Philosophy Prof. Conly Defends the ‘Nanny State’ (New York Times)

In an op-ed in the New York Times today, Assistant Professor of Philosophy Sarah Conly defends  New York City’s controversial attempt to ban large sugary drinks.

Conly is the author of the new book Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism, which argues that recent research by psychologist and behavorial economists shows we don’t always rationally choose the best options for ourselves.

“It’s not always worth it to intervene, but sometimes, where the costs are small and the benefit is large, it is,” Conly writes. “That’s why we have prescriptions for medicine. And that’s why, as irritating as it may initially feel, the soda regulation is a good idea. It’s hard to give up the idea of ourselves as completely rational. We feel as if we lose some dignity. But that’s the way it is, and there’s no dignity in clinging to an illusion.”

Watch Sarah Conly talk about her new book, and view other lectures and discussions on Bowdoin Talks.


  1. Dick Burns '58 says:

    I saw Prof. Conly’s essay early this morning when I got my NYT. She is absolutely right! Very many of the people who oppose the reasonable regulation for the Common Good are altogether too willing to impose their “regulations” on the right to choose and contraception.

    I look forward to reading Professor Conly’s book.

    Dick Burns ’58

  2. BeaGomez says:

    I think she’s a self-promoting lazy writer. Seriously? Yes.

  3. BeaGomez says:

    And she’s not in favor of Mayor Bloomberg’s effort to convince the US Department of Agriculture to authorize a ban on the use of food stamps to buy soda. So, she’s inconsistent as well.

  4. Peter mason '76 says:

    I would never agree that the government could make better choices for my personal life than I could for myself.

  5. Dan Silagi says:

    I think this professor would be very happy with life in either Singapore or the People’s Republic of China. That is, until she actually lived in either of those fascist dictatorships.

    Living in a democracy gives us the right to make suboptimal choices which aren’t dangerous to others, such as drinking a Big Gulp once in awhile. It’s far more desirable to allow one to make such a choice than to have some megalomaniacal minuscule micromanaging martinet telling us how to live our lives.

    Maybe Bloomberg can use his billions to buy Singapore, move there, and run the country. Couldn’t come quick enough for me.

  6. Conrad Spens '77 says:

    What ever happened to the diversity of ideas coupled with the power of evolutionary selection? Don’t progressive thinkers claim and champion both concepts? How can we allow the crucible of natural selection to refine and perfect us if false or less than effective consequences are to be mandated or nullified by government intervention instead of mother nature? And why do we assume that government selects more effectively from a range of both behaviors and consequences? Doesn’t he or she who controls the criteria used also control the outcome? Who or what then determines that the criteria are propitious?

    How would the good professor see this issue if the government in power didn’t agree with her values? What if said government determined that progressive anti-capitalist mores were harmful to society at large and should be minimized or eliminated? I bet we’d hear a different tune.

    It distresses me that such transparent and self-serving efforts now pass for acceptable academic work and a steppingstone to tenure.

  7. Christopher Hanks '68 says:

    Based on Cass Sunstein’s extended review of Professor Conly’s book,,
    it sounds like Professor Conly has constructed a very clever way to defend the idea that, when considering the role of government, the ends can justify the means.

    Let’s hope there are at least some students at Bowdoin who are debating among themselves (and with Professor Conly) about whether her ideas really do hold water.

  8. piquet michel says:

    Les hommes n’ont pas la capacite ou le loisir, ou le gout pour la chose publique necessaires pour pouvoir agir par eux-memes.
    C’est bien pourquoi la démocratie a des représentants.
    Et c’est aussi pourquoi en bonne democratie, ces representants devraient être astreints a rendre compte de leur activité au terme de leurs mandats. (comme dans l’Athènes démocratique).
    Car, les hommes ordinaires sont en revanche parfaitement capables de juger sur résultats.

    Michel Piquet

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