On the Possibility (and Acceptability) of Paternalism towards Future People

  • Andreas Bengtson


This article argues that it is possible to act paternalistically towards future people, as long as the following requirements are met: (1) the act/choice is not such that it will prevent the future person from coming into existence; (2) the action/choice is such that it can be taken by the future person herself without significant disadvantage to her; and (3) the act/choice is not such that there is significant uncertainty at the time of choice about the preferences of the future person. I argue that the possibility of acting paternalistically towards future people is of practical as well as theoretical importance. This is true since some of the policies we might choose to pursue on behalf of future people are paternalistic, in particular constitutional policies implemented because we do not trust future people to choose wisely. I end the paper by pointing out why it is valuable to approach intergenerational issues through both the paternalistic prism and the prism of theories of justice.


Paternalism Future people Intergenerational obligations Constitutional policies 



I would like to thank Andreas Albertsen, Göran Duus-Otterström, Sune Lægaard, Lasse Nielsen, Tore Vincents Olsen, Jens Damgaard Thaysen, Fabio Wolkenstein and two anonymous reviewers for Ethical Theory and Moral Practice for comments on previous versions of this paper. I am especially grateful to my two supervisors, Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen and Søren Flinch Midtgaard, for reading and commenting on several previous versions of this paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceAarhus BSS, Aarhus UniversityAarhus CDenmark

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