Sawicki, N.Ethical limitations on the state's use of arational persuasion

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Nadia N. Sawicki

Release date:
July 2016

Law & Policy, Vol. 38, No. 3

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.

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