Paternalism and sentimentalism

Michael Slote

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


It is sometimes thought that sentimentalism has a difficult philosophical time with issues of paternalism because it cannot invoke the idea of autonomy the way Kantians can when dealing with cases where paternalistic intervention for someone’s sake seems morally unjustified. But contemporary sentimentalism can, in fact, deal plausibly with the entire range of examples that preoccupy the literature on paternalism. Respect for others’ autonomy can be unpacked in terms of empathy with their ideas, fears, and aspirations, but there are times, as with children, when empathy with a larger future can justify, say, a parent’s overriding a child’s fear of doctors. The parent empathizes with the fear but their empathy with the child is more strongly engaged by what they see will happen if the child doesn’t go to the doctor’s. There are also examples involving adults where the Kantian thinks paternalistic intervention is unjustified, but where the sentimentalist can hold that paternalistic intervention with some adult can be justified in terms of respect understood as being fully empathic with that person. Sentimentalism can offer a quite intuitive view of the morality of paternalism that stands opposed to Kantian ideas in this area.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Paternalism
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9781317326991
ISBN (Print)9781138956100
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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