Liberty And Paternalism


John Stuart Mill and Gerald Dworkin have distinctly opposing views on legal paternalism in that Mill is adamantly against any form of paternalism, whereas Dworkin believes that there do exist circumstances in which paternalism is justified. Both agree that paternalism is justified when the well being of another person is violated or put at risk. Mill takes on a utilitarian argument, explaining that allowing an individual to exercise his freedom of free choice is more beneficial to society than deciding for him what is in his best interests. Dworkin, on the other hand, feels that certain cases require the intervention of either society as a whole or its individual members. He breaks Mill’s argument down into two distinct types, one based on utilitarianism and one based on the absolute value of free choice.
After reading both articles, “Paternalism” by Dworkin and “On Liberty” by Mill, I believe that Dworkin is correct in explaining that some intervention is necessary under certain circumstances. I have come to this conclusion based on the fact that there do exist circumstances in which an individual is incapable of making a rational decision considering not only the well being of himself, but also the well being of other members of society. Also, the argument that the protection of the individual committing the action in question is not reason enough to interfere with the action is ludicrous in that one of our governments main reasons for existence is to protect the members of our society. This protection includes protection from ourselves at times when we are unable to rationally decide what is in our best interests. This essay will consist of an examination of this controversy as well as an application of my proposed conclusion.
Before addressing any opposing views to my conclusion, I will first explain my reasoning. As Dworkin explains in his essay, there are circumstances when a person is unable to make a rational and logical decision for himself. The inability to make such decisions has long been a justified reason to interfere in the process, such as in cases with young children. When a young child is about to run across a busy street in order to chase his ball, the child’s parent, or any other bystander, is rightfully justified in physically stopping the child from running into the street. This is so justified because at the time of giving chase to the ball, the child is unaware of the potential consequences of running into a busy street. A large part to this justification is the idea of future-oriented consent, the concept that once the child grows up and realizes the consequences of his chasing the ball, he will agree that the interference of an outsider was justified. Another example for which this concept can be applied is the matter of seat belts. The question of whether or not a person should be punished for not wearing a seat belt, I believe, can be answered by comparing it to the previous example. If a person were to be involved in a car accident and be seriously injured because he was not wearing a seat belt, he would come to the realization that he should have been wearing it. At this point, he will realize that his personal health is worth the inconvenience of putting on his seat belt. The fact that any logical, rational person will come to this realization justifies the interference of an outside party, the government in this example. If this person does not realize that his health and his life is worth putting on a seat belt, it is safe to say that this person is illogical and irrational. If this is the case, a decision can be forced upon him for his own well being; the same way that it would be for a child for the same reasons. One opposition to this reasoning is that an adult differs from a child in that it is presumed that the adult can understand the consequences of his action whereas a child cannot. This is where the examples slightly differ. However, there are two main reasons for an adult not wearing his seat belt. Either the person neglects to act in accordance with his actual preferences and desires