Date: 20 March 2019
Erik Angner, Professor of Practical Philosophy
The nudge agenda due to Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein has proven polarizing. To advocates, nudging allows us to improve people’s choices and thereby their well-being on their own terms at minimal cost and without interfering with their liberty or autonomy. To critics, the nudge agenda represents an ineffective and dangerous intrusion into the sphere of personal decision-making by bureaucrats who may be no better at making decisions than the people whose choices they are trying to improve. In my view, much of the confusion and controversy is due to the manner in which the original proposal was framed. In this chapter, therefore, I propose a new frame that – whatever its own shortcomings – is less conducive to confusion and unnecessary controversy. The frame is based on an extended analogy with design. The analogy suggests that much of the critique of the nudge agenda is overstated, and in particular, that there is no convincing principled argument against nudging. The analogy with design also suggests novel avenues of future research.
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