In Defense of Intentionally Shaping People’s Choices

AuthorViki M. L. Pedersen
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2022, Vol. 75(4) 13351344
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211069974
In Defense of Intentionally Shaping
Peoples Choices
Viki M. L. Pedersen
In defense of nudging policies, proponents have pointed out that choice archi tecture is inevitable. However, critics have
objected that shaping peoples choices in an intentional way is not inevitable and involves an objectionable substitution of
judgment, with the choice architect imposing his will on others. Accordingly, the inevitability of choice architecture in
general does not provide reason to accept intentional nudges. In contrast to this view, the paper argues that precisely
because the choice architects will unavoidably contribute to peoples choices, it is permissible for them to consider the
content of the choices that their choice architecture promotes. Specif‌ically, I argue that it is often within choice ar-
chitects, including states, own legitimate sphere of control whether they want to contribute to other peoples behavi ors
through their organization of the choice architecture. It is argued that such intentio nal choice architecture does not
involve objectionable substitution of judgment.
nudging, choice architecture, the inevitability argument, substitution of judgment, legitimate sphere of control
According to the founders of the nudge theory, Richard
Thaler and Cass Sunstein, a nudge is any aspect of the
choice architecture that alters peoples behavior in a
predictable way without forbidding any options or sig-
nif‌icantly changing their economic incentives(Thaler
and Sunstein 2009, 6). Examples include automatic
registration to the donor registry, making cigarettes less
visible in supermarkets and changing the size of the plates
in the restaurant buffet. Such modif‌ications of the choice
architecture matter. In their New York Times bestseller
Nudge,Thaler and Sunstein demonstrate how even
small and apparently insignif‌icant details can have major
impact on peoples behavior(Thaler and Sunstein 2009,
3; see also Kahneman 2011).
In their justif‌ication for nudging, Thaler and Sunstein
argue that it is a misconception that it is possible to
avoid inf‌luencing peopleschoices(Thaler and Sunstein
2009, 10). Specif‌ically, they argue that it is impossible to
organize the contexts in which people make choices
without thereby inf‌luencing the decisions people make in
a considerable way. The way in which people sign up for
the donor registry inf‌luences the number of donors, the
design of the supermarket inf‌luences what we put in the
basket,andthesizeontheplateinf‌luenceshow muchwe
eat from the buffet. Their point is that since such choice
architecture, which seems to affect peoples choices
considerably, is inevitable, why not strive for the choice
environment that promotes good decisions ?
However, critics respond that even though choice ar-
chitecture in itself seems inevitable, this does not provide
an argument for intentionally shaping peoples choices.
One important set of objections to such intentional
nudging raises worries about objectionable judgment
substitution (see, e.g., Grüne-Yanoff 2012, 638639;
White 2013,8182). Hausman and Welch, for example,
argue that:
There remains an important difference between choices that
are intentionally shaped and choices that are not. Even when
unshaped choices would have been just as strongly inf‌lu-
enced by deliberative f‌laws, calculated shaping of choices
still imposes the will of one agent on another (Hausman and
Welch 2010, 133).
Centre for the Experimental-Philosophical Study of Discrimination,
Department of Political Science, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark
Corresponding Author:
Viki M. L. Pedersen, Department of Political Science, Aarhus University,
Bartholins All´
e 7, Aarhus 8000, Denmark.

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