“A deterministic worldview reduces opposition to state paternalism”

The proper limit to paternalist regulation of citizens’ private lives is a recurring theme in political philosophy and ethics. In the present project, we examine the role of beliefs about free will and determinism in attitudes toward liberal versus paternalist policies. Previous studies have demonstrated the pervasive influence of metaphysical views on moral behaviour. We adopt a parallel approach in order to study the relationship between determinism beliefs and attitudes toward state paternalism. Throughout four studies, we find that a scientific deterministic worldview reduces opposition toward paternalist policies, independent of the putative influence of political ideology.
We offer two explanations for the link between scientific deterministic beliefs and endorsement of paternalism. First, the situationist explanation goes as follows: Paternalist policies often rely on the manipulation of features of the environment. Since these features influence human behaviour one way or the other, paternalist (ie, beneficial) arrangements of the environment which bring about greater good should be preferred. Nonetheless, deterministic beliefs may yield support for paternalism more indirectly as well, through what we label the debunking explanation: The pervasive influence of factors, such as genetics and neurochemistry, on behaviour and decision-making undermines the traditional notion of personal autonomy. As a result, determinists are more willing to sacrifice personal autonomy in the interest of social welfare, and therefore evaluate paternalist proposals more favourably than indeterminists.