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The Ethics of Nudging

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All over the world, governments are using nudges as regulatory tools. Is this ethical? Much of the answer depends on whether nudges promote or instead undermine welfare, autonomy, and dignity. Many nudges, and those that deserve support, promote some or all of those ideals, and undermine none of them. If welfare is our guide, much nudging is actually required on ethical grounds, even if it comes from government. If autonomy is our guide, much nudging is also required on ethical grounds, in part because some nudges actually promote autonomy, in part because some nudges enable people to devote their limited time and attention to their most important concerns. Finally, nudges should not, and need not, compromise individual dignity, which many nudges actually promote. There is, however, a genuine risk that some nudges might count as manipulation; an emphasis on welfare, autonomy, and dignity helps to show how to avoid that risk.