Nudging and Rationality: What Is There to Worry?

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6 Citations (Scopus)


The literature on nudging has rekindled normative and conceptual debates surrounding the extent to which and the direction in which people can legitimately influence each other’s actions. An oft-heard objection to nudging is that it exploits psychological mechanisms, manipulates people and thereby insufficiently respects their rational decision-making capacities. Bypassing and/or perverting people’s rational capacities, nudges are said to undermine agency. In this paper, I analyze and deflate these criticisms. After disentangling the different conceptions of rationality that pervade the arguments of both nudging enthusiasts and critics, I critically assess how and under which circumstances nudging can be said to undermine, pervert, bypass but also strengthen people’s rationality. Only in a limited set of cases, I argue, does it make sense to object to nudges for making people less rational than they are, can be or should be. Crucial in this respect will be the distinction between outcome-oriented and process-oriented conceptions of rationality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-232
Number of pages29
JournalRationality and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2019


  • Nudging
  • irrationality
  • outcome-rationality
  • process-rationality


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