Relational Autonomy, Paternalism, and Maternalism


Specker Sullivan L & Niker F (2018) Relational Autonomy, Paternalism, and Maternalism. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 21 (3), pp. 649-667.

The concept of paternalism is intricately tied to the concept of autonomy. It is commonly assumed that when paternalistic interventions are wrong, they are wrong because they impede individuals’ autonomy. Our aim in this paper is to show that the recent shift towards conceiving of autonomy relationally highlights a separate conceptual space for a nonpaternalistic kind of interpersonal intervention termed maternalism. We argue that maternalism makes a twofold contribution to the debate over the ethics of interpersonal action and decision-making. Descriptively, it captures common experiences that, while not unusual in everyday life, are largely absent from the present discussion. Normatively, it describes a type of intervention with justification conditions distinct from the standard framework of paternal-ism. We explicate these contributions by describing six key differences between maternalism and paternalism, and conclude by anticipating and responding to potential objections.

autonomy; relational autonomy; paternalism; maternalism; care ethics;

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice: Volume 21, Issue 3

Publication date30/06/2018
Publication date online01/06/2018
Date accepted by journal21/05/2018
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media LLC