Nudging and Autonomy: Analyzing and Alleviating the Worries

Bart Engelen, Thomas Nys

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

    27 Citations (Scopus)
    740 Downloads (Pure)


    One of the most pervasive criticisms of nudges has been the claim that they violate, undermine or decrease people’s (personal) autonomy. This claim, however, is seldom backed up by an explicit and detailed conception of autonomy. In this paper, we aim to do three things. First, we want to clear up some conceptual confusion by distinguishing the different conceptions used by Cass Sunstein and his critics in order to get clear on how they conceive of autonomy. Second, we want to add to the existing discussion by distinguishing between ‘autonomy’ as the ability to set your own ends and ‘autocracy’ as the ability to actually realize those ends (which is what most of the current discussion is actually focusing on). This will allow for a more careful ethical evaluation of specific nudge interventions. Third, we will introduce the idea of ‘perimeters of autonomy’ in an attempt to provide a realistic account of personal autonomy and we will argue that it can alleviate most of the worries about nudging being autonomy-undermining.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)137-156
    Number of pages20
    JournalReview of Philosophy and Psychology
    Issue number1
    Early online date2019
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


    • nudging
    • Sunstein
    • autonomy
    • autocracy
    • perimeters of autonomy


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