulative if they merely highlight some fact that is true and important for the decision at hand. The paper concludes by providing examples of both manipulative and nonmanipulative salience nudges.

Noggle, Robert, "The Ethics of Manipulation", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = <>.

Oliver, Adam (2015) Nudging, shoving and budging: behavioural economic-informed policy Public Administration, 93 (3). 700-714. ISSN 0033-3298

In recent years, behavioural economics has gained considerable traction in the policy discourse, with a particular conceptual framework called libertarian paternalism, which informs nudge policy, dominating. Libertarian paternalism requires policies to protect individual liberty, to be focused specifically upon improving the welfare of those towards whom the intervention is targeted, and to be informed by the findings of behavioural economics. In practice, however, many of the interventions that are being advocated as nudges do not meet all of these criteria. Moreover, libertarian paternalism is not the only framework in which behavioural economics can inform policy. Coercive paternalism and behavioural regulation, frameworks that respectively underpin shove and budge policies, both use behavioural economics to inform public policy, and both face their own set of limitations. This article attempts to bring a degree of intellectual clarity to the potentially important contribution that behavioural economics can make to public policy.

Paunov, Y., Wänke, M., & Vogel, T. (2019). Transparency effects on policy compliance: disclosing how defaults work can enhance their effectiveness. Behavioural Public Policy, 3(2), 187-208.

Abstract: From an ethical standpoint, transparency is an essential requirement in public policy-making. Ideally, policy-makers are transparent and actively disclose the presence, purpose and means of a decision aid. From a practical point of view, however, transparency has been discussed as reducing the effectiveness of decision aids. In the present paper, we elaborate on how transparency affects the effectiveness of defaults. In three experiments, we manipulated whether the endorser was transparent about the default or not and assessed participants’ decisions to opt out or comply. Throughout the experiments, we found that proactive transparency reduced opt-out rates as compared to a non-transparent default condition. Moreover, proactive disclosure of a default reduced opt-out rates as compared to informed control groups, where participants imagined they had retrieved the default-related information by themselves (Studies 1 and 2). The results further indicate that a lack of proactive disclosure may lead targets to perceive the endorser as less sincere and to feel deceived, which in turn hinders the effectiveness of the default. In general, our findings lend support to the proactive transparency paradigm in governance and show that a default-based policy can be transparent and effective at the same time.
Pavey & Sparks (2009). Reactance, autonomy and paths to persuasion: Examining perceptions of threats to freedom and informational value. Motivation and Emotion, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 277-290.

Autonomy, often associated with an open and reflective evaluation of experience, is sometimes confused with reactance, which indicates resistance to persuasion attempts. Two studies examined a path model in which autonomy and reactance predicted motivation following the provision of anonymous or source-identified health-risk information, via the mediation of perceived threat to decision-making freedom and of perceived informational value. Study 1 (N = 122) investigated alcohol consumption. The results showed that autonomy was positively related to autonomous motivation and intentions to drink responsibly. Reactance negatively predicted autonomous motivation in the source-identified information condition but positively predicted autonomous motivation and intentions in the anonymous information condition. Reactance negatively predicted attitudes through the mediation of perceived threat to decision-making freedom. Study 2 (N = 145) tested our hypothesized model for smoking behavior and replicated several of the Study 1 findings. Implications for our understanding of autonomy, reactance, and responses to risk-information are discussed.

Ploug et al (2012). To nudge or not to nudge: cancer screening programmes and the limits of libertarian paternalism. J Epidemiol Community Health 2012;66:1193-1196 doi:10.1136/jech-2012-201194

Potts et al (2012). When a Nudge Becomes a Shove. The American Journal of Bioethics, Volume 12, Issue 2.

Roberts, J. L. (2018). Nudge-proof: distributive justice and the ethics of nudging. Michigan Law Review, 116(6), 1045-1066.

This Book Review of Cass Sunstein's "The Ethics of Influence" (2016) argues that, in addition to welfare, autonomy, dignity, and self-government, agents of the ethical state should also consider a fifth value, distributive justice

Quigley (2014). Are health nudges coercive? Monash Bioethics Review March 2014, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 141-158.

Governments and policy-makers have of late displayed renewed attention to behavioural research in an attempt to achieve a range of policy goals, including health promotion. In particular, approaches which could be labelled as ‘nudges’ have gained traction with policy-makers. A range of objections to nudging have been raised in the literature. These include claims that nudges undermine autonomy and liberty, may lead to a decrease in responsibility in decision-making, lack transparency, involve deception, and involve manipulation, potentially occasioning coercion. In this article I focus on claims of coercion, examining nudges within two of the main approaches to coercion—the pressure approach and the more recent enforcement approach. I argue that coercion entails an element of control over the behaviour of agents which is not plausibly displayed by the kinds of serious examples of nudges posited in the literature.

Quigley & Stokes (2015). Nudging and Evidence-Based Policy in Europe: Problems of Normative Legitimacy and Effectiveness. In Alemanno & Sibony (eds.) Nudge and the Law: A European Perspective. Bloomsbury.

Mills (2015). The Heteronomy of Choice Architecture. Review of Philosophy and Psychology,
Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 495-509.

Choice architecture is heralded as a policy approach that does not coercively reduce freedom of choice. Still we might worry that this approach fails to respect individual choice because it subversively manipulates individuals, thus contravening their personal autonomy. In this article I address two arguments to this effect. First, I deny that choice architecture is necessarily heteronomous. I explain the reasons we have for avoiding heteronomous policy-making and offer a set of four conditions for non-heteronomy. I then provide examples of nudges that meet these conditions. I argue that these policies are capable of respecting and promoting personal autonomy, and show this claim to be true across contrasting conceptions of autonomy. Second, I deny that choice architecture is disrespectful because it is epistemically paternalistic. This critique appears to loom large even against non-heteronomous nudges. However, I argue that while some of these policies may exhibit epistemically paternalistic tendencies, these tendencies do not necessarily undermine personal autonomy. Thus, if we are to find such policies objectionable, we cannot do so on the grounds of respect for autonomy.

Qizilbash (2009). Well-Being, Preference Formation and the Danger of Paternalism.  Papers on Economics and Evolution, # 0918, Max Planck Institute of Economics.

Informed or rational desire, capability and prudential value list views of well-being - must
accommodate human limitations, as well as address issues about adaptation and paternalism. They
sometimes address adaptation by toughening the requirement(s) on those desires, satisfaction of which constitutes well-being. That exacerbates a concern that these accounts if adopted will encourage policies which override actual desires and enforce paternalistic restrictions. Sunstein, like Sen, invokes democratic deliberation to address the adaptation problem, and advocates autonomy
promoting paternalistic restrictions. Sunstein and Thaler’s ‘libertarian paternalism’ extends this
flavour of argument to cover examples of irrationality from behavioural economics. Their variation of the informed desire account involves highly idealized preferences which cannot, in practical terms,
guide a paternalistic social planner, but lead to a potentially large range of cases where paternalistic
intervention might, in principle, be justified. I argue that the liberal paternalist policy agenda should
as currently conceived be resisted.

 Quong (2010). Liberalism without Perfection. OUP.

A growing number of political philosophers favour a view called liberal perfectionism. According to this view, liberal political morality is characterised by a commitment to helping individuals lead autonomous lives and making other valuable choices. In this book Jonathan Quong rejects this widely held view and offers an alternative account of liberal political morality. Quong argues that the liberal state should not be engaged in determining what constitutes a valuable or worthwhile life nor trying to make sure that individuals live up to this ideal. Instead, it should remain neutral on the issue of the good life, and restrict itself to establishing the fair terms within which individuals can pursue their own beliefs about what gives value to their lives. The book thus defends a position known as political liberalism. The first part of the book subjects the liberal perfectionist position to critical scrutiny, advancing three major objections that raise serious doubts about the liberal perfectionist position with regard to autonomy, paternalism, and political legitimacy. The latter chapters then present and defend a distinctive version of political liberalism. In particular, Quong clarifies and develops political liberalism's central thesis: that political principles, in order to be legitimate, must be publicly justifiable to reasonable people. Drawing on the work of John Rawls, Quong offers his own interpretation of this idea, and rebuts some of the main objections that have been pressed against it. In doing so, the book offers novel arguments regarding the nature of an overlapping consensus, the structure of political justification, the idea of public reason, and the status of unreasonable persons.

Raz, J. (1986) The Morality of Freedom. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Raihani (2015). Nudge politics: efficacy and ethics. Frontiers in Psychology, 4: 972.

Libertarian Paternalism has been hailed by its proponents as the 'true Third Way'. It attempts to reconcile paternalism and libertarianism, and claims to provide freedom-preserving solutions to some of the most intractable problems faced by contemporary Western societies. The bounded rationality of voters is not ignored, but is exploited for their greater good. The approach is cheap to implement, and, its proponents claim, often very effective. What is there to dislike?
In Taking Liberties, Rebonato examines whether the freedom-preserving claims of libertarian paternalism truly stand up to scrutiny; questions the degree of effective decisional autonomy it affords; and raises concerns about the transparency deficit of the programme and about its supposed value-neutrality. Taking Liberties argues that libertarian paternalism fails to respect decisional autonomy exactly if individuals truly are as cognitively impaired as libertarian paternalists claim. If this is the case, exploiting the citizens' decisional deficiencies (even for the own good) poses difficult moral and political issues, which are largely ignored in the libertarian paternalistic literature. If, on the other hand, the cognitive shortcomings of individuals are not as pervasive and 'hard-wired' as the behavioural finance literature seems to suggest – and Rebonato reports convincing evidence to this effect – a completely different programme, aimed at improving the quality of the whole decision process, not just of the outcomes, becomes more desirable and defensible.
If we accept that some degree of paternalistic intervention by the state is desirable, Rebonato argues that, paradoxically, a hard, transparent and highly visible form of paternalism may be more desirable – if for no other reason than for the ability it gives voters to reject it. As they engage in this process of acceptance or rejection, Rebonato claims, citizens and voters make use of their critical faculties, engaging in a process that has value over and above a narrow evaluation of the outcomes. The libertarian paternalistic alternative is not attractive: by accepting the supposed cognitive limitations of individuals as inevitable, and by attempting to systematically exploit them, libertarian paternalism can dull our critical faculties, and, in the end, the programme can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is not a perspective than any true libertarian should cherish. 'The slumber of reason generates monsters', Goya wrote. Turning these monsters into pleasant dreams without waking up the sleeper may be possible. But is it desirable? In Taking Liberties, Rebonato argues that it is not.

Renaud, K., & Zimmermann, V. (2018). Ethical guidelines for nudging in information security & privacy. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 120, 22-35.

There has recently been an upsurge of interest in the deployment of behavioural economics techniques in the information security and privacy domain. In this paper, we consider the nature of one particular intervention, the nudge, and the way it exercises its influence. We contemplate the ethical ramifications of nudging, in its broadest sense, deriving general principles for ethical nudging from the literature. We extrapolate these principles to the deployment of nudging in information security and privacy. Furthermore, we explain how researchers can use these guidelines to ensure that they satisfy the ethical requirements during nudge trials in information security and privacy. Our guidelines also provide guidance to ethics review boards that are required to evaluate nudge-related research.

Reijula, S., & Hertwig, R. (2020). Self-nudging and the citizen choice architect. Behavioural Public Policy, 1-31.

This article argues that nudges can often be turned into self-nudges: empowering interventions that enable people to design and structure their own decision environments – that is, to act as citizen choice architects. Self-nudging applies insights from behavioral science in a way that is practicable and cost-effective, but that sidesteps concerns about paternalism or manipulation. It has the potential to expand the scope of application of behavioral insights from the public to the personal sphere (e.g., homes, offices, families). It is a tool for reducing failures of self-control and enhancing personal autonomy; specifically, self-nudging can mean designing one's proximate choice architecture to alleviate the effects of self-control problems, engaging in education to understand the nature and causes of self-control problems and employing simple educational nudges to improve goal attainment in various domains. It can even mean self-paternalistic interventions such as winnowing down one's choice set by, for instance, removing options. Policy-makers could promote self-nudging by sharing knowledge about nudges and how they work. The ultimate goal of the self-nudging approach is to enable citizen choice architects’ efficient self-governance, where reasonable, and the self-determined arbitration of conflicts between their mutually exclusive goals and preferences.

Roberts, J. L. (2017). Nudge-proof: Distributive justice and the ethics of nudging. Mich. L. Rev., 116, 1045. A review of Cass R. Sunstein, The Ethics of Influence: Government in the Age of Behavioral Science.


‘Being attuned to distributional concerns could lead to more effective nudging. Consequently, I advocate considering distributive justice in addition to welfare, autonomy, dignity, and self-government when assessing the ethics of nudging.’  ‘Distributive justice should not be dispositive, but it should certainly join welfare, autonomy, dignity, and self-government in the pantheon of values considered by the ethical state.’
Simkulet, W. (2018). Nudging, informed consent and bullshit. Journal of medical ethics, 44(8), 536-542.


Some philosophers have argued that during the process of obtaining informed consent, physicians should try to nudge their patients towards consenting to the option the physician believes best, where a nudge is any influence that is expected to predictably alter a person’s behaviour without (substantively) restricting her options. Some proponents of nudging even argue that it is a necessary and unavoidable part of securing informed consent. Here I argue that nudging is incompatible with obtaining informed consent. I assume informed consent requires that a physician tells her patient the truth about her options and argue that nudging is incompatible with truth-telling. Instead, nudging satisfies Harry Frankfurt’s account of bullshit.

Ruehle, R. C., Engelen, B., & Archer, A. (2021). Nudging Charitable Giving: What (If Anything) Is Wrong With It?. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 50(2), 353-371.

Nudging techniques can help charities to increase donations. In this article, we first provide a systematic overview of prototypical nudges that promote charitable giving. Second, we argue that plenty of the ethical objections raised against nudges, such as the exploitation of power they involve and the arguably intrusive and deceptive nature, are not specific to nudging itself. Carefully designing nudges can help to avoid these worries. Third, given that most concerns boil down to the worry that nudges infringe on people’s autonomy, we analyze when this could nevertheless be justified. We differentiate between perfect duties, imperfect duties, and supererogatory acts and argue that nudges are (a) morally permissible (even when they violate autonomy) when it comes to perfect duties and can (b) provide the best available strategy when it comes to imperfect duties. That said, we also analyze the conditions under which nudging charitable giving is impermissible.

Simkulet, W. (2019). Informed consent and nudging. Bioethics, 33(1), 169-184.

In order to avoid patient abuse, under normal situations before performing a medical intervention on a patient, a physician must obtain informed consent from that patient, where to give genuine informed consent a patient must be competent, understand her condition, her options and their expected risks and benefits, and must expressly consent to one of those options. However, many patients refrain from the option that their physician believes to be best, and many physicians worry that their patients make irrational healthcare decisions, hindering their ability to provide efficient healthcare for their patients. Some philosophers have proposed a solution to this problem: they advocate that physicians nudge their patients to steer them towards their physician's preferred option. A nudge is any influence designed to predictably alter a person's behavior without limiting their options or giving them reasons to act. Proponents of nudging contend that nudges are consistent with obtaining informed consent. Here I argue that nudging is incompatible with genuine informed consent, as it violates a physician's obligation to tell their patients the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth during adequate disclosure.

Siipi, H., & Polaris, K. O. I. (2021). The Ethics of Climate Nudges: Central Issues for Applying Choice Architecture Interventions to Climate Policy. European Journal of Risk Regulation, 1-18.

While nudging has garnered plenty of interdisciplinary attention, the ethics of applying it to climate policy has been little discussed. However, not all ethical considerations surrounding nudging are straightforward to apply to climate nudges. In this article, we overview the state of the debate on the ethics of nudging and highlight themes that are either specific to or particularly important for climate nudges. These include: the justification of nudges that are not self-regarding; how to account for climate change denialists; transparency; knowing the right or best behaviours; justice concerns; and whether the efficacy of nudges is sufficient for nudges to be justified as a response to the climate crisis. We conclude that climate nudges raise distinct ethical questions that ought to be considered in developing climate nudges.

Sisk, B. A., Mozersky, J., Antes, A. L., & DuBois, J. M. (2020). The “ought-is” problem: An implementation science framework for translating ethical norms into practice. The American Journal of Bioethics, 20(4), 62-70.

We argue that once a normative claim is developed, there is an imperative to effect changes based on this norm. As such, ethicists should adopt an “implementation mindset” when formulating norms, and collaborate with others who have the expertise needed to implement policies and practices. To guide this translation of norms into practice, we propose a framework that incorporates implementation science into ethics. Implementation science is a discipline dedicated to supporting the sustained enactment of interventions. We further argue that implementation principles should be integrated into the development of specific normative claims as well as the enactment of these norms. Ethicists formulating a specific norm should consider whether that norm can feasibly be enacted because the resultant specific norm will directly affect the types of interventions subsequently developed. To inform this argument, we will describe the fundamental principles of implementation science, using informed consent to research participation as an illustration.

Saghai (2013). Salvaging the concept of nudge. J Med Ethics, 39:487-493

In recent years, ‘nudge’ theory has gained increasing attention for the design of population-wide health interventions. The concept of nudge puts a label on efficacious influences that preserve freedom of choice without engaging the influencees’ deliberative capacities. Given disagreements over what it takes genuinely to preserve freedom of choice, the question is whether health influences relying on automatic cognitive processes may preserve freedom of choice in a sufficiently robust sense to be serviceable for the moral evaluation of actions and policies. In this article, I offer an argument to this effect, explicating preservation of freedom of choice in terms of choice-set preservation and noncontrol. I also briefly explore the healthcare contexts in which nudges may have priority over more controlling influences.

Sawicki (2016). Ethical Limitations on the State's Use of Arational Persuasion. Law & Policy
Volume 38, Issue 3, pages 211–233, July 2016.

Policy makers frequently use arational appeals and nudges—such as those relying on emotion, cognitive biases, and subliminal messaging—to persuade citizens to adopt behaviors that support public goals. However, these communication tactics have been widely criticized for relying on arational triggers rather than reasoned argument. This article develops a fuller account of the nonconsequentialist objection to arational persuasion by state actors, focusing on theories of decisional autonomy and metadecisional voluntariness. The article concludes by proposing ethically justifiable limitations on state communications that should be compelling to both critics and advocates of arational persuasion.

Schnellenbach, J. (2016). A constitutional economics perspective on soft paternalism. Kyklos, 69(1), 135-156.

Using a framework that distinguishes short‐term consumer preferences, individual reflective preferences and political preferences, we discuss from a constitutional economics perspective whether individuals find it in their common constitutional interest to endow representatives and bureaucrats with the competence to impose soft paternalist policies. The focus is specifically on soft paternalist policies, because these often work with non‐transparent “nudges” that are considered as manipulative in some contributions to the literature. We show that those soft paternalist policies that are manipulative indeed collide with three criteria of consumer sovereignty, reflective sovereignty, and citizen sovereignty that can be argued to represent common constitutional interest of citizens. On the other hand, we argue that the set of paternalist policies that is deemed acceptable on the constitutional level is restricted to non‐manipulative instruments, and their application as government policies is limited to cases with stable and very homogenous preferences. However, we also argue that competitive markets are capable of supplying many mechanisms that allow individuals to cope with problems in their decision‐making processes on a private level.

Schubert (2015). On the ethics of public nudging: Autonomy and Agency. Joint Discussion Paper Series in Economics by the Universities of Aachen · Gießen · Göttingen Kassel · Marburg · Siegen

Nudges, i.e., low-cost interventions that steer people’s behavior without compromising their freedom of choice, are the key contribution of ‘Libertarian Paternalism’ (LP) to public policy. They typically work through either harnessing or responding to people’s cognitive biases and heuristics – which is why they have been criticized for being manipulative and for compromising personal autonomy. We argue, though, that (i) nudging hardly compromises autonomy, properly understood, and that (ii) it rather risks undermining people’s agency, i.e., their ability to engage in creative self-constitution over time. This reorientation has farranging implications for the ethics of behavioral policies in general and LP in particular.

Schmidt, A. T. (2017). The power to nudge. American Political Science Review, 111(2), 404-417.

Abstract: Nudging policies rely on behavioral science to improve people’s decisions through small changes in the environments within which people make choices. This article first seeks to rebut a prominent objection to this approach: furnishing governments with the power to nudge leads to relations of alien control, that is, relations in which some people can impose their will on others—a concern which resonates with republican, Kantian, and Rousseauvian theories of freedom and relational theories of autonomy. I respond that alien control can be avoided, if nudging is suitably transparent and democratically controlled. Moreover, such transparency and democratic control are institutionally feasible. Building on this response, I then provide a novel and surprising argument for more nudging: democratically controlled public policy nudging can often contain the power of private companies to nudge in uncontrolled and opaque ways. Therefore, reducing alien control often requires more rather than less nudging in public policy.

Schubert, C., (2017) "Green nudges: Do they work? Are they ethical?". Ecological Economics
Volume 132, February 2017, Pages 329-342

Environmental policies are increasingly informed by behavioral economics insights. ‘Green nudges’ in particular have been suggested as a promising new tool to encourage consumers to act in an environmentally benign way, such as choosing renewable energy sources or saving energy. While there is an emerging literature on the instrumental effectiveness of behavioral policy tools such as these, their ethical assessment has largely been neglected. This paper attempts to fill this gap by, first, providing a structured overview of the most important contributions to the literature on pro-environmental nudges and, second, offering some critical considerations that may help the practitioner come to an ethically informed assessment of nudges.

Scrinis & Parker (2016). Front-of-Pack Food Labeling and the Politics of Nutritional Nudges. Law & Policy, Volume 38, Issue 3, pages 234–249, July 2016.

This article examines the potential for new front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition labeling initiatives to nudge consumers toward healthier food choices. The libertarian-paternalist approach to policy known as nudge initially developed by Thaler and Sunstein is discussed, with its emphasis on designing spaces (including the space of the food label) to shape the behavior of individuals while not restricting consumer choice or imposing restrictions or penalties on producers. In the context of concerns over diet-related chronic diseases and obesity, new FOP interpretive nutrition labels have been proposed or implemented in an attempt to shift consumer dietary choices, including the Multiple Traffic Light labeling system in the United Kingdom and the Health Star Rating system in Australia. We identify some of the characteristics, the underlying nutritional philosophies, and the limitations of these FOP labeling schemes. We suggest that the potential of these schemes is compromised by the coexistence on the food label of many other forms of nutrition information and food marketing. Some alternative ways of labeling and communicating the nutritional quality of foods are also discussed.

Sher, Shlomo, 2011, “A Framework for Assessing Immorally Manipulative Marketing Tactics”, Journal of Business Ethics, 102(1): 97–118. doi:10.1007/s10551-011-0802-4

A longstanding debate exists in both academic literature and popular culture about whether non-informative marketing tactics are manipulative. However, given that we tend to believe that some marketing tactics are manipulative and some are not, the question that marketers, their critics, and consumers need to ask themselves is that of how to actually determine whether any particular marketing tactic is manipulative and whether a given manipulative tactic is, in fact, immoral. This article proposes to operationalize criteria that can be used by marketers for making such determinations and attempts to provide some clarification toward our under- standing of the concept of manipulation and the conditions for the moral acceptability of manipulative marketing practices. It argues that a marketing tactic is manipulative if it is intended to motivate by undermining what the marketer believes is his/her audience’s normal decision-making process either by deception or by playing on a vulnerability that the marketer believes exists in his/her audience’s normal decision-making process. Such a tactic is morally objectionable on several grounds, which make it morally impermissible unless outweighed by sufficient “redemptive” moral considerations.

Selinger & Whyte (2011). Is There a Right Way to Nudge? The Practice and Ethics of Choice Architecture. Sociology Compass, Volume 5, Issue 10, pages 923–935.

Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness presents an influential account of why ‘choice architecture’ should be used to ‘nudge’ people into making better decisions than they would otherwise make. In this essay we: (1) explain the main concepts that Thaler and Sunstein rely upon to defend their project; (2) clarify the main conceptual problems that have arisen in discussions about nudges; (3) clarify practical difficulties that can arise during nudge practice; (4) review the main ethical and political objections that have been raised against nudging; and (5) clarify why issues related to meaning can pose methodological problems for creating effective choice architecture.

Schmidt, A. T., & Engelen, B. (2020). The ethics of nudging: An overview. Philosophy Compass, 15(4), e12658.

So‐called nudge policies utilize insights from behavioral science to achieve policy outcomes. Nudge policies try to improve people's decisions by changing the ways options are presented to them, rather than changing the options themselves or incentivizing or coercing people. Nudging has been met with great enthusiasm but also fierce criticism. This paper provides an overview of the debate on the ethics of nudging to date. After outlining arguments in favor of nudging, we first discuss different objections that all revolve around the worry that nudging vitiates personal autonomy. We split up this worry into different dimensions of autonomy, such as freedom of choice, volitional autonomy, rational agency, and freedom as nondomination. We next discuss worries that nudging is manipulative, violates human dignity, and prevents more important structural reform. Throughout, we will present responses that proponents of nudging can muster. On the whole, we conclude that the objections fail to establish that the nudge program as a whole should be rejected. At the same time, they give us important guidance when moving towards an ethical assessment of nudges on a case‐by‐case basis. Towards the end, we provide some possible ways forward in debates around the ethics of nudging.

Smith, N. C., Goldstein, D. G., & Johnson, E. J. (2013). Choice without awareness: Ethical and policy implications of defaults. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 32(2), 159-172.

Defaults have such powerful and pervasive effects on consumer behavior that they could be considered “hidden persuaders” in some settings. Ignoring defaults is not a sound option for marketers or consumer policy makers. The authors identify three theoretical causes of default effects—implied endorsement, cognitive biases, and effort—to guide thought on the appropriate marketer and policy maker responses to the issues posed for consumer welfare and consumer autonomy, including proposals for benign “nudges” of behavior. Defaults can be a preferred form of decision architecture; that is, other nonconscious influences on choice and an absence of established preferences can mean that active choice is not always the better alternative. The authors propose “smart defaults” as welfare-enhancing and market-oriented alternatives to the current practice of generally ignoring default effects. Their analysis highlights the importance of considering the process as well as the outcomes of consumer decision making and taking responsibility for consumers' mistakes arising from misuse of defaults. The authors conclude by reflecting on the ethical and policy implications of techniques that influence consumer choice without awareness.

Smith, N. C., Goldstein, D. G., & Johnson, E. J. (2013). Choice without awareness: Ethical and policy implications of defaults. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 32(2), 159-172.

Defaults have such powerful and pervasive effects on consumer behavior that they could be considered “hidden persuaders” in some settings. Ignoring defaults is not a sound option for marketers or consumer policy makers. The authors identify three theoretical causes of default effects—implied endorsement, cognitive biases, and effort—to guide thought on the appropriate marketer and policy maker responses to the issues posed for consumer welfare and consumer autonomy, including proposals for benign “nudges” of behavior. Defaults can be a preferred form of decision architecture; that is, other nonconscious influences on choice and an absence of established preferences can mean that active choice is not always the better alternative. The authors propose “smart defaults” as welfare-enhancing and market-oriented alternatives to the current practice of generally ignoring default effects. Their analysis highlights the importance of considering the process as well as the outcomes of consumer decision making and taking responsibility for consumers' mistakes arising from misuse of defaults. The authors conclude by reflecting on the ethical and policy implications of techniques that influence consumer choice without awareness.

Steffel, M., Williams, E. F., & Pogacar, R. (2016). Ethically deployed defaults: Transparency and consumer protection through disclosure and preference articulation. Journal of Marketing Research, 53(5), 865-880.

Abstract: Defaults are extremely effective at covertly guiding choices, which raises concerns about how to employ them ethically and responsibly. Consumer advocates have proposed that disclosing how defaults are intended to influence choices could help protect consumers from being unknowingly manipulated. This research shows that consumers appreciate transparency, but disclosure does not make defaults less influential. Seven experiments demonstrate that disclosure alters how fair consumers perceive defaults to be but does not attenuate default effects because consumers do not understand how to counter the processes by which defaults bias their judgment. Given that defaults lead consumers to focus disproportionately on reasons to choose the default even with disclosure, debiasing default effects requires that consumers engage in a more balanced consideration of the default and its alternative. Encouraging people to articulate their preferences for the default or its alternative, as in a forced choice, shifts the focus away from the default and reduces default effects.

Sugden (2008). Why incoherent preferences do not justify paternalism. Constitutional Political Economy, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 226-248.

A variety of recent arguments emerging from behavioural economics claim to undermine the credibility, and even the conceptual coherence, of the economist’s traditional rejection of paternalism. Indeed, some suggest that the incoherent nature of preferences inevitably implies a form of paternalism, since some basis for officiating between expressed preferences is required, and some preferences will be over-ridden in favour of others. This paper reviews and contests these arguments. It argues that markets operate according to a normatively defensible and non-paternalistic principle of mutual advantage, and that this principle does not require preferences to be coherent.

Sunstein (2006). Preferences, Paternalism, and Liberty. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement,  Volume 59, December 2006, pp 233-264.

Our goal in this chapter is to draw on empirical work about preference formation and welfare to propose a distinctive form of paternalism, libertarian in spirit, one that should be acceptable to those who are firmly committed to freedom of choice on grounds of either autonomy or welfare. Indeed, we urge that a kind of ‘libertarian paternalism’ provides a basis for both understanding and rethinking many social practices, including those that deal with worker welfare, consumer protection, and the family.

Sunstein (2015). Why Nudge?: The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism. Yale University Press.

Based on a series of pathbreaking lectures given at Yale University in 2012, this powerful, thought-provoking work by national best-selling author Cass R. Sunstein combines legal theory with behavioral economics to make a fresh argument about the legitimate scope of government, bearing on obesity, smoking, distracted driving, health care, food safety, and other highly volatile, high-profile public issues. Behavioral economists have established that people often make decisions that run counter to their best interests—producing what Sunstein describes as “behavioral market failures.” Sometimes we disregard the long term; sometimes we are unrealistically optimistic; sometimes we do not see what is in front of us. With this evidence in mind, Sunstein argues for a new form of paternalism, one that protects people against serious errors but also recognizes the risk of government overreaching and usually preserves freedom of choice.

Against those who reject paternalism of any kind, Sunstein shows that “choice architecture”—government-imposed structures that affect our choices—is inevitable, and hence that a form of paternalism cannot be avoided. He urges that there are profoundly moral reasons to ensure that choice architecture is helpful rather than harmful—and that it makes people’s lives better and longer.

Sunstein (2015). Nudging and Choice Architecture: Ethical Considerations. Yale Journal on Regulation.

Is nudging unethical? Is choice architecture a problem for a free society? This essay defends seven propositions: (1) It is pointless to object to choice architecture or nudging as such. Choice architecture cannot be avoided. Nature itself nudges; so does the weather; so do customs and traditions; so do spontaneous orders and invisible hands. The private sector inevitably nudges, as does the government. It is reasonable to worry about nudges by government and to object to particular nudges, but not to nudging in general. (2) In this context, ethical abstractions (for example, about autonomy, dignity, manipulation, and democratic self-government) can create serious confusion. To make progress, those abstractions must be brought into contact with concrete practices. Nudging and choice architecture take highly diverse forms, and the force of an ethical objection depends on the specific form. (3) If welfare is our guide, much nudging is actually required on ethical grounds, even if it comes from government. (4) If autonomy is our guide, much nudging is also required on ethical grounds, in part because some nudges actually promote autonomy, in part because some nudges enable people to devote their limited time and attention to their most important concerns. (5) Choice architecture should not, and need not, compromise either dignity or self-government, but it is important to see that imaginable forms could do both. It follows that when they come from government, choice architecture and nudges should not be immune from a burden of justification, which they might not be able to overcome. (6) Some nudges are objectionable because the choice architect has illicit ends. When the ends are legitimate, and when nudges are fully transparent and subject to public scrutiny, a convincing ethical objection is less likely to be available. (7) There is ample room for ethical objections in the case of well-motivated but manipulative interventions, certainly if people have not consented to them; such nudges can undermine autonomy and dignity. It follows that both the concept and the practice of manipulation deserve careful attention. The concept of manipulation has a core and a periphery; some interventions fit within the core, others within the periphery, and others outside of both.

Sunstein (2015). Nudges, Agency, and Abstraction: A Reply to Critics. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 511-529.

This essay has three general themes. The first involves the claim that nudging threatens human agency. My basic response is that human agency is fully retained (because nudges do not compromise freedom of choice) and that agency is always exercised in the context of some kind of choice architecture. The second theme involves the importance of having a sufficiently capacious sense of the category of nudges, and a full appreciation of the differences among them. Some nudges either enlist or combat behavioral biases but others do not, and even among those that do enlist or combat such biases, there are significant differences. The third general theme is the need to bring various concerns (including ethical ones) in close contact with particular examples. A legitimate point about default rules may not apply to warnings or reminders. An ethical objection to the use of social norms may not apply to information disclosure. Here as elsewhere, abstraction can be a trap. We continue to learn about the relevant ethical issues, about likely public reactions to nudging, and about differences across cultures and nations. Future progress will depend on a high level of concreteness, perhaps especially in dealing with the vexing problem of time-inconsistency.

Sunstein (2015). Nudges Do Not Undermine Human Agency. Journal of Consumer Policy, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 207-210.

Some people believe that nudges undermine human agency, but with appropriate nudges, neither agency nor consumer freedom is at risk. On the contrary, nudges can promote both goals. In some contexts, they are indispensable. There is no opposition between education on the one hand and nudges on the other. Many nudges are educative. Even when they are not, they can complement, and not displace, consumer education.

Sunstein (2014). The Ethics of Nudging. SSRN Working Paper.

This essay defends the following propositions. (1) It is pointless to object to choice architecture or nudging as such. Choice architecture cannot be avoided. Nature itself nudges; so does the weather; so do spontaneous orders and invisible hands. The private sector inevitably nudges, as does the government. It is reasonable to object to particular nudges, but not to nudging in general. (2) In this context, ethical abstractions (for example, about autonomy, dignity, and manipulation) can create serious confusion. To make progress, those abstractions must be brought into contact with concrete practices. Nudging and choice architecture take diverse forms, and the force of an ethical objection depends on the specific form. (3) If welfare is our guide, much nudging is actually required on ethical grounds. (4) If autonomy is our guide, much nudging is also required on ethical grounds. (5) Choice architecture should not, and need not, compromise either dignity or self-government, though imaginable forms could do both. (6) Some nudges are objectionable because the choice architect has illicit ends. When the ends are legitimate, and when nudges are fully transparent and subject to public scrutiny, a convincing ethical objection is less likely to be available. (7) There is, however, room for ethical objections in the case of well-motivated but manipulative interventions, certainly if people have not consented to them; such nudges can undermine autonomy and dignity. It follows that both the concept and the practice of manipulation deserve careful attention. The concept of manipulation has a core and a periphery; some interventions fit within the core, others within the periphery, and others outside of both.

Sunstein (2014). Choosing Not to Choose. Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 14-07.

Choice can be an extraordinary benefit or an immense burden. In some contexts, people choose not to choose, or would do so if they were asked. For example, many people prefer not to make choices about their health or retirement plans; they want to delegate those choices to a private or public institution that they trust (and may well be willing to pay a considerable amount for such delegations). This point suggests that however well-accepted, the line between active choosing and paternalism is often illusory. When private or public institutions override people’s desire not to choose, and insist on active choosing, they may well be behaving paternalistically, through a form of choice-requiring paternalism. Active choosing can be seen as a form of libertarian paternalism, and a frequently attractive one, if people are permitted to opt out of choosing in favor of a default (and in that sense not to choose); it is a form of nonlibertarian paternalism insofar as people are required to choose. For both ordinary people and private or public institutions, the ultimate judgment in favor of active choosing, or in favor of choosing not to choose, depends largely on the costs of decisions and the costs of errors. But the value of learning, and of developing one’s own preferences and values, is also important, and may argue on behalf of active choosing, and against the choice not to choose. For law and policy, these points raise intriguing puzzles about the idea of “predictive shopping,” which is increasingly feasible with the rise of large data sets containing information about people’s previous choices. Some empirical results are presented about people’s reactions to predictive shopping; the central message is that most (but not all) people reject predictive shopping in favor of active choosing.

Swindell et al (2010). Beneficent Persuasion: Techniques and Ethical Guidelines to Improve Patients’ Decisions. Annals of Family Medicine, vol. 8 no. 3 260-264.

Physicians frequently encounter patients who make decisions that contravene their long-term goals. Behavioral economists have shown that irrationalities and self-thwarting tendencies pervade human decision making, and they have identified a number of specific heuristics (rules of thumb) and biases that help explain why patients sometimes make such counterproductive decisions. In this essay, we use clinical examples to describe the many ways in which these heuristics and biases influence patients’ decisions. We argue that physicians should develop their understanding of these potentially counterproductive decisional biases and, in many cases, use this knowledge to rebias their patients in ways that promote patients’ health or other values. Using knowledge of decision-making psychology to persuade patients to engage in healthy behaviors or to make treatment decisions that foster their long-term goals is ethically justified by physicians’ duties to promote their patients’ interests and will often enhance, rather than limit, their patients’ autonomy. We describe techniques that physicians may use to frame health decisions to patients in ways that are more likely to motivate patients to make choices that are less biased and more conducive to their long-term goals. Marketers have been using these methods for decades to get patients to engage in unhealthy behaviors; employers and policy makers are beginning to consider the use of similar approaches to influence healthy choices. It is time for clinicians also to make use of behavioral psychology in their interactions with patients.

Tannenbaum, Fox & Rogers. On the misplaced politics of behavioral policy interventions. Working Paper.

One common criticism of policy tools derived from behavioral science that can be applied to a range of policy objectives (commonly referred to as nudges) is that such interventions are manipulative and coercive. We show that such criticism sometimes reflects a partisan nudge bias, whereby partisans conflate their attitudes toward policy tools with their attitudes toward policy objectives. Across five experiments we find that partisans evaluate policy nudges as relatively unethical when applied to policy objectives they oppose or by policymakers they distrust, but evaluate the same policy tools more favorably when applied to political objectives they support or by policymakers they trust. Both politically liberal and conservative partisans exhibited partisan nudge bias, as did practicing policymakers. However, these partisan differences disappear when behavioral policy interventions are described without a specific policy application or sponsor. Thus, explicitly setting aside particular policy objectives and endorsements may facilitate less prejudiced discussion about the appropriateness of deploying behavioral policy tools.

Vallgarda (2012). Nudge—A new and better way to improve health? Health Policy Volume 104, Issue 2, Pages 200–203.

Nudging, or libertarian paternalism, is presented as a new and ethically justified way of improving people's health. It has proved influential and is currently taken up by the governments in the US, the UK and France. One may question the claim that the approach is new, in any case it has many similarities with the idea of “making healthy choices easier”. Whether the approach is better from an ethical perspective depends on the ethical principles one holds. From a paternalistic perspective there could be no objections, but from a libertarian, there are several. Contrary to what the authors state, libertarian paternalism is an oxymoron.

Vugts, A., Van Den Hoven, M., De Vet, E., & Verweij, M. (2018). How autonomy is understood in discussions on the ethics of nudging. Behavioural Public Policy, 1-16.


Nudging is considered a promising approach for behavioural change. At the same time, nudging has raised ethical concerns, specifically in relation to the impact of nudges on autonomous choice. A complexity is that in this debate authors may appeal to different understandings or dimensions of autonomy. Clarifying the different conceptualisations of autonomy in ethical debates around nudging would help to advance our understanding of the ethics of nudging. A literature review of these considerations was conducted in order to identify and differentiate between the conceptualisations of autonomy. In 33 articles on the ethics of nudging, we identified 280 autonomy considerations, which we labelled with 790 unique autonomy codes and grouped under 61 unique super-codes. Finally, we formulated three general conceptualisations of autonomy. Freedom of choice refers to the availability of options and the environment in which individuals have to make choices. Agency involves an individual's capacity to deliberate and determine what to choose. Self-constitution relates to someone's identity and self-chosen goals. In the debate about the ethics of nudging, authors refer to different senses of autonomy. Clarifying these conceptualisations contributes to a better understanding of how nudges can undermine or, on the other hand, strengthen autonomy.

Wachner, J., Adriaanse, M., & De Ridder, D. (2020). The influence of nudge transparency on the experience of autonomy. Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology, 1-15.

While nudges have been shown to be effective and are already being implemented, there is still a debate on the ethics of nudging. This debate specifically refers to the potential of nudges negatively affecting autonomy. It has been suggested that making a nudge transparent may resolve this issue. Whereas previous research has already demonstrated that transparency does not violate nudge effectiveness, it is unknown how transparency affects autonomy and related decision satisfaction and experienced pressure. In an online study with 905 participants, we investigated whether two variations of transparency influence the decision maker’s experience of autonomy, as well as their choice satisfaction and the experienced pressure to choose the nudged option. The results show that autonomy and satisfaction were high – and pressure low – across all conditions, and were therefore not influenced by transparency. Suggesting that nudges do not negatively affect autonomy and that transparency does also not increase it.

Wachner, J., Adriaanse, M. A., & De Ridder, D. T. (2021). The effect of nudges on autonomy in hypothetical and real life settings. PloS one, 16(8), e0256124.

Nudges have repeatedly been found to be effective, however they are claimed to harm autonomy, and it has been found that laypeople expect this too. To test whether these expectations translate to actual harm to experienced autonomy, three online studies were conducted. The paradigm used in all studies was that participants were asked to voluntarily participate in a longer version of the questionnaire. This was either done in a hypothetical setting, where participants imagined they were asked this question, but did not answer it, and reported their expectations for autonomy; Or in an actual choice setting where participants answered the question and then reported their actual autonomy. The first study utilized the hypothetical setting and tried to replicate that laypeople expect nudges to harm autonomy with the current paradigm. A total of 451 participants were randomly assigned to either a control, a default nudge, or a social norm nudge condition. In the default nudge condition, the affirmative answer was pre-selected, and in the social norm nudge condition it was stated that most people answered affirmative. The results showed a trend for lower expected autonomy in nudge conditions, but did not find significant evidence. In Study 2, with a sample size of 454, the same design was used in an actual choice setting. Only the default nudge was found to be effective, and no difference in autonomy was found. In Study 3, Studies 1 and 2 were replicated. Explanation of the nudge was added as an independent variable and the social norm nudge condition was dropped, resulting in six conditions and 1322 participants. The results showed that participants indeed expected default nudges to harm their autonomy, but only if the nudge was explained. When actually nudged, no effect on autonomy was found, independent of the presence of an explanation.

Wertheimer (2012). Should Nudge be salvaged? J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-101061

Whitman & Rizzo (2015). The Problematic Welfare Standards of Behavioral Paternalism. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 409-425. 

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.

Whyte et al (2012). Nudge, Nudge or Shove, Shove—The Right Way for Nudges to Increase the Supply of Donated Cadaver Organs. The American Journal of Bioethics, Volume 12, Issue 2.
Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (2008) contend that mandated choice is the most practical nudge for increasing organ donation. We argue that they are wrong, and their mistake results from failing to appreciate how perceptions of meaning can influence people's responses to nudges. We favor a policy of default to donation that is subject to immediate family veto power, includes options for people to opt out (and be educated on how to do so), and emphasizes the role of organ procurement organizations and in-house transplant donation coordinators creating better environments for increasing the supply of organs and tissues obtained from cadavers. This policy will provide better opportunities for offering nudges in contexts where in-house coordinators work with families. We conclude by arguing that nudges can be introduced ethically and effectively into these contexts only if nudge designers collaborate with in-house coordinators and stakeholders.

Wikler & Eyal (2013). Nudges and Noodges: The Ethics of Health Promotion—New York Style. Public Health Ethics (2013) 6 (3): 233-234.

Michael Bloomberg's three terms in New York City's mayoral office are coming to a close. His model of governance for public health influenced cities and governments around the world. What should we make of that model? This essay introduces a symposium in which ethicists Sarah Conly, Roger Brownsword and Alex Rajczi discuss that legacy.

Wilkinson (2013). Nudging and Manipulation. Political Studies, Volume 61, Issue 2, pages 341–355.

Behavioural economics and social psychology have shown that humans have all sorts of psychological quirks. Policy makers have become enthusiastic about taking advantage of these quirks through what Thaler and Sunstein call ‘nudges’. This article asks: when would nudging be manipulative? The article has six parts: (1) publicity and transparency, which claims that Thaler and Sunstein's own attempt to deal with evil nudges is inadequate; (2) manipulation and autonomy, where the nature and wrongness of manipulation is connected to a conception of autonomy; (3) the perversion of the decision-making process – a piecemeal approach, which sorts nudges into easy and hard cases and assesses attempts to pick out certain methods, such as temptation, as manipulative; (4) the perversion of the decision-making process – general accounts, which shows why we do not have a clear, complete and correct account of what such perversion is; (5) intentions and nudging's escape clause, where it is shown that governments that nudge as Thaler and Sunstein would wish do not manipulate because they do not have the intention to manipulate; and (6) consensual manipulation, where it is claimed that manipulation can, with the right consent, be consistent with autonomy.

Dr. Mark D. White explains the informational, ethical, and practical problems faced by libertarian paternalism and 'nudges,' by which the government subtly influences people's choices for their own good, in his exciting new volume The Manipulation of Choice. In a lighthearted manner, the author points out critical flaws in the way economists model decision-making, how behavioral economics failed to correct them, and how they led to the problems with libertarian paternalism and nudges. Sprinkled throughout with anecdotes, examples, and references to a wide range of scholarly literature, this new volume argues against the use of paternalistic nudges by the government and makes a positive case for individual choice and autonomy.

Wright & Ginsberg (2012). Behavioral Law and Economics: Its Origins, Fatal Flaws, and Implications for Liberty. Northwestern University Law Review, Vol. 106, No. 3.

Behavioral economics combines economics and psychology to produce a body of evidence that individual choice behavior departs from that predicted by neoclassical economics in a number of decision-making situations. Emerging close on the heels of behavioral economics over the past thirty years has been the “behavioral law and economics” movement and its philosophical foundation — so-called “libertarian paternalism.” Even the least paternalistic version of behavioral law and economics makes two central claims about government regulation of seemingly irrational behavior: (1) the behavioral regulatory approach, by manipulating the way in which choices are framed for consumers, will increase welfare as measured by each individual’s own preferences and (2) a central planner can and will implement the behavioral law and economics policy program in a manner that respects liberty and does not limit the choices available to individuals. This Article draws attention to the second and less scrutinized of the behaviorists’ claims, viz., that behavioral law and economics poses no significant threat to liberty and individual autonomy. The behaviorists’ libertarian claims fail on their own terms. So long as behavioral law and economics continues to ignore the value to economic welfare and individual liberty of leaving individuals the freedom to choose and hence to err in making important decisions, “libertarian paternalism” will not only fail to fulfill its promise of increasing welfare while doing no harm to liberty, it will pose a significant risk of reducing both.

Yan, H., & Yates, J. F. (2019). Improving acceptability of nudges: Learning from attitudes towards opt-in and opt-out policies. Judgment and Decision Making, 14(1), 26.

Policy makers should understand people’s attitudes towards opt-out nudges to smoothly promote and implement the policies. Our research compares people’s perceptions of opt-in and three improved versions of opt-out (transparency, emphasis on the low-cost opt-out option, education) in pro-social and pro-self policy domains, e.g., organ donation (N=610), carbon emission offset (N=613), and retirement saving (N=602). We found that people acknowledged more practical and societal benefits of opt-out than opt-in in organ donation and retirement saving but less so in carbon emission offset. Improved opt-out policies failed to address ethical concerns and most emotional discomfort concerns in organ donation whereas opt-out transparency and emphasis on low-cost opt-out were more successful than education at addressing concerns in retirement saving and carbon emission offset. Nonetheless, transparency and education may raise consciousness of policies’ aims. The results suggest that 1) acceptability of opt-out approaches may be more difficult to enhance in some domains than others; 2) policy makers should ensure the public understands that opt-out is a convenient choice and may consider combining all forms of improvement to increase people’s acceptance of opt-out nudges

Yeung (2012). Nudge as Fudge. The Modern Law Review, Volume 75, Issue 1, pages 122–148.

Yeung (2016). The Forms and Limits of Choice Architecture as a Tool of Government. Law & Policy
Volume 38, Issue 3, pages 186–210, July 2016.

Although the use of design-based control techniques, broadly understood as the purposeful shaping of the environment and the things and beings within it toward particular ends, have been used throughout human history, until the publication of Thaler and Sunstein's Nudge, they have remained relatively neglected as a focus of regulatory scholarship. Nudge can be understood as a design-based regulatory technique because it provides the means by which a choice architect intentionally seeks to influence another's behavior through the conscious design of the choice environment. But there are other forms of choice architecture besides nudge. The gunman who offers his victim “your money or your life?” is as much a choice architect as the cafeteria manager who places the fruit at eye level while placing the chocolate cake further back to encourage patrons to make healthier dietary choices and the supermarket owner who slashes grocery prices on their use by date to stimulate sales. This article focuses on three forms of choice architecture—coercion, inducements, and nudge—employed by the state in order to influence the behavior of others. It seeks to evaluate whether each form of choice architecture coheres with the fundamental values and premises upon which liberal democratic states rest and can therefore be properly characterized as libertarian. Chief among these values is the importance of individual liberty and freedom and the concomitant special status accorded to individual choice in liberal democratic communities. In so doing, it highlights different ways in which these techniques may be regarded as an interference with individual freedom, and the conditions under which such interferences might be rendered acceptable or otherwise justified.

Some articles and websites:

Nudging can also be used for dark purposes, Tim Harford in the FT

Waldron (2014). It’s All for Your Own Good. The New York Review of Books. October 9th Issue. 

The Behavioral Scientist’s Ethics Checklist By Jon Jachimowicz, Sandra Matz, and Vyacheslav Polonski in the Behavioral Scientist

The Power of Nudges for Good or Bad - Richard Thaler in the NYT

How Uber Uses Psychological Tricks to Push Its Drivers Buttons - Noam Scheiber in the NYT

Invisible Manipulators of Your Mind - Tasmin Shaw in the New York Review of Books


Unknown said...

Great list, thanks a lot! You might include Hausman/Welch, J Pol Phil 2010, as well, though. I found it particularly helpful for its critical discussion on the way Sunstein and Thaler use some key notions related to the ethics of nudging.
Anyway, thanks for mentioning my own paper as well 😊
Christian Schubert

David Loseby said...

Probably the most comprehensive list I have seen. a real "Wikipedia" on the ethics aspects of Nudging, et al.