Introduction to Political Theory

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should a person not be allowed to consent to be killed and eaten? If we apply the
idea of hypothetical consent, then we might conclude that Brandes would not have
consented had he been fully rational. A rational person sees his life as lived over
time – Brandes, who was 43 and in good health, should want to live a full life. Of
course, few people (if any) give equal weight to all parts of their life: for example,
at 18 you tend not to be obsessed with pensions; likewise, people frequently engage
in risky activities and risk and excitement must have some value. If paternalism is
premised on the importance of prudential concern – that is, equal concern for all
times in your life – then the potential for state interference is very great.
If you want to test your own reactions to paternalistic policies, consider this
example (taken, with some modifications, from Richard Arneson; see Arneson,
1980: 477–8). Imagine there is a microchip which, if inserted in your brain, can

Chapter 2 Freedom 45

There are many laws in force that rely on paternalistic reasons for their justification – although
some might also be defended on non-paternalistic grounds:

  1. Laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets.

  2. Laws requiring the wearing of car seat belts.

  3. Laws prohibiting self-medication.

  4. Laws prohibiting possession of recreational drugs.

  5. Laws requiring the testing of drugs before sale.

  6. Laws prohibiting the sale of pornography to minors.

  7. Laws prohibiting certain kinds of child labour.

  8. Curfews on children.

  9. Prohibition of (or controls on) gambling.

  10. Prohibition on duelling.

  11. Compulsory education of the young.

  12. Prohibition on assistance in cases of requested suicide.

  13. Compulsory vaccination.

  14. Compulsory participation in social security schemes.

  15. Prohibition on voluntary self-enslavement.

  16. ‘Sectioning’ (civil commitment of the mentally ill).

  17. Distribution of welfare in kind rather than cash.

  18. Fluoridation of water.

  19. Compulsory folic acid fortification of bread.

  20. Prohibition on purchase of fireworks.

  21. Waiting periods for divorce.

  22. Smoking bans.

Most of these cases are taken from Donald Van de Veer, Paternalistic Intervention: The Moral
Bounds of Benevolence (1986: 13–15). He lists 40 examples: however, some of them do not refer
to legal paternalism (state coercion), but rather to medical paternalism (for example, not informing a
patient of the seriousness of his condition for fear that anxiety will worsen it).

Paternalistic laws
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