In this paper, we build upon John Christman’s recent work bringing together theories of relational autonomy with theories of paternalism. Christman proposes that the attitude of a paternalist can directly affect the autonomy of the subject of paternalism. By contrast, our focus is to show that relational autonomy carves out a separate conceptual space for a nonpaternalistic type of intervention, which we term maternalism. We argue that maternalism makes a twofold contribution to the philosophical discussion on the ethics of interpersonal decision-making. Practically, it captures common experiences that, while not unusual in everyday life, are absent from the present discussion. Theoretically, it describes a type of intervention that is both descriptively and normatively distinct from the standard (anti)paternalism framework. We conclude by anticipating and responding to objections that maternalism collapses into one of three non-classic forms of paternalism: soft paternalism, libertarian paternalism, and means paternalism.
Fay Niker is currently completing her PhD in political theory at the University of Warwick. Her research on the ethics of public nudging (entitled "Living Well by Design") was awarded a Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy grant in 2015, together with the John L. Stanley award for the most outstanding project in the Ethics category. Alongside her doctoral research, Fay is also involved in interdisciplinary collaborations, principally with members of the National Core for Neuroethics, University of British Columbia. Her research and teaching interests include: contemporary political theory, applied ethics (including neuroethics and the ethics of technology), behavioral public policy, and intersections between normative and empirical research.