Paternalism

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  • A method of social control where an individual's actions are constrained “for their own good” by the state. Legal paternalism refers to laws created by the state to protect citizens from their own behavior; laws considered paternalistic include motorcycle helmet regulations, seat-belt laws, and the criminalization of suicide. Critics of legal paternalism find it demeaning; the end result might be a citizenry who have lost their powers of rational judgment. The British philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), an ardent defender of individual liberties, proposed the “harm principle,” meaning that the state is justified in limiting individual freedom when harm will be caused to others but not when protecting individuals against themselves (unless one's faculties are limited). Proponents argue that the absence of paternalism in the ...

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