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Against Dworkin's Endorsement Constraint

  • T. M. Wilkinson (a1)

Ronald Dworkin argues on the basis of a theory of well-being that critical paternalism is self-defeating. People must endorse their lives if they are to benefit. This is the endorsement constraint and this paper rejects it. For certain kinds of important mistakes that people can make in their lives, the endorsement constraint is either incredible or too narrow to rule out as much paternalism as Dworkin wants. The endorsement constraint cannot be interpreted to give sensible judgements when people change their minds about the value of their lives. And the main argument for the endorsement constraint, which is based on the value of integrity, does not support Dworkin's anti-paternalism.

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1 The major liberal writers have not been sceptics about the good life, however the liberal tradition has been misrepresented by many critics. For accounts of both the non-scepticism and the misrepresentation, see Kymlicka Will, Liberalism, Community, and Culture Oxford, 1989, ch. 2 or Holmes Stephen, The Anatomy of Antiliberalism, Cambridge, MA, 1993, esp. ch. 15.

2 In various different ways, the following roughly favour the view that it is a necessary but not sufficient condition of something's contributing to a person's well-being that the person want it or takes pleasure in it: Parfit Derek, Reasons and Persons Oxford, 1984, app. I; Griffin James, Well-Being Oxford, 1986, chs. 1 f.; Raz Joseph, The Morality of Freedom Oxford, 1986, ch. 12; Sumner Wayne, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, Oxford, 1996, ch. 6.

3 Joseph Raz is one example, but his view is sufficiently complex to deserve a paper on its own; and anyway a main plank of his liberalism is not his view of well-being generally but the value of autonomy as a culturally specific requirement of well-being. See The Morality of Freedom, ch. 14. Will Kymlicka is another example. His view is that lives have to be led from the inside and that consequently coercion would be self-defeating. He also takes this view to be common to liberals. See e.g. Liberalism, Community, and Culture, ch. 2.

4 The texts used for Dworkin's views about paternalism, endorsement, and well-being are his Sovereign Virtue, Cambridge, MA, 2000, which reprints material from ‘Foundations of Liberal Equality’, Equal Freedom ed. Stephen Darwall, Ann Arbor, 1995, and his Life's Dominion London, 1993.

5 Dworkin , Sovereign Virtue, pp. 242–5.

6 Dworkin intends his arguments to apply to perfectionist compulsion too, in so far as it can be distinguished from paternalism.

7 Dworkin , Sovereign Virtue, p. 268.

8 The distinction between volitional and critical paternalism is similar to the well-known distinction between soft and hard paternalism. See Feinberg Joel, Harm to Self, New York, 1986, pp. 1216.

9 Dworkin , Sovereign Virtue, pp. 271 f.

10 See ibid., pp. 248 f;, 267–74, 283. For a critical exposition of Dworkin's view and the difference between these various claims, see my Dworkin on Paternalism and Well-Being’, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, xvi (1996). Arneson Richard has criticized Dworkin's endorsement constraint in ‘Liberal Democratic Community’, Democratic Community: Nomos XXXV ed. Chapman John W. and Shapiro Ian, New York, 1993, and Human Flourishing Versus Desire Satisfaction’, Social Philosophy and Policy, xvi (1999).

11 The relation between coercion and belief is actually rather more complicated than the text implies, but in ways that do not make a difference here. For some of the complexity, see Brown Peter, Augustine of Hippo, London, 1967, p. 233 on ‘disciplina’. I am grateful to Andrew Sharp for this reference.

12 I have been helped in drawing up this list by Sen's Amartya distinction between basic and non-basic judgements, from his Collective Choice and Social Welfare San Francisco, 1970, pp. 5965, and by G. A. Cohen's discussion and development of the distinction, in his ‘Facts and Principles’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, forthcoming.

13 Dworkin , Sovereign Virtue, p. 270.

14 Ibid., p. 269. I have inserted the ‘not’ to make sense of this passage. See also p. 274.

15 The condition might be responsiveness to reasons. Sher George (Beyond Neutrality Cambridge, 1997, pp. 63–5) uses this condition to develop a later-endorsement reply to autonomy arguments against perfectionism. Sumner agrees that genuine endorsement can occur after non-autonomous indoctrination. For him, the tainted historical origins of endorsement need not rule out its authenticity. See Sumner, p. 170.

16 There is a parallel here with the question of whether satisfying past desires makes someone's life go better. The following are just some who think it does not: Brandt Richard, A Theory of the Good and the Right Oxford, 1979, ch. 13; Parfit Derek, Reasons and Persons, ch. 7, esp. p. 157; Scanlon Thomas, ‘Value, Desire, and the Quality of Life’, The Quality of Life, ed. Nussbaum M. and Sen A., Oxford, 1993, pp. 192 f.

17 Richard Arneson, in his earlier incarnation as a staunch subjectivist about welfare, provides this example in an attempt to show that satisfying past desires can make lives go better. See Liberalism, Distributive Subjectivism, and Equal Opportunity for Welfare’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, xix (1989), pp. 164–7. Arneson does not there distinguish sharply having reasons and promoting well-being.

18 Dworkin Ronald, Life's Dominion, pp. 220 f, 226, 231 f.

19 Something for which he is roundly criticized in Jaworska's Agnieszka article ‘Respecting the Margins of Agency: Alzheimer's Patients and the Capacity to Value’, Philosophy and Public Affairs xxviii (1999), sect. 2.

20 Derek Parfit gives the example of poets whose critical judgement of their own work gets worse over time. See Reasons and Persons, p. 155.

21 Dworkin has other arguments besides integrity and these are criticized in Wilkinson, 438–41. As for the integrity argument, that article claims that Dworkin gave too much weight to integrity but here I argue that integrity does not even support his anti-paternalism.

22 Dworkin , Sovereign Virtue, pp. 271 f.

23 The relevant (and few) pages on integrity are Sovereign Virtue, pp. 270–2, and Life's Dominion, pp. 205 f., 224–9. Elsewhere, Dworkin makes a good deal of integrity in a jurisprudential theory of adjudication, but that is not relevant to the endorsement constraint. See Law's Empire, London, 1986, esp. ch. 6.

24 Dworkin , Life's Dominion, p. 205. Emphasis added.

25 These claims about the ordinary use of integrity are also made in the philosophical literature, which does not treat integrity as something that can be directly compromised by third party actions. See e.g. Taylor Gabriele, ‘Integrity’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, suppl. vol. lv (1981) and Calhoun CheshireStanding for Something’, Journal of Philosophy xcii (1995).

26 Dworkin , Life's Dominion, p. 205.

27 Ibid., esp. pp. 208–13.

28 Ibid., pp. 226–8. Dworkin believes that the man's right of autonomy requires that he should get the transfusion he asks for. Given the way Dworkin characterizes the right of autonomy as the right to choose, that is obviously true, but the case illustrates the weakness in Dworkin's argument from integrity to autonomy. Be that as it may, it is critical interests we are considering here, and the Witness is choosing against those.

29 This is the conclusion of ch. 7 in ibid. See p. 213.

30 Michael Slote thinks it important in itself to have one's achievements in one's prime of life. See his Goods and Virtues, Oxford, 1983, ch. 1. David Velleman shares some of Slote's intuitions, but thinks the explanation lies in the importance of a narrative structure. See his ‘Well-Being and Time’, The Metaphysics of Death, ed.Fischer John Martin, Stanford, 1993. Scanlon denies that these authors' idea of overall well-being has the importance they believe. What is important to people, he argues, are their goals, not these abstract ideals of their ordering. See What We Owe to Each Other Cambridge, MA, 1998, pp. 132 f.

31 My thanks to Joseph Chan, Jiwei Ci, Andrew Moore, Debbie Tseung, and an audience at Hong Kong University.

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