Human relationships may be developed under different conditions that are usually determined by the government and society. Sometimes, people make decisions relying on their personal needs and wants. Still, in some cases, they have to consider the existing legal restrictions, obligations, or others’ opinions. To explain the essence of the interference of authorities with individual liberties, the concept of paternalism has been introduced. In his evaluation of paternalistic actions, Scoccia raises normative and conceptual questions to dwell upon the rationality and importance of human decisions and interferences (11). The case when a state government offers a program with vouchers for grocery products and restrictions of particular foods has to be defined as paternalistic, with its categorization as mixed, hard, and broad. However, according to Scoccia, certain objections to such a specific condition cannot be ignored because this intervention may not challenge people at all or provoke opposite motivation (20). Therefore, the government’s policies and programs may be justified as paternalistic under the conditions offered by Scoccia to promote a healthy lifestyle or proved wrong, touching upon the issues of human autonomy and liberty.
To understand if the case of a governmental program with vouchers should count as paternalistic influence, it is necessary to analyze the situation and define its potential advantages and disadvantages. The government continues promoting the idea of healthy dietary choices. Americans have the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, and in the UK, there is the Childhood Obesity Plan (Griffith et al. 176). The encouragement of healthy shopping by means of financial discounts, redeemable coupons, and cash rebates aims to reduce obesity and improve health outcomes (Basu et al. 578; Gittelsohn et al. 3; Karpyn et al.). According to Daniel, voucher programs make healthy eating accessible for food-insecure individuals with financial problems. In most cases, people choose processed food not because they like it but because they have fewer options at the moment. The possibility of the government interfering with the population’s lifestyle is always ambiguous, but its benefits usually prevail over its shortages.
To obtain paternalistic influence, a case should meet all the characteristics of this concept. Scoccia represents three main aspects of paternalisms, namely the limitation of someone’s actions, the lack of consent or contradiction to someone’s will, and for someone’s good (11). In addition, to prove the chosen position, Scoccia underlines that paternalism can be both actual and hypothetical (18). Therefore, the level of paternalistic influence has to be determined by its targets, the doer of actions, and the purposes that are expected and that could actually be achieved. If a situation restricts the freedoms of a person in some way and the opinion of this individual is not taken into account even for his/her own good, it has to be claimed as paternalistic.
This case of governmental vouchers should count as a paternalistic influence because of several reasons. First, between the lives of this proposition, it is possible to see the idea that the government knows better what is good for modern people (Klerman et al. 177). People get access to vouchers to cover their basic need of feeding, but, at the same time, they are restricted from buying what they want. According to Scoccia, paternalists focus on influencing someone’s choice or action by limiting or restricting their liberty and autonomous choices (18). Many communities accept paternalism as something wrong and unnecessary if even imposed choices and alternatives can protect someone’s health and prolong life (Birks 136). Paternalism turns out to be a complex issue for analysis because it is commonly related to rationality, prudence, and security (Scoccia 15). As well as any governmental policy, human decision, or living condition, paternalism has many supporters and opponents who believe in their appropriateness. In fact, people need rules to organize their lives and relationships, but they do not want to accept the fact that their behaviors and thoughts depend on these rules.
The second reason for defining this case as paternalistic is the way of how the program was introduced. No attempts were made to gather the opinions of people about the necessity of grocery vouchers or to explain why sodas or other sugary foods should be restricted. This condition is similar to the one defined by Scoccia when talking about decision-making “against Q’s will, without his consent, or contrary to his preferences” (11). The government restricts certain foods to increase the use of healthier foods and combat obesity-related problems. No citizens’ wills, interests, and even professional recommendations were mentioned to create those restrictions.
Finally, in the context of food restrictions, the government interferes with the liberties of ordinary citizens. Despite their intention to offer free services and options, they define the use of some products as unhealthy and limit the use of the food that can be favored by some individuals. Scoccia says that paternalism is associated with such restrictions of liberty and neglects autonomous choices and actions (18). In this situation, people who do not like unhealthy foods and prefer eating vegetables and fruits are free to use vouchers and save their money. Still, individuals who want to try sugary foods are restricted by the government to use this chance within the frames of the offered vouchers.
The case when the government offers vouchers and restricts them to grocery products only, excluding sugary-like foods, may be categorized as mixed, hard paternalism of the broad conception. Scoccia develops several categories of paternalism as he believes that not all motivational factors may be sufficient to justify decisions and their motivating reasons (13). As a result, “mixed” paternalism emerges to distinguish the differences between motivation, manipulation, and outcomes. Scoccia specifies that non-paternalistic reasons should not be confused with paternalistic reasons of mixed nature (13). The situation with vouchers is similar to the one with alcohol probation in the 1920s (Scoccia 13). On the one hand, the legislators are concerned about food insecurity and try to prevent harm (Buscail et al.). On the other hand, paternalistic motivation is necessary (to reduce obesity) but not sufficient enough (to restrict vouchers) to legalize the ban on sugary foods. Regarding these reasons, it is correct to categorize this voucher program restriction as “mixed” paternalism.
Additionally, when the government does not try to convince citizens to eat healthy food but implement a program with limited access, the case becomes a hard form of paternalism. Instead of providing options for people and enlarging their knowledge to promote fair judgments and rational choices, the government forces citizens to buy healthy foods or miss a free benefit at all (Fernández-Ballesteros et al.177). Scoccia defined hard paternalism as the attempt to interfere with voluntary choices of competent adults (14). The restriction of “unhealthy” products is a form of adult autonomy violation with many circumstances for its justification for the individual’s own good, which proves it to be hard paternalism on a broad conception.
A possible objection to the condition when unhealthy products are restricted within the offered voucher system lies in the possibility to avoid interference and paternalistic influence at all. Scoccia presupposes that paternalism may not need interference with decision-making and illustrates the example of an elderly woman and her desire to see a family, the members of which died in a car accident (17). According to Scoccia, paternalism aims at influencing people’s decisions and actions, but interference is not an obligation but one of the options. Therefore, if someone tries to object to the offered evaluation of Scoccia’s categorization, it is possible to remind about the economic rationale of free vouchers and restrictions to one group of products and access to another group. In this case, economic rationality does not impose limitations on human preferences but allows choosing what is prudently right (Scoccia 15). Such a response to an objection can be given to prove that this situation has hard paternalistic influence on all participants.
Although people strive to achieve their freedoms and autonomy, in most cases, they remain dependent on many factors. Therefore, Scoccia offers the concept of paternalism to explain how the interference of one person with the liberty of another person can promote good. Food insecurity, obesity-related problems, and the impossibility to buy healthy food on a regular basis are not only political or social concerns but philosophical issues that cannot be properly defined. Paternalism is a reasonable approach to understand why the decisions of certain people (authority) lead to misjudgments among other people (the population).
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Fernández-Ballesteros, et al. “Paternalism vs. Autonomy: Are They Alternative Types of Formal Care?” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 10, 2019. Web.
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Scoccia, Danny. “The Concept of Paternalism.” The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Paternalism, edited by Kalle Grill and Jason Hanna, Routledge, 2018, pp. 11-23.