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An Ethical Reflection on “Nudging” Policy Tools

An Ethical Reflection on “Nudging” Policy Tools

Chen-Kuo Shih


The influence of behavioral public policy which integrated the research on public policy, behavioral economics, and psychology has increased in theory and practice in recent years. And nudging tools have attracted extensive attention and discussion especially. In Taiwan, policy tools based on nudge have increased and been adopted gradually. But the characteristic of manipulation for nudging policy tools alarmed some ethical critics. It is vital to evaluate and reflect on these ethical controversies. The main purpose of this article is to elucidate the meanings, contents, and critics of nudging policy tools and to introduce the response to critics of Sunstein, an important proponent of nudging theory. After evaluating and reflecting on the ethical issues of nudging policy tools, the author reminds decision-makers to use nudging tools carefully. This article illustrates Sunstein’s arguments about the necessity of government intervention and the reasons for nudge being incompatible with manipulation. The article also discusses Sunstein’s justifications from the values of welfare, autonomy, dignity, and self-government to consolidate the ethical foundation of nudging tools. Finally, the author points out the ethical doubts of these justifications from Sunstein. These doubts include ambiguous concepts, neglected context, laden value, elitism, and social isolation. The author emphasizes the importance of ethical considerations such as policy participation and social justice for nudging policy tools. These considerations are vital for strengthening policy identification and democratic consolidation.

Keywords: nudge, policy tools, policy ethics, behavioral policy science, manipulation