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Author meets critics: response
Paternalism, French fries and the weak-willed Witness
  1. Nir Eyal
  1. Correspondence to Dr Nir Eyal, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA; nir_eyal{at}

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Most books on ethics are boring. Against Autonomy 1 is fun to read because its helpful and profound points are made without a fuss. Author Sarah Conly is right that “when individuals engage in behavior that undercuts their own chances of happiness, state interference may be justified”.

In what follows I argue that Conly misinterprets that thesis in three ways. First, she says that her paternalism seeks to “help people get where they want to go... live the lives they truly want to live”. That's a different idea from the one I quoted earlier. Why? Because people do not always (truly) want to live in the way that (in fact) would give them the highest chance of happiness. Conly is surely right that when we “habitually choose the large fries”, that's not always because large fries is what we want truly. Such choice can also reflect ignorance and miscalculation on our parts—when we simply “choose ineffective means to our ends”. But Conly fails to recognise another potential source. Sometimes self-harming choice reflects what we truly want at the time. Many young people do not care much about health problems in their older years. They habitually choose large fries not because they …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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