Law and Philosophy

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 313–334 | Cite as

What’s Special about the Insult of Paternalism?

  • Carl FoxEmail author
Open Access


A common assumption is that paternalism generates a special, and especially grievous, insult. Identifying this distinctive insult is then presented as the key to unlocking the concept and determining its moral significance. I submit that there is no special insult. It is, rather, a particular form that a lack of recognition respect can take. Attempting to capture the special insult has led us into confusion. In particular, it has led theorists to abandon the idea that paternalists must act for the sake of the individual whose agency they supplant, and even the notion that paternalistic action requires a distinctive motivation at all. I argue that paternalistic actions must come from a place of care and concern for the paternalised agent and show that this explains the moral significance of paternalism since it tempers the general insult that such actions deliver and provides a partial defence when paternalism is misguided.


Paternalism Insult Respect Agency Autonomy 


Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied (IDEA) CentreUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

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