Goldman and Goldman (GG) state that paternalism involves overriding a moral right of a person, often a liberty to act, for the persons own good (65). The problem with paternalism in a free society is that it creates conflict and tension between the right of the individual to act freely and the need for the society to restrict liberties in order to safeguard itself. This paper argues that while GG show that soft paternalism is justified from a utilitarian ethical perspective, hard paternalism creates problems that undermine the same ethical frameworknamely problems related to the development of personal accountability and justice.
It is proposed by GG that soft paternalism is justified in Mills On Liberty, which serves as the foundation for utilitarian ethics. In utilitarianism, the good is that which benefits the majority of the common peoplei.e., the common good of all. Thus, soft paternalism is acceptable because although it may place some restrictions on peoples liberty it is done so in order to benefit the common good of all. Mill advocates liberty in most cases, but does make exceptions in cases wherein the safety of the person or the community may be at risk, such as restraining a person from crossing an unsafe bridge until he can be apprised of the danger, acting paternalistically toward children and incompetents, and refusing to honor contracts of individuals to sell themselves into slavery (66). The principle of soft paternalism is equated with maximizing voluntariness for each act except in cases of extreme long-run forfeiture (GG 70). Hard paternalism on the other hand is equated with the notion of preventing self-harm as sufficient in itself to override choice, whether truly voluntary or not (GG 71). GG go on to contend that soft paternalism is as far as one can go in a utilitarian society.
However, in a diverse society, achieving the common good often requires some compromises, so hard paternalism is something to consider, at least for the minority population so as to preserve the common good of the majority. Thus, GG posit that hard paternalism is necessary in the case of the minority so long as it offers them only a minor inconvenience. This proposition is qualified by the statement that the total benefits of soft paternalism for the majority must outweigh the moral costs of a hard paternalism for the minority together with the costs of administering the laws (GG 76). This is the main point of GG on paternalism.
The larger issue, as it pertains to issues like underage drinking and smoking, is that the rights of young people are curtailed for no clear reason. Young people often point out that at age 18 they are able to vote responsibly and enlist in the military, which means they can put their lives on the line to defend their country. Yet they are not able to buy alcohol and in some cases they are not allowed to buy cigarettes. But by age 21 they are allowed to do both. The arbitrary age discrimination makes no sense on the face of it and often leads to young people breaking the law in order to do something they consider their right to do but that, because of the discriminatory laws, makes them scofflaws in the process. By flouting the law, it creates a dangerous precedent and can lead to excess risk-taking, such as partying to excess at college campuses. Instead of teaching young people to drink responsibly by granting them access to alcohol regardless of their age and trusting that they will make sober decisions on how to use it, society restricts their rights on this matter and pushes them into a direction similar to that which the country took during the days of Prohibition in the 1920s. It is during the 1920s that organized crime came into existence in a big way, as it profited from the desire of people to exercise their perceived right to drink in the face of restrictive laws (Kobler). Todays young people also feel restricted and push back in much the…minor inconvenience: it is an injustice that denies them the opportunity to develop personal accountability and that instead fosters a culture of deviance that then pressures them to embrace deviance in order to fit in with other peers.
As Dworkin points out, Mill intends his principles to be applicable only to mature individuals (76). But that brings one back to the question of whether young people are mature enough to make decisions for themselves regarding drinking and smoking. If they are old enough to vote, then surely they are to be considered mature. If they are old enough to go off to war, then surely it is the same. So why are they not considered legally mature enough to decide for themselves whether they ought to be able to drink or smoke? Cudd argues that in a liberal society citizens have the right to take most drugs (17). A liberal society should not therefore restrict people who are legally considered mature enough to vote and go off to war from drinking or smoking.
The upshot of this argument on GGs position is that it opens the door for a more stable society to be ostered in which there is respect for the law as well as an opportunity for young people to develop personal accountability. This paper has argued that hard paternalism for minorities creates problems in society and undermines respect for the common good. GG justifies hard paternalism so long as the cost of maintain the common good for the majority is not outweighed by the inconveniences associated with hard paternalism for the minority and the cost of enforcing that paternalism. The costs and inconveniences do outweigh the common good of the majority and they are too often unrealized by the majority. Minors need to feel secure in their environments and in themselves, and placing them in an environment where deviance is normalized is not the way to go about things. Rather they should be taught to respect things like smoking and drinking and to do them responsibly…
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