Perspectives of Paternalism in a Democratic Society

October 22, 2021 - October 23, 2021

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Birkbeck College
Beijing Normal University
Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm


Comenius University
Charles University, Prague

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Recently, the victorious march of liberal democracy that seemed unstoppable in the 1990s has slowed down to a crawl, with some of its gains reverted. Populism with authoritarian features is on the rise in many regions of the world, including the traditional democratic strongholds. We have witnessed a steep increase in political polarization, a decline of trust in the epistemic authorities, and an unprecedented spread of ‘fake news’ and conspiracy theories. The debate on ramifications of the mounting scientific evidence regarding various quirks and imperfections of human rationality has acquired yet greater urgency in such context.

For political philosophy that wants to retain relevance against the backdrop of the democratic crisis, the implications of the empirical reality of limited and context-dependent rationality that makes humans prone to systematic and predictable mistakes in judgment may be rather consequential. Behavioral sciences’ findings pose a significant challenge to any philosophical arguments that rest on armchair views of human cognition. In particular, an intense controversy has been ignited around the paternalist promises to save the citizens from their own self-defeating choices, both private and collective.

Our conference will be dedicated to exploring how behaviorally informed approaches could enrich political thought. We are especially interested in the perspectives of the various forms of paternalism in a democratic society and their compatibility with liberal democratic values. In our view, it remains open whether paternalism, in all its shifts and shapes, represents more hope or hazard for liberal democracy. We welcome any contributions that may help to answer this question.

Keynote speakers

  • Kristoffer Ahlstrom-Vij (Birkbeck College, University of London)
  • M R. X. Dentith (Beijing Normal University)
  • Till Grüne-Yanoff (KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm)
  • Christian Schubert (German University in Cairo)

Organization committee

Petr Špecián (Prague University of Economics and Business), Filip Tvrdý (Palacký University Olomouc)

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