Why incoherent preferences do not justify paternalism

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A variety of recent arguments emerging from behavioural economics claim to undermine the credibility, and even the conceptual coherence, of the economist’s traditional rejection of paternalism. Indeed, some suggest that the incoherent nature of preferences inevitably implies a form of paternalism, since some basis for officiating between expressed preferences is required, and some preferences will be over-ridden in favour of others. This paper reviews and contests these arguments. It argues that markets operate according to a normatively defensible and non-paternalistic principle of mutual advantage, and that this principle does not require preferences to be coherent.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-248
Number of pages23
JournalConstitutional Political Economy
Issue number3
Early online date24 Jun 2008
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2008


  • Paternalism
  • Preferences
  • Behavioural economics

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