Discipline: Social Science
Individuals pursue different ends through different means, many of which may be collectively considered reasonable. Sometimes, however, individuals may need help to achieve their goals. At those times, the society, most notably the government, should be there to assist them. But, because personalized information on individuals’ varied ends and varied means are costly to obtain and likely to be imperfect when obtained, the society, particularly the government, should, from a capability perspective, which is a normative framework used to evaluate how social arrangements are expanding people’s freedom to live the lives they have reason to value (Robeyns, 2005, p. 94), target for people to have the freedom to pursue and live the lives they would like to lead (Sen, 1999).
Individuals are, however, subject to bounded rationality. With limited information, limited cognitive ability, and limited time to process information, they may make decisions that are, upon further consideration, not in their best interests. Society may thus provide facilities for development, but individuals, being less than fully rational, may fail to take advantage of these opportunities (Kahneman, 2011; Thaler & Sunstein, 2009).
Paternalism, or the policy of interference by someone, often the government, in the affairs of another, often the public, for the latter’s benefit, seems apt in leading individuals to behave rationally. However, paternalists themselves are individuals subject to bounded rationality. They may, as such, hold inaccurate views about other individuals’ goals and how those are best achieved. Thus, despite its intentions, paternalism may leave individuals vulnerable to the paternalist’s mistakes.