The Beneficent Nudge Program and Epistemic Injustice

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Is implementing the beneficent nudge program morally permissible in worlds like ours? I argue that there is reason for serious doubt. I acknowledge that beneficent nudging is highly various, that nudges are in some circumstances morally permissible and even called for, and that nudges may exhibit respect for genuine autonomy. Nonetheless, given the risk of epistemic injustice that nudges typically pose, neither the moral permissibility of beneficent nudging in the abstract, nor its case-by-case vindication, appears sufficient to justify implementing a nudge program in worlds like ours. Drawing on Miranda Fricker’s account of epistemic injustice, I argue that the cogent defense of any nudge program, relative to worlds like ours, stands in need of serious attention to its potential for fostering or sustaining epistemic injustice. A more specific point hinges on recognizing a form of epistemic injustice not enough attended to in the literature to date, which I call reflective incapacitational injustice. This includes relative disadvantages in the attaining of (or opportunity to exercise) the capacity to engage in critical reason, such as the capacity to go in for potentially critical reasoned deliberation and discursive exchange concerning ends. Since Cass Sunstein’s First Law of behaviorally informed regulation would be taken, in worlds like ours, to justify indeterminately many nudges leading to such epistemic injustice we have general grounds for doubting the moral permissibility of this nudge program. We should hence oppose the implementation of any such program until it is shown not to violate the demands of epistemic justice.


nudges, epistemic injustice, critical reason, fricker, sunstein, manipulation

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