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An Ethical Justification of State Paternalism: Restricting Individuals’ Freedoms and Rights to Maximize Group Utility

1 May 2011


In this thesis I will argue that the state can limit individual freedoms, rights, or autonomy in instances where such restrictions maximize utility—defined here as well-being—using act-utilitarianism and state paternalism as the theoretical foundation of my argument. The state already follows such restrictions in many cases, as in no-smoking areas and helmet and seatbelt laws, and I will argue that there follows a logical expansion of these limited restrictions to more controversial restrictions. I will use the examples of food regulation and gun control as specific cases for my argument. There is, however, a de facto limit to my claims: if a restriction does not maximize utility, then it is not justifiable and should not be implemented. I will present several cases of this to iterate the point throughout this paper, as well as a section on why restricting freedom of speech is unjustifiable. I will also provide several objections to my thesis and responses. One of the most common objections to my thesis is that it invasively controls the individual and could potentially lead to an abuse of state power; I will respond to this objection throughout my paper, as well as other pertinent objections.


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