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Doing good by stealth: comments on ‘Salvaging the concept of nudge’
  1. Richard E Ashcroft
  1. Correspondence to Professor Richard E Ashcroft, School of Law, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS, UK; r.ashcroft{at}

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In ‘Salvaging the Concept of Nudge’ Yashar Saghai performs an important clarificatory task which certainly advances our philosophical and ethical understanding of nudges in public policy, and in healthcare ethics in particular.1 In this brief commentary I identify some issues which could usefully be taken forward in subsequent discussions.

A central difficulty with ethical discussions of nudging is that insufficient care is taken to distinguish two morally important features of nudges. The first, which Saghai very properly concentrates upon, is the mechanism of nudging. Nudges rely on psychological properties of human decision-makers as the way in which their intended effects are brought about. Much of the ethical concern with nudges focuses on just this. Whatever the motive of the nudger, or the objective of the nudge, or the ex ante or ex post ratification of the nudge by the nudge, operating through influence, impulse or non-rational features of the nudgee's decision-making is wrong. The nature of this wrongness can be spelled out in different ways, and which one of these we choose has important implications for the precise ethical argument …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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