Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness

Libertarian paternalism can seem a good idea for democratic societies due to its potential positive influence on people’s lives. However, on second thoughts, numerous pitfalls associated with this approach can lead to rather negative outcomes, including the loss of liberty and freedom. Thaler and Sunstein (2008) note that paternalistic policies are those “that will make choosers better off, as judged by themselves” (p. 5). However, judgments are highly subjective, and both choosers and choice architects can hardly know for sure what is better or worse. People change their minds frequently, so it can be difficult to ensure that certain choices will be regarded as favorable for a considerable period of time. Moreover, libertarianism implies people’s freedom of choice and mistakes, while paternalism encompasses narrowing down choices based on the peculiarities of people’s cognition. However, since it is impossible to avoid the influence of other people, libertarian paternalism should be accepted irrespective of its restrictive nature.

As far as the nature of nudges is concerned, some believe that individuals’ intrusion can be tolerated while governments’ influences should be limited. Thaler and Sunstein (2008) claim that the government tends to “pay attention to the narrow goals of self-interested private groups” and associated “risks of mistake, bias, and overreaching are real and sometimes serious” (p. 11). However, individuals also pay attention to their own interests and are biased, again, due to the specifics of the human brain. Even the case with the cafeteria describe by Thaler and Sunstein (2008) suggest that the owner tries to shape people’s choices, but she is still guided by her interests. She will earn a competitive advantage as customers will come to her, not other cafeterias, to make healthy purchases. However, the difference is rather subtle and mainly relates to the size of the affected audience.

The two readings are linked to the concept of pity, but one of them describes the concept, while the other utilizes it as a rhetorical instrument. Kimball (2004) defines the term and explores its use in relation to rhetoric. Whereas, the work by Jankelevitch and Hobart (1996) can be seen as an illustration of the employment of pity in order to persuade the audience. Jankelevitch and Hobart (1996) emphasize that the atrocities of the Nazi regime related to the Jews cannot be forgotten as it had no equivalents in history. The authors stress that the Germans were trying to “humiliate, trample, and degrade” their victims “before killing” them (Jankelevitch and Hobart, 1996, p. 564). The major points of the article are to evoke pity for the Jews and lay complete responsibility on the Germans as the nation. The vocabulary of the article serves this purpose to the fullest as such words as monstrous, hate, atrocities, and similar units are extensively used.

This attempt to make pity as a rhetoric device is rather ineffective and illustrates the points made by Kimball (2004). The author describes such uses as “the narcissistic whining of ordinary self-pity” that is inappropriate for such events as the crimes of war criminals (Kimball, 2004, p. 315). The effect of this kind of pity is rather opposite because the reader distances themselves from the authors and victims. Hence, the rhetoric of pity is quite lame since it is associated with the focus on specific aspects and the lack of facts. Jankelevitch and Hobart (1996) concentrate on negative emotions trying to evoke pity in the reader, but their manipulations with facts become obvious. The concept of pity as a negative feeling discussed by Kimball (2004) is fully exemplified in the other reading. Clearly, the horrors Jewish people had to go through are striking, but pity combined with hatred is not the feeling their experiences deserve. Tragic pity can be an appropriate response with the discussion of all aspects of the experiences all the nations had during that war.


Kimball, R.H. (2004). A plea for pity. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 37(4), 301-316. Web.

Jankelevitch, V., & Hobart, A. (1996). Should we pardon them? Critical Inquiry, 22(3), 552-572.

Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Yale University Press.

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DemoEssays. "Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness." February 20, 2022.